HC Deb 06 August 1942 vol 382 cc1289-309
Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)

I rise to refer to a matter concerning the Minister of Labour, the transference of women. The matter may not have quite the same international significance as the two matters which have already been debated, but in domestic policy, and particularly in Scotland, there is a good deal of feeling and concern about it. While I am particularly concerned about the Scottish side of the matter, I recognise that it is not confined to any one part of the country but exists in many other parts as well. After I gave notice that I was to raise this issue I received not only correspondence but communications from many Members of this House which show that the issue has a much wider application than to Scotland.

Let me make one point clear at the outset. I do not raise the general principle; I should be ruled out of Order, as it would require legislation to annul the Act, which was passed by this House with an overwhelming majority. The House of Commons agreed also to the Regulations giving the power of direction to the Minister of Labour and agreed later to the conscription of women up to 30 years of age. The only aspect of the matter with which I can deal upon the Adjournment Motion is the administration of the present Act. I cannot raise all the cases, particulars of which have been handed to me, in which injustice is complained of, so I propose to deal with the matter mainly as the result of my own experiences and my own views.

In this matter of transference, women cannot be handled in the same way as men. For good or ill, women have never had the experience of conscription before. Their relationship with their families at home is totally different, generally speaking, from that of men, and any attempt to deal with women in the same way as men would create great difficulties; yet not only are women being transferred in a most ill-advised way, but the law is not even being carried out. I am glad that the Leader of the House is present. He is a distinguished lawyer and I am going to ask him to see that the law is properly carried out in this respect. One of the charges I make is that the law is not being carried out. The Act gave power of conscription, but two categories were not to be touched. One was that of the woman having under her care a child, and the second, who was not to be transferred from her immediate surroundings, was the married woman.

I thought the interpretation of those phrases would be similar to the interpretation under the Unemployment Insurance Act, where the relationship between man and woman, not merely in the married State, is considered. Those who keep house together, such as father and daughter, where the mother is dead, are treated, for the purposes of the Unemployment Insurance Act, as man and wife. I thought that, in that class of case, the woman would have the same defence as the married woman has; in some cases she has even a stronger case than have the childless couple. There is also the case of the woman having under her care a child. I can cite the case of a widower serving in the Middle East. He has two grown-up daughters at home, one in work of national importance to whom the Government says, quite properly, that she must not leave it. There is the other daughter, and a child at school. Who is it has charge of the child? The father in the Middle East has not; but the law says that his daughter has not got the child in her care either. Kindly note, however, that if this girl of 21 had an illegitimate child instead of a younger sister in her care, for the purposes of the law she would have been protected. That is what is happening now. When the law was passed we were told that the protection of the hardship tribunals would be available, but that is no defence. I say that the Minister of Labour and his officials are to blame for ever sending these people to the hardship committees. They ought to have the same protection as any girl with children under her care. I am not suggesting that the girl with an illegitimate child should be badly treated, I should be the last man in the world to say that; all I am asking is that they should be put on equal terms.

What happens to the daughter? She is sent to the hardship committee, and then she is told, if she is lucky—and you have to be very lucky for this—that her call-up is deferred. Then she has to look forward to appearing before the committee again after three months. My first claim, and it is not without precedent, is that where the Unemployment Insurance Acts accept a relationship as being similar to that of husband and wife, it should be accepted as such in this case. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not produce the hardship tribunals as a defence. I am not asking for that; I am asking that that type of case should never come, before the hardship tribunals at all.

Let me now say a word or two about another class of case. In the first case that I wish to raise the facts seemed to be so bad that I had to go very carefully. My long experience in raising these matters tells me that where the facts are so bad that they are hardly conceivable it is best to check them. The facts in this case are not disputed. It concerns a woman of nearly 60, who has been in this country well over 50 years, and is almost as illiterate to-day as the first day she came. She can hardly speak the language. Her only two sons are serving with the Forces. She has one daughter, and she herself on the night of that terrible blitz on my native city was injured, and I think had a number of stitches put in her forehead. She is a widow, and is now told that her daughter must go too. That kind of thing is wrong: many hon. Members who voted for the Bill would never have accepted it if they had known that this was the kind of thing that would happen. And now they talk to us about the hardship committees.

Here is another case, a man of 70 who comes to me and asks me to find him a job. He tells me that he is living with his daughter but is capable of working. I went to the locomotive works and got him a job as a gateman—an important job in those places. He is now told that his daughter has to go, and the old fellow has to stop his work. So we chase the girl away, and bring home the old man who is doing a useful job. There is another case which has been handed to me by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies). I cannot vouch for the facts, but they are contained in a signed statement by the person concerned. She is a lady who lives in Wales—so it is not merely a Scottish issue—and she has actually been offered two war jobs. One is in Manchester and the other is in Greenock, so that people are being transferred from Greenock down here, while others are being transferred to Greenock. Yet we expect to win the war. That sort of thing does not look right.

I have another case here which was handed to me by the hon. Member for Westhoughton. There was an issue which at one time shook the country, the issue which arose in connection with unemployment and the application of the words "not genuinely seeking work." Those words were not bad in themselves. They meant that only people who were genuinely seeking work should receive benefits, and no one could object to that. Benefits were only to be refused to those Who were not genuine. But when it came to the actual practice we found that it worked out damnably. In the same way the hardship committees may be excellent in theory, but in practice they do not work. The same courts which dealt with the "not genuinely seeking work" question, and set this country in a fever, are now judging the women. There is not an atom of difference. The chief chairman at the Glasgow City Exchange was the chairman of the "not genuinely seeking work" committee; he is the chairman of the courts of referees which determine issues of misconduct, and he is also the chairman of the hardship committees.

May I say to the Minister that if he had been trying to work this Act wrongly, he could not have done so more effectively? First of all he made this mistake. A court of referees' chairman is not necessarily a good chairman for this other body. He is accustomed to dealing with cases of misconduct. Criminal judges are frequently not good judges on matters arising from civil actions. Their type of mind does not fit in. A court of referees' chairman is dealing with cases of theft, drunkenness, swearing, etc. He then goes on to this other body with that background. Other chairmen might at least have been looked for It cannot be said that in Glasgow and the surrounding districts there is a dearth of lawyers. If the Sheriff Court is the proper court—our sheriff is the equivalent of a county court judge—we should get a better hearing and a better decision.

Scotland is interested in this because we still have some kind of nationality. I am not an ardent Nationalist, but I still have a liking for my native country. It has some tradition, some past. To-day many of our best women are being picked out and taken away. Scotland is going to be driven, with regard to its younger and most capable women, into a position similar to that of the distressed areas before the war. Those who come from Jarrow and similar areas know that the young capable men were taken away, that no one would start an industry because the youth was being taken. You will leave us in Scotland after the war bereft of many of our most capable women. Let me say this other word. I do not blame the Minister too much here, but it has a relationship to this matter. There is a part of Scotland which we call the Central Belt of Scotland. I do not represent it, but it has some of the finest tradesmen in Britain connected with iron foundry work. There is no Government factory near that place. Whole masses of people in the iron foundries are not wanted now; steel is the thing. Masses of people are being moved, though nothing has ever been done to utilise them there. As one who has regard for his country—not in the sense of thinking we are the only race, because I do not think that—I want to see it preserved, to see some of its best things kept going. They cannot be kept going by actions of that kind.

In these days I am not, as I used to be, speaking almost every day. I do not want to be told that my views on the war are not those of the great mass of the people. I do not claim that, but I say that on the issue of this part of the war there are many who see it as I do, such as widows, some of whom had their husbands killed in the last war. I will quote one personal case. I have a sister whose husband died as a result of the last war. She has three girls. She worked and made the eldest a doctor, who is now in England, and the next one a nurse, who is also away. She has one girl left. She gave her husband in the last war, she has given two daughters to serve in this war, and has done it on a widow's pension and by her own work. She thinks she has done enough, and that it is terrible to haul her only remaining lassie away. I used to say to some of my friends in the course of my trade union work that human beings can only do a limited amount. Ask them to do too much, and they will break. We are asking our women in Scotland to do too much. If you answer, "We need the women," watch that you do not get a counter-effect that will be worse. I say frankly to the Minister that he cannot leave the position as it is. I know that he could skilfully, as I could were I in his place, quote the documents to show how this power applies. Let him differentiate between his documents and the human beings. Remember this matter goes deep. It is not a question of written instructions; it is a deep social issue. This issue in Scotland to-day is not a Labour party issue alone. Some of the people who feel worst about it are folk who in politics do not agree with me at all. But I am certain that in Scotland to-day, whatever our views may be on issues of politics, we ask the Minister of Labour, while recognising that hardship and difficulty may have to be caused, not to approach the issue as though these women were cattle to be herded about but to see that these women receive fair treatment.

I add one word on an aspect of this matter which is causing deep feeling. Glasgow is a small city in size. A penny piece nearly covers it. You go from the poverty of Gorbals to the wealth of Shields for a penny ride on a tram. There on the one hand are widows whose daughters have been taken away. Up there they see the servant still working. They feel deep down in their hearts that they are not being fairly treated. As I say, I do not want to raise this matter in any nationalist sense, but I want to get something done if I can, to coax, if I can, some statement that will ensure decent treatment for the folk who are really the only folk I know about. To-day we have been discussing Jewish Army and other issues about foreign countries, and frankly I know little about them. The only thing I do know is my native city and its people, and I would plead earnestly for its women to be given decent treatment.

Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)

The House knows perfectly well the line I have taken on this question right from the very beginning. I know that the Minister of Labour seems to feel that he has a grievance against me for pursuing him on this matter. I want to assure the Ministry and the Minister himself that there has been no vendetta against them on my part. I protested here at the begining of the war at factories being built in England and none being built in Scotland. Some of us prophesied what would happen. I make no apology for the fact that on this occasion I make my appeal as a Scotsman.

For almost 20 years I have been drawing the attention of this House to what has been happening to the Highlands of Scotland. They are almost derelict, particularly the West Highlands and Islands. We have seen, as a result of the policy adopted here in London, in the building up of the British Empire, this great reservoir being run almost dry, not only of its men but of its women. I see the same thing happening now in rural Scotland, which it being denuded of its womenfolk. The Ministry of Labour has been left to hold the baby. It has to find labour to fill those factories. I do not blame the Ministry: it is the policy which is to blame. The effect will be tragic. It will affect our soldiers in the field, because, while there are some Scotsmen who can divorce themselves from this national sentiment, I express the feelings of the vast majority of Scotsmen, both in and out of the Army, when I make this protest. Their boys have gone to the front; the girls are coming into the factories. We had more factories for the women in Scotland in the last war than we have in this war, and there is more dilution in this war than in the last. Scotland has been treated shamefully in this matter. It is not only the mothers and the daughters and the ordinary working folk in Scotland who are beginning to wake up to the situation, but the employers are doing so, too. I have many letters which I could quote. I have quoted some of them. The Minister of Labour was a wee bit nasty when I did so. He said that he could not reply to my correspondence, because he had enough of his own to reply to. That was not a very statesmanlike utterance. Here is a letter from Ayrshire: Scottish employers are simply wild"— some more wild men from the Clyde— that their urgent needs should be ignored in this apparently light fashion by Mr. Ernest Bevin, and a very awkward situation is being created, which may be difficult to control. It is that very situation which has brought me to my feet—a situation in which all the young women are being taken away from Scotland. What are the soldiers going to think about that? Do you think that Scottish regiments are going to submit calmly to seeing their young women taken away, in this systematic, dastardly fashion, from Scotland to England, against their will? Mark that—against their will. The lasses do not want to go into industry; there is no denying the fact. In many cases the conditions are entirely foreign to those girls. I know that the Ministry has done many things for the benefit of the workers, I thank the Minister for the introduction of canteens on the Clyde. Until he did so there was not a solitary canteen at a shipyard on the Clyde, which is a standing disgrace to the shipbuilders of the Clyde. The Ministry have forced good conditions upon some of them. To the majority of our lasses going down to England, England is a foreign country. The mode of life, the outlook on life, are different. We are a distinct race. The very fact that we have a Secretary of State for Scotland, a Lord Advocate and a Solicitor-General for Scotland proves conclusively that even England has had to recognise that we are a distinct race, with distinct laws, with distinct characteristics, and with a distinct accent, which is recognised throughout the length and breadth of England, wherever we go.

In some places this is an asset: we are taken by the hand; but in other places, it has the opposite effect. It does not matter to Scotsmen, because we are quite capable of taking our own part wherever we go, whether the English, the Irish, or the Welsh like us or not. We men are physically and mentally equipped to meet all rigours. But the women folk are quite different. We are told that Scotsmen made a road down into England and forgot to make a road back. It is different the the women. They have been forced to come. I ask the representative of the Minister to give this matter as careful consideration as possible and see whether there is not some way that can be devised to mitigate the feeling which is abroad and upon which I feel very strongly. We have evidence of the discontent and uneasiness to-day and I can assure the Minister that if something can be done nobody will be better pleased than the people of Scotland, who have always been proud of the part they have played, and if not we shall have to take other means to safeguard Scottish interests.

Major McCallum (Argyll)

I am very much indebted to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) for having raised this subject because, as he said, the application of the conscription of women in Scotland concerns not only his own colleagues but every Scottish Member. I would like to deal with the matter from the point of view of the Highland women. I do not myself believe that the position in the Highlands, particularly the West Highlands that I represent, is as mournful or depressed as the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) thinks.

Mr. Kirkwood

It is because I have roamed them and the hon. and gallant Member has not.

Major McCallum

I have not nearly the experience of the hon. Member, but I happen to live in those glens and I have some idea of the inhabitants of the Highlands. I wish to deal with the aspect of the subject which arises through taking away girls from the Highlands who were born and bred on the land and sending them to a training college in Glasgow or in the Lowlands and then to some factory or other in England. Agricultural labour in Scotland, particularly in the Highlands, is extremely short, and I cannot understand the common sense, if there is any, of sending girls who have the cultivation of the land in their blood to make munitions or to do whatever industrial work it is intended for them to do, and at the same time making appeals to the country for women to join the Women's Land Army. In my own neighbourhood we have women from the Women's Land Army, and all honour to them, but there are many women who have to be taught the work on the land before they can really be of service to the fanners. I acknowledge with gratitude that the Ministry, when I have put forward cases, have readjusted them, and I have had cases where girls have been taken from the factory or the work they have been doing and sent back to the land and their families.

Would it be possible to issue a direction to the subordinate officials at the Ministry, and in particular to the managers and manageresses of employment exchanges throughout the Highlands indicating that they should use a little of their common sense and intelligence in placing these women? I can give the case of a family in one of the Western Isles in which there are two daughters who have been helping on the family croft all their lives. They are called up by the employment exchange and are sent to an industrial, training college and then to a factory. That same island is crying out for agricultural labour. It is almost criminal to take away people like that when they possess skilled labour as the result of generations on the land, and send them to totally different work, which I doubt whether they are able to do properly after months of training. I ask, therefore, whether directions could not be given to the employment exchanges in regard to dealing with women who have been used to agriculture. I am sure that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary do not intend that they should be used in that unintelligent way. Directions should be issued that the officials should use their discretion in placing these women into work in which they would give the utmost skill in the national effort where it is most needed.

Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)

I am glad that this matter has been raised at the eleventh hour, because I do not know any question which has caused so much resentment in Scotland during my lifetime as the transfer of these women from Scotland to England. It is a most pathetic spectacle at the Central Station in Glasgow to see crowds of girls huddled together and being packed into the train to take them to England. The thing has developed into a positive scandal. I am unrepentant in regard to my attitude in this matter, because if there is one thing that I would have opposed more strenuously than any other in this House it is the conscription of women. It is said that if you can take the boys, why cannot you take the girls? We know that you have taken the boys. As far as I am able to judge, every retreat that has been made has been covered by Scottish regiments, and there are some 18,000 Scottish prisoners in enemy hands. I have a post-bag of complaints about these girls being taken away. Some of the cases stated by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) are merely small examples of those which could be brought before the House. No consideration whatever is paid to the home life when these girls are taken away. I received a letter to-day from one of my villages in Ayrshire. It relates to a miner's family. There are three miners in the house, an invalid mother, and a girl doing work of national importance, and now they are determined to take the only one who is able to look after the household and send her away to England. Cases like this are bound to raise resentment in the minds of our people. We had an example the other week of two Scottish girls being sent to prison at Coventry because they had failed to turn up at their work in time.

We cannot stand for the treatment of Scottish girls in this fashion. My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals pointed out the very grave social problem that has arisen in this matter, namely, that many of these girls who are being taken away will never come back to Scotland. It may seem a contradiction, but they will make connections in England and will settle here and not return. It is an old dodge— as old as the eternal hills. The Parliamentary Secretary knows that four or five thousand years ago, when battles were won, the victors collected the female population and took them away with them. There was a very significant biological reason for it, because if you want to wipe out a population, you have only to wipe out the women. The world has withstood many wars in its history because only men were destroyed. We cannot afford to let our country be denuded of its womenfolk.

A statement was made recently by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) with regard to the depopulation of Scotland and the fall in the birth-rate. It is more alarming than even he imagines. I read figures compiled by Professor Cathcart some time ago which, showed that if the birth-rate remained static, in 100 years' time there would be only 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 people in Great Britain. If it remains static and you take away our womenfolk, what sort of Scotland will be left? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland gave figures the other day about the introduction of new industries to Scotland, but he gave them in the form of so many millions of square feet and new factory space. So far as my observation goes, however, the great amount of that space is occupied by storage—

Mr. Kirkwood

Scotland has been made a storage place for England.

Mr. Sloan

That is exactly what it amounts to. I have in my possession a letter similar to that in the possession of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood). It deals with a lace factory at Irvine, where lace manufacture has been stopped and light industry has taken its place. You are taking away from this district highly skilled girls who have spent their lifetime working on machinery. Through the conversion of this factory, this Ayrshire firm will have to look for workpeople wherever they can find them. Where is the sense in transferring girls from Ayrshire and then having to look for other girls to take their places? Whatever answer the Parliamentary Secretary may give us to-day, or may try to put us off with, it will not help in the least. This problem is deep-seated and deep-ridden, and I say to him, for God's sake, do something about it now—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)

I think it is perhaps time, since it has occurred several times, to point out the Rule against mentioning the name of the Deity in a Debate. It may be mentioned seriously, but if it is used as a smoking-room expression, it is regarded, technically, as bad language. I think it is advisable that Members should bear that Rule in mind.

Mr. Sloan

I accept that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I do not want to violate any Rule, but I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will impress upon the Ministry of Labour the necessity of doing all they can to have this sort of thing stopped.

Mrs. Hardie (Glasgow, Springburn)

I do not want to take up much time, because I had an opportunity on another occasion of speaking about women, but I thought it would not seem right if the one Scottish woman Member present did not say a word about a question in which she is deeply interested. I have said already that girls in Scotland have not objected to going from a particular job to do necessary war work. Indeed, they have been quite willing, but the whole point is that many of them do not want to leave their homes. It has been pleasant, as a Scotswoman, to hear the deep indignation of Scotsmen at the fact that they might lose our Scots girls. I am sure all Scotswomen will be very pleased, but might I suggest that it would be much better if the men thought more of the women than they have done in the past? If they did, then they would not be quite so ready to marry English girls when they come here. Here may I say that I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) about Glasgow girls? I am sure that a large proportion of them will be able to hold their own whatever town they may go to. Some are quite willing to go; they want a bit of adventure the same as the boys. They do not mind a change for a short time to take up other work, but girls who do not want to go, or who have very strong home ties, should not be forced to go.

I do not need to add much to the kind of illustrations given by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), but there are some cases in which tribunals have been most unreasonable. Girls know there has been work in Glasgow which they could take, but they have been told that they are mobile and that they must go away so that, in theory, married women could take their jobs. But I must remind the House that most working-class married women in Scotland have big families. It is only in London that you see married women hanging on to dogs. The result is that if you accept these married women, they must leave their children and you must provide war nurseries and somebody else to look after them. No doubt they would be pleased to hand over their children to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and go away to munitions factories for a rest. The point is that there is not a big surplus of women like that to go into factories, and that makes them indignant.

I want to give an example of the kind of case we have in mind and about which I sent a letter to the Parliamentary Secretary to see if his heart was any softer than his chief's heart. It concerns a girl whose mother is a widow and not strong. The mother has two sons. One of them was in the Army and has been on active service, but he has been invalided out, his health broken down. The other son is in the Army and is abroad, fighting. The girl is a baker; surely, that is work of national importance, for surely it is as important to produce bread as it is to fill shells, even in war-time. She has been told that she must take up different work. She does not object to changing her work if the Ministry think that is the best thing, but she does not want to go to England. In the case of this widow, one of whose sons has been invalided out of the Army, a helpless invalid unable to work, and whose other son is still in the Army, title daughter, whose wages would help to keep the home and who would be a little comfort to her mother, is told to go to England. That is the sort of case to which we object.

The tribunals are most callous. I think that in the case of widows whose daughters are helping in the home, the daughters should not be taken away. There are also the cases where girls are sometimes working outside but also looking after the other members of the family at home. It has always been the lot of the working-class girl not only to work outside but to help the mother at home, for otherwise very often the mother could not manage. It is very hard for those girls to be sent away. What we feel is that the factories should be put in Scotland, particularly when the girls know their jobs. I must say, although I have no racial prejudice, that when I go to some of the hotels and even the shops in Scotland and find people with foreign accents in the nice easy jobs, I wonder what we are coming to. Why net put those people to shell-filling instead of, in some cases, dragging the Scottish women and the English women out of their jobs and putting them in the most disagreeable ones? I feel very strongly about this matter, and therefore, I associate myself with everything that has been said in the Debate. I think the least the Minister can do is to give directions to the tribunals and to his officials to be a little more sensible in dealing with these cases of single women.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

This is a matter which has raised a great deal of interest in Scotland, not only in itself, but because of the attitude it represents. There is a grave danger of Scotland coming put of the war not only as a depressed area, but as an area with a potentiality of depression much greater than it has ever had before. It happens that in many cases the small light industries which we have built up, and which are all too few in number, are being depleted of their labour for the purpose of extending the great engineering works South of the Border. We all know of the case of the big firm of carpet manufacturers in Scotland, a firm having the highest skill, which wove the carpet for the Coronation, and whose workers were brought down to see that great event because of the great technical skill they had shown—

Mr. Kirkwood

And wove the carpets for the "Queen Mary" and the "Queen Elizabeth."

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

—a firm which has produced carpets for many of the great State functions, and, as the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) says, for many of the highest quality products of construction in the whole Island. There is danger of that factory being depleted of its skilled workers, and it is difficult to keep it going. But difficulties do not exist simply to be bowed down before. The danger of destroying the light industries in Scotland is the danger of causing lasting damage, for skilled personnel once dispersed is very difficult to reassemble. There are, in addition, the ordinary hardships of which all of us continually have examples in our constituencies. The hon. Lady the Member for Springburn (Mrs. Hardie) mentioned the case of a baker. In my constituency I have had put to me the case of a girl who is working with her father, very long hours, from 6 o'clock in the morning until late at night, doing what I venture to think is important work, and doing it in conditions which makes it possible for her to devote greater effort to it than she could do in any other circumstances. It may be necessary that she should be called up, but great care should be exercised before a small family business is broken up, because the breaking up of a small family business leads to an amount of dislocation which it is very difficult indeed for the heads of the great businesses to understand. If you dislocate a small family business you dislocate something which can never be put together again.

There is, however, an even more important point; it arose, for instance, in a statement that was made at Question Time to-day by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works and Planning concerning the reduction of brick production. The hon. Gentleman said that this scheme was to cover the whole of the United Kingdom. I asked specifically whether the Secretary of State for Scotland had been consulted, and I was told that he had been. I did not then press the matter further, but I should like to do so now. What did the Secretary of State for Scotland say, if he was consulted? We all know the story of the man who Went to a Harley Street specialist and on going out was asked by the specialist for his fee. The man asked, "What for?" The specialist replied, "For my advice." The man said, "I am not taking your advice." If the Secretary of State for Scotland was consulted, was full weight given to what he said? Can we have an assurance that in such cases as this there will not be rationalisation which telescopes things out of Scotland in the way that we all know? One of the great difficulties in housing in Scotland is the shortage of bricks. The brick industry in Scotland is a new creation compared with the brick industry in England, and if there is a general 10 per cent. cut, in certain great English works it will be nothing to speak of, but in the Scottish brick works it will be a very serious matter indeed. Those hon. Members opposite who were members of the Glasgow Town Council at the end of the last war will remember the difficulties that we had in obtaining bricks and that the Corporation even had to set up a works of its own to deal with the shortage. Considering these things, the danger of rooting out workers from such an industry is a very serious matter and one that should be kept in mind when the question of the transfer of labour is being considered.

The transfer of girls out of Scotland is a confession of weakness; it is a gospel of despair. It should be possible to bring the work there, to develop the manufacturing facilities there—all the more so because, in the conditions of the present war, that country is not, or has not been, open to the same intensive raiding as many of the counties in England. It was quite right no doubt that many of the great factories should have been developed South of the Border when France was our Ally and there was a great belt of territory separating us from the nearest German aircraft. But since then, Birmingham, Coventry, the whole of the manufacturing areas of the Midlands, have been raided time and again. It is necessary to remember that this may be a long war, and steps to deal with it should be taken not on a short-term policy but on a long-term policy. Therefore, the development of plant and facilities in the North rather than in the Midlands and the South should be considered as part of our general war policy, and we should not merely transfer labour to existing plant because that is the easiest thing to do. The people of Scotland are very sensitive about this matter. In the case of some factories in the constituency of an hon. Member opposite—I will not particularise more—it was suggested that machine tools would be transferred away. Hon. Members were inundated with letters from the operatives there; there was great fear because they saw beginning again what they had seen before during and after the last war—the moving out of vital industries, with the consequence that the labour had to follow them. Therefore I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary should look at this matter very closely. Although it is not the case that a large amount of transferring has taken place, there is the tendency which we have continuously to take note of and draw attention to. There is a tendency to use the Northern Kingdom as a reservoir and pump it out into the South; it is a dangerous tendency for the life of the Northern Kingdom, and it is not in the best interests of the whole country.

I do not wish to go into the question of land girls, because this matter is, no doubt, one of those things which is inherent in the working of Government Departments, and is difficult to explain to ordinary persons outside. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to make a clear explanation when he comes to reply. Do not let us brush this lightly aside. It is causing, and it has caused, a good deal of ill-feeling in the North. There is a feeling that a hæmorrhage is going on, and they are very anxious to stop it. The mere fact that the nation has not lost much blood does not mean everything. People see blood on the bandages. They do not like it, and they feel that they may be exposed to great risks in the future. This is not a party question; it affects all Scottish Members, who wish to see this drain stopped as soon as possible.

Mr. Neil Maclean (Glasgow, Govan)

I should like to add my plea. [Interruption.] I do not know what I have said to cause that irritation below the Gangway. I have not spoken in this House for months, and on many occasions I have given way to younger Members. I protest as the oldest Member in Scotland against what is being done to Scottish girls in violation of an Order issued by the Ministry of Labour. Girls go to the employment exchanges and inform the officials that they have an offer of employment in a factory engaged on essential war work. They ask for green cards so that the officials in the factories will give them employment. The employment exchange officials travel around telling the girls that they cannot have green cards for work in factories which are near their own localities. They cannot get green cards because they are booked for England. They are always told, "It is over the Border for you." What is mobile work, and what is mobility? Not moving from Scotland to a situation in England. Mobility of work means moving from a job which is non-essential in Glasgow to a job which is essential in Glasgow. If you say a girl is mobile, she is actually filling in the form issued by the Ministry of Labour when she can prove that she has received an offer of employment upon war work in her own locality, and the Order of the Ministry tells her to do so. It states definitely and distinctly, "If you can get employment in your own locality, go at once to your employment exchange and obtain a green card and take it to the place that offered you employment. You may then save yourself from the necessity of being transferred again." Is not that true? Why in Heaven's name are these girls being sent to England?

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Tomlinson)

Because it does not apply to that particular section.

Mr. Maclean

It does apply to that particular question, because the girls have been given that form when they made application to the Employment Exchange for a green ticket. If the officials do not know their jobs, you cannot blame the girls for not being able to understand the forms given them. I have had at least 30 girls before me with cards of that kind, who were all to go to England, and I have lost only two of them, one through her own folly and the other withdrew her opposition and volunteered to go to England. The Minister has taken enough girls from Scotland. Let him walk round the streets in London, let him go into the shops in Oxford Street—Bourne and Hollingsworth, Peter Robinson, Selfridge—and see the young girls in there, clipping coupons. Is that essential war work? If you want girls to do work in factories, you have plenty here, and you have plenty of work for the girls in Scotland if you send your orders there instead of denuding the factories. You have left a score of factories with nothing but bare walls, because you have taken the machinery out of them and transported it to fill the factories in England. We are not standing for that. We have had three years of war, and, if you do not know the mechanical possibilities, the mechanical skill and other matters relating to production in Scotland, it is high time that you were made aware of it. What are you going to do for these girls? Is it necessary for them to come here? The joke of the matter is that the girls that I was able to keep in Scotland were told, "It is not anything your Member of Parliament has done for you that has kept you here. It is merely a change in your own domestic circumstances." I asked them, "What is the change in your domestic circumstances?" They said, "We do not know. Everything at home is just the same." But an excuse was necessary.

I want the Minister to face up to the facts of the situation. There is ample work for the girls in Scotland, even for girls from the Hebrides. There is plenty of work on the land, in the factories, in the hospitals and in the different associations for providing help for the war. There is plenty of work for these girls in Scotland, and they should not be sent away from home and thrust into strange places. Sometimes they are told when they arrive, "We do, not know why you have come down," or "We are not ready yet, and we did not ask for you to be sent down." I am not blaming the local officials for this, but I am blaming some higher-up official in London. The official order has evidently been given out to send all the girls of such and such an age to towns in England where there are factories, but not to factories in Scotland. We have a number of good factories in Scotland doing necessary war work. These girls could do a good spot of work there where they would have the comfort and security of home and the associations with which they have been brought up. They would be much happier producing in factories near their own homes, and, being happier, they would be able to produce more than if they were sent away and tied up in hostels, not knowing the girls there and probably not understanding their English dialect.

Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)

I want to add my voice to the chorus of appeals that has been made to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour about taking girls from Scotland. I recognise a certain unfairness in the appeals being addressed to the Ministry of Labour, because initially this is not a matter for which the Minister of Labour is responsible. The trouble is due to the fact that in the planning of the war factories Scotland was omitted from consideration. That is the background for all that has been talked about to-day. I am anxious that this matter should be dealt with in the light of present circumstances. I am sure that much material has been given to the Parliamentary Secretary to enable him to realise how deep and strong is the feel- ing that exists in Scotland. I have had to deal with many cases of so-called mobile girls who are required to go away from home in order to get employment. In the majority of these cases I have to admit that as the law stands there is no effective appeal that can be made for them. They are mobile, and the Minister of Labour refuses to recognise Scotland as entitled to claim them. He treats-Britain as a whole, as he is entitled to do, and he directs these girls to where they are most needed. That is the law, and where the girls can properly be said to be mobile we cannot make an effective appeal for them. There are cases, however, where the hardship tribunals to which these girls can appeal err on the side of failing to give the necessary preferment.

It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

  1. SUNDAY ENTERTAINMENTS ACT, 1932. 62 words
  2. c1309
  3. ADJOURNMENT (SUMMER). 14 words