Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a farther sum, not exceeding £30, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the charges for the following Departments connected with Production for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1943, namely:
|Class X., Vote 19, Office of the Minister of Production (New Service)||£10|
|Class X., Vote 11, Ministry of Supply||£10|
|Class X., Vote 2, Ministry of Aircraft Production||£10|
§ Mr. Brooke (Lewisham, West)
Some hon. Members taking part in these production Debates talk rather as though they were taking part in a post mortem. We should do much better to remember that we are speaking as the trustees of the armies of the future. We cannot win immediate battles here in this House; still less can we do anything to remould the past. But we here in the House of Commons can influence the course of battles in the future. We can save Empires or destroy them by what we say or do not say in these Debates on the equipment which our Armies and Navies are to have six months, 12 months, 18 months hence. After three years of war we have to confess our failures. We have to look them full in the face. But in the very same breath I say we must claim our successes too. We have had magnificent successes in science and in the production that has flowed from science—magnificent successes. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Production spoke yesterday of a captured British officer who heard the tributes that his German captors paid to our 3.7 guns. I can match that. I know of a man who for some days was in German hands, and having grown rather tired of our criticism of our own equipment, it was refreshing for him to discover the appreciation and respect with 1242 which the Germans, his captors, looked towards much of our equipment—not all—and counted themselves lucky when they could travel about the desert in British lorries and not German ones. It would not be at all a bad way of dissipating some of the dejection which seems to exist in parts of the country for my right hon. Friend from time to time to arrange in prominent places like Trafalgar Square, and in industrial districts, comparative exhibitions of contemporary British and German weapons. I know that in some respects we should fall short, but thousands of people would have their eyes opened to the superiority of an enormous amount of our equipment. That is why I say, Let us, while facing up to our failures, recognise that we have particular, limited defects and deficiencies; let us be proud of our successes, even while we are setting our teeth to do better, to do what we have not yet done in those fields which we have not yet conquered.
We talk of production so often in terms of sizes and weights and quantities, and it leads us to forget that production is a human thing. Production is the child of a marriage between organisation and exhiliration. Personally, I always thought that Lord Beaverbrook showed too much favour towards the latter partner. Can the Ministers concerned find some means of transmitting to all the staffs under them, in every rank, a sense of the value of making sure that in every factory, wherever possible, piles of material waiting to be processed shall be seen pouring in and built up behind the machines, and that at the same time the finished product is cleared out of the works with the utmost speed? Every hon. Member who has experience of production—I know my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) will agree with this—knows how discouraging it is, both to workers and to managers, if types which have been given a high priority and on which heavy overtime has been worked are, through some delay in transport, instructions, not cleared away quickly, and if the men and the manager can see them piling up in enormous quantities at the back of the shop. It is not easy for men sitting in offices, in London and in the regions, to appreciate the immense importance of that kind of delay at the factory level. Quite enough, perhaps, has been said in the House already about the damage done when a very high priority 1243 is attached to some article, and then, without adequate notification or explanation, either to the works or to the men, it becomes apparent that the stuff is not wanted with that same urgency.
I am not going to give detailed examples of that kind of thing, because I believe, with my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), that these production Debates should not be the occasion for taking up time with discussion of details. But my experience since the war began is that many people, especially in the Service Departments, where the orders originate, have not yet fully discovered that the process of obtaining production is not at all similar to the process of filling a bath by turning a tap on and off. If you have constant hot water, you can fill the bath quickly at any time of the day or night; but if the Service Department places orders for some article, and the plant is got ready, and then those orders—it may be for good reason—are suddenly scaled down to perhaps 20 per cent. of their former quantity, and a few weeks later increased again to, perhaps, 25 per cent. above their original figure—believe me, you are not going to get good production from the works. Everyone concerned feels that the people who are responsible for placing the orders do not fully understand the necessity for continuity of planning in industry. Whereas everyone of us accepts it that the necessities of war compel changes of programme, those changes should be ironed out so far as possible, evened up, or evened down, so that the alteration in programme at the factory level does not take place by sudden fits and starts, but is a process which everyone concerned with production can reasonably understand and adapt himself to.
I am sure that it is the duty of hon. Members to keep on pressing Ministers on this subject of publicity and explanation. My right hon. Friend said yesterday that he now had a division in the Ministry of Production concerned with industrial information. One of the division's activities is, I understand, to join with the Ministry of Labour in circulating a kind of trade paper containing information of new ideas. Until I have seen the paper I do not know whether it is to contain any more information than could be adequately given by the existing trade papers. What I am absolutely certain of 1244 is that action is not taken quickly enough by the existing machine to correct misapprehensions which are harming production in the particular cities, regions, or localities. Under the old system of the Production Executive, there was an Industrial Publicity Committee at headquarters. That Committee believed its duty to be to sit at headquarters and issue directions from there. I submit that that is not the way that this task of correcting local misapprehensions can be fulfilled. There must be the very closest liaison between those who are carrying on any kind of industrial publicity and those who—we all know them—in each town or factory, can authoritatively say what is the real trouble that is biting into the minds of people and upsetting their balance, upsetting their work.
I very much hope that on some occasion in the near future my right hon. Friend will develop his statement of the work of this Industrial Information Division, and assure the Committee that there is close liaison between it and the regional organisation of the Ministry of Information, whose undoubted duty it is to pick up and correct mistaken ideas that are extant in the region. Every Member of this Committee who knows anything about factories must have visited places where he discovered that there was an almost universal opinion among the workpeople that the contracts in their factory were being done on the cost-plus-percentage basis. If he were innocent, he might accept that view, but if he made inquiries when he returned to London, he would almost certainly discover that there was no truth whatever in that belief, and yet it would seem that no adequate steps had been taken by the management, by the local information committee or by the Departments to correct it. Ideas of that kind do infinite harm. Nothing is worse for the morale of a factory than a belief that the work is being paid for on a cost-plus-percentage basis.
Also I beg my hon. Friends opposite to help in the battle of production by playing their part in getting rid of the idea that, in this war, firms and individuals are making enormous profits. This is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of fact. Every hon. Member ought to read that article in the issue of "The Economist" of 23rd May, which analyses company reports over the last three years, and shows 1245 that there has been no increase in dividends, on the average, to any class of shareholders, and that the ordinary shareholders in industrial concerns, after allowing for deduction of income tax are now receiving less than two-thirds of what they received in 1939. That is a fact which ought to be drummed into the heads of all those who still repeat the old political slogans—coin that ought to have been called in long ago—and it is unfortunate if it is to be left to Ministers themselves or to one set of people or to one side in industry to state these very relevant facts.
The Minister of Production must be well aware of the immense progress which Mr. Nelson in America has made in what I can only describe as getting pageantry into the factories, not merely setting up targets or encouraging competition in comparative production, but bringing the idea of great issues, the idea of battle, into the factories themselves. Cases of that are still few and far between in this country; nothing would be more valuable than if the Minister himself, who knows these things, were to broadcast and tell the country what he has seen in American factories bringing exhilaration and pageantry into the job on which managements and factories are engaged. That is the counterpart of the removal of misapprehension—bringing home to every man and woman, boy and girl that in making some apparently silly little piece of metal they are in fact helping to destroy their enemies.
Perhaps the Committee will say that up to now, I, myself, have been speaking too much of exhilaration and too little of organisation. Of course, you must temper this pageantry with the most exact planning. The Minister has made an immense stride forward with the creation of his Joint War Production Staff. I am not yet so happy about the Industrial Division of his Ministry. It is obviously taking on a number of highly important jobs, such as diminishing the time wasted in changing over an aircraft factory from one type to another, but will he assure us that it is going to guard against that terrible failing into which the old Production Executive fell of doing nothing in particular, until somebody came to it with a deadlock or a complaint? It seems to me that his Industrial Division must initiate large-scale plans and inquiries in the field of organisation, and must not 1246 merely wait until difficulties and delays and bottle-necks are brought to it. Can the Minister tell us that he has a strong team there investigating comparative man-hours, not only in some particularly striking case as of the same bomber being made in two factories, but through the whole field of production, because in the state at which we have now arrived, and which he so well described yesterday, when we are nearing the limit of our labour supply, nothing is more important than that we should cut man-hours to the bone on every job. The Minister knows as well as I do that identical jobs are being done in identical factories at this moment with enormous disparities in man-hours still persisting. On that information he can take steps to see whether these disparities can be corrected, or whether the work must be concentrated in those factories in which the man-hours are lowest.
Will this Industrial Division also have the duty of studying the inter-action of industry and transport? Will it be the job of that body or some other body to make sure that contracts which are linked up with each other, in that they all concern elements of the same final product, are not unnecessarily placed at the farthest corners of the country involving extra delay and waste of transport? Will that body or some other body study this other link between industry and transport—the fact that what matters in production is the number of hours the man or woman spends in the factory, but what matters to the man or woman is the number of hours which he or she will be away from home each day? Will this Division or some other body constantly study the defects and weaknesses in contract procedure? We still have considerable numbers of costings investigators going round the country on the post-costing of maximum-price contracts. That must be recognised as a second best. There is highly important work for these costings investigators to do, but by this stage in the war they should be more and more occupied in doing their costing work so as to enable the contracts department afterwards to place contracts on a fixed price basis. Is he watching whether the percentage of contracts placed on a fixed-price basis is going up and up? Every hon. Member familiar with industry knows that you get the best use of machines and of labour if work is being 1247 done on fixed price contracts, and not on some system of settling afterwards, which is almost as damaging as to say to the workers that a job is to be piece work but the piece work rates are not to be fixed until the whole job is done.
Two larger questions. Is the Minister allowing in his mind for the considerable change-over that there surely will need to be in Britain from mass production to maintenance and repair work? This country, we know, will become more and more a war base. That means that, more and more, our factories will have to be concerned with maintenance and repair rather than with full-flow mass production. Is that being planned ahead? Secondly, is the Minister keeping his mind open to the possibility that a time may come when it is right to amalgamate the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production? I am not bold enough to say that that time is yet; but there would be wonderful advantages at the factory level if all instructions and all orders reached a factory through one channel and not through several. Departmental rivalries, believe me, do still exist. It would immensely simplify also the carrying-on of the regional organisation, about which I want to say nothing else in this Debate now because it is all no new, and, while I believe the Minister has taken a great step forward there, it is too early to judge of it by its work. I would only ask him whether he has any intention towards the Citrine Committee's recommendation of a National Production Advisory Council. The Committee, I think quite rightly, damned the former Central Joint Advisory Committee, and I am not at all sure in my mind whether there is really useful work for this new National Council to do, but Parliament is entitled to hear about it.
Finally, the known defects, in tank production and elsewhere. The whole Committee is, I think, convinced that up to the present we have not yet adequately utilised the services of the nation's scientists. I am prepared to accept the Minister's assurance that that is changing now. It is obvious in the War Office that the right decision has been taken at the top. I pray that the effects will be seen all the way through very quickly. I did not quite understand what my hon. Friend the Junior Burgess for Cambridge University 1248 (Professor Hill) said yesterday, when he asked forsome central body to see that the scientific and technical resources of our Departments and the country are properly and effectively used."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1942, Col. 1149, Vol. 381.]I did not quite see what kind of central body he required. This is the real key to the situation, that scientists always do their best work if they know that they enjoy personally the confidence of the Ministers for whom they are working. It is a very personal matter. A scientist is bound to lose heart if he feels that the Ministers treat him as an oracle to whom they only listen when he prophesies good tidings. It is that confidence between some Ministers and the scientific world, and, I am going to say, between the Prime Minister himself and the leaders of the scientific world, which has not yet been fostered to the degree required.
The scientist, the user, the engineer—speech after speech in the Committee has stressed the importance of bringing all these three together. Let us be absolutely sure that the contact is made with the real user and not the non-technical senior officer. It is not adequately happening yet, because if the contact was with the real user there would be a much fuller and speedier flow of new ideas from the War Office side to the Ministry of Supply side, whereas in my experience the flow of ideas is much stronger from the industrial side and the production side to the War Office side, where they are either accepted or rejected.
Would the Minister, if he has not done so already, investigate with respect to certain particular types of weapon or equipment, the date when the battle experience was gained that pointed to the necessity of change, secondly, the date in each case when the requisite order was passed by the War Office to the Ministry of Supply, and, thirdly, the date when the Ministry of Supply gave an instruction to proceed to some producing firm? Those dates, I submit, are the material which requires analysis, if we are really to discover where the delays have been. Will the Minister make sure that every manufacturer who holds large contracts for warlike equipment has opportunities to see for himself captured equipment from the enemy? That captured equipment is here in this country now. It is available to the Service Departments and 1249 to the production Departments. There are industrialists who could help with ideas, if they too could see it. Will he ensure too, that the chief designers have an opportunity to talk to common soldiers—common soldiers who are accustomed to knocking about in tanks in great heat—not to accept their ideas simply because they are first-hand, but just to check up, by perhaps the most important check of all, whether the thing is right for the man who has to ride in the vehicle? By these means only shall we get our design right, as we have long since got it right in other fields; and if we prosecute any Minister or ex-Minister, like everybody else, who discloses in public what our new weapons will do which are not likely to go into action against the enemy for months hence, then we shall win the war.
We are on test as a nation. Our enemies have never tired of saying we were decadent. I say we are not; we have the brains, we have the stored-up energies, we have the power, not equalled by any nation in the world, to adapt ourselves to a situation and create the most out of it if only—and this is the condition—we, the common people, are given sufficient chance by those in authority over us to understand clearly what they are aiming at. By every plan and every device let Ministers transmit the idea to us. Emerson, speaking of the British people, said:An electric touch by any of their national ideas melts them into one family, and brings the hoards of power, which their individuality is always hiving, into use and play for us all.The electric touch. Shall I be forgiven, because production is a human thing, if I remind the Committee that there applies to our factories as to our battlefields the words of Sir Cecil Spring Rice:I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love.There are varying media whereby that inspiration has to be transmitted to factory and office. It is for Ministers to find the media and to use them. I verily believe that, if Ministers only call upon it rightly, the service of our love is boundless, and they can know there is that source of strength in the country to draw upon.
§ Mr. Owen Evans (Cardigan)
To the best of my recollection this is the first 1250 occasion on which I have spoken on this particular subject since I moved a Motion some time ago to appoint a Ministry of Supply. The Government of that day declined to accept the Motion, despite the fact that many of us at that time anticipated that the one vital interest in war was to prepare adequately for the supply of efficient weapons. But as a close observer of production and one whose daily task it is to organise and direct the production of some vital material—semi-raw materials, some finished products and products which have been completed—I would like to join in the tribute paid yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) as to what has already been achieved in production in this country. We ought not to forget the very great achievement which bas taken place, considering the lateness of our preparations for production for this war.
I trust the Committee will not forget that we are not only five or six years behind Germany but a much longer period. It is a mistake to think that Hitler initiated Germany's war effort. It was initiated long before he came into power. That was well known to many of us who knew Germany well since the last war. We could not fail to observe the very careful, studied and secret preparation to organise their industry and their economic system for military effort. It was as true then as it was in the 18th century, when Mirabeau said it: "War is the national industry of Prussia." That has been demonstrable ever since the Peace Treaty was signed at Versailles. We did not prepare; we could not make up our minds, although the Government must have known exactly what was happening. To my own knowledge, many representations were made to them and warnings were given, yet we have been told time after time that we had no tanks at the beginning of this war fitted to stand up against the Germans.
It is much easier to design a tank, to perfect it and to test it in peace-time than in the tumult of war. I do not profess to know very much about tank construction, but I know a good deal about the material which goes into a tank, and I understand the gruelling tests of all sorts which the material has to meet. This was done by Germany years before the war started. They had established the kind of metal alloy required and had 1251 tested it over all sorts of rocks, moors and country. Let not the Committee forget that these tests take a long time and that there is no rule by which any metallurgist or scientist can say how a certain alloy will behave on a certain actual test. We are still groping about for the right type of alloy for use in our tanks. The Minister might well look into the question of the slowness and delay, often of weeks or even months, in testing materials which have been suggested. It is extremely important to reduce the time taken in coming to final conclusions in regard to the materials to be employed in war weapons of all sorts.
I am sure the Committee were greatly encouraged by the Minister's statement that the types designed to be made now in the United States and in this country give us reasonable assurance of that superiority which is required for victory. We sincerely hope that the Minister's anticipations will be fulfilled, but I hope that we have advanced beyond the stage of design and are in the full flow of production. On this subject, I want once more to emphasise, as has been done by other hon. Members, the immense importance of an efficient designing department for all matters affecting the production of weapons of all kinds. It takes a long time, after knowing what is required, to produce the design; then the trials have to be made, a prototype built, and an opinion obtained from the Service users. It requires years to train a good designer, who should have long experience in the workshops before becoming a designer. I want to impress upon the Minister that the lack of designing staff should be looked into once again, and that he should take care that the departments concerned are staffed by experienced and trained designers of many years standing, and not by soldiers.
As to aircraft, both the Ministers who have spoken in the Debate seem extremely pleased with the lead which we have in the air. We are very encouraged to hear that. The country has been led to expect very great results from our air offensive on Germany. Speaking on 8th May, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air said that the present Royal Air Force bombing offensive was only a foreshadowing of the coming Anglo-American air offensive. Its main objective 1252 was to relieve German pressure against Russia and destroy Germany's war-making capacity. It seems to me that now, when Russia seems to be very hard pressed, it would be an appropriate occasion to continue the air offensive. The Secretary of State for Air went on to say that a terrible summer was in prospect for the German Air Force, and that by day and night, in the air and on the ground, they would be exposed to unrelenting attacks by the Royal Air Force. He said that then there would be an invasion, not of Britain, but of the Continent of Europe. I would like now to quote another statement on the same subject that was made by the Prime Minister, and which has reference to the argument I am developing. The Prime Minister, referring to the raids on Cologne and Essen, said:These two great night-bombing raids mark the introduction of a new phase in the British air offensive against Germany, and this will increase markedly in scale when we are joined, as we soon shall be, by the Air Force of the United States. In fact, I may say that as the year advances German cities, harbours and centres of war production will be subjected to an ordeal the like of which has never been experienced by any country in continuity, severity, or magnitude."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd June, 1942; cols. 533–4, Vol. 380.]Over a month has gone by since that statement. The year advances rapidly, a considerable portion of the terrible summer foreshadowed has gone. Why the lull? I know that some people do not believe that an air offensive can have any serious effect on Germany's production. My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) said in his speech that these long-distance air raids have not scratched the German production machine. Has the Government's strategy been changed in this matter, and, if so, why? Is it because we are short of planes? Is it because we are short in deliveries of planes? Is there a diversion elsewhere? Or is it due to a lack of foresight in getting the materials for essential spare parts for repairs and maintenance? There must be some reason and the country is apprehensive about the matter. The figures of production of aeroplanes have not much significance if, for some reason other than weather conditions, they cannot be maintained in the air. We all know that very exceptional materials are required for the manufacture of parts of aeroplanes. It is common 1253 knowledge that those materials are difficult to make. They are limited in quantity, the factory capacity for producing them in this country is limited, and a very special technique is required to produce them. Is the Minister fully informed of the problem? Is he fully informed of the delays in setting down plant for the production of these essential materials for aeroplanes? Has this matter been reported to him, and if so, with what results? Does he know that for months past it has been well known that these things were required, and that yet the plants are not being put down. Discussions have taken place, but no progress has been made. I shall be very happy to give him details of these matters, but I do not want to say anything more about them now. To my mind, delay in coming to decisions and in taking prompt action constitutes the most serious blot on our production position.
Let me give one example of a case of this sort. There was a metallurgical laboratory which was destroyed by a bomb, and another was to be put up in its place. Very important research was in progress on the alloys to be used in tanks. After all, this is the age of alloys, although that sometimes seems to be forgotten. Metals are required in ships and in all weapons; yet we are very chary of acknowledging the services of metallurgists. The laboratory to which I have referred was required, and applications were made to rebuild it, and, of course, to improve it somewhat in a limited way. The application was made in July or August, 1941, but the licence to rebuild and to go on with the work was received only a few days ago. It took from July or August, 1941, to July, 1942.
My right hon. Friend has been to America, and it was very interesting to hear what he had to say on that subject. I should like to ask him a question. Certain remarks were made in the Debate on the composition of the British Mission in America. I understood the Minister to say that one of the most important functions of this Mission was to ensure a fair and proper allocation of raw materials as between the United States and this country and the United Nations. In that case it is important that the personnel of the British Mission should comprise representatives who understand their job, and I am not sure that he has people on the Mission with knowledge of metals. I consider 1254 that a very competent metallurgist should be on that staff. I think that the Minister has made great progress since he took office, but has he sufficient powers? When he was appointed he said that he had the powers for which he asked, but now that he has had some experience of those powers, is he satisfied that he is in a position to supervise the whole field of production, and that everything possible is being done in all directions? If he is not in a position to supervise, he ought at least to have the fullest information and reports from the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production. I hope that he will have these reports, and that he will be in a position to supervise.
§ Mrs. Tate (Frome)
If occasionally one seems somewhat critical of the Government and asks with some anxiety about plans for the future, it is because one cannot help feeling that in the conduct of this war there has been a lack of foresight in many directions. In opening the Debate the Minister said:We have now reached the point of mobilisation of our people where we cannot look for increased production. We cannot look for increased production by building new plant. … But we can, out of our existing resources, improve production by better planning, design and openness of mind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1942; col. 1119, Vol. 381.]I would not altogether agree with the Minister that we have now reached such a point of mobilisation of all our people that we cannot look for increased production. I do not think that everything is wholly satisfactory with regard to the mobilisation of our people, if looked at from the point of view of obtaining the maximum production. Numerous women are engaged in war factories all over the country, and in some instances not only is the best use of their time not being made, but in some cases they are wasting a certain amount of material through no fault of their own—far from it; I do not think one can possibly pay too great a tribute to the women in the factories. In many cases women could do more skilled work and better work if their training facilities were extended and lengthened.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
Is not the hon. Lady aware that women in our factories are doing very highly skilled work and that we have arranged training schemes to introduce them to their work before they start?
§ Mrs. Tate
I do not think I can be accused of any ignorance as to the skilled work women are doing, nor has it ever been laid at my door that I have underestimated the capacity of women to perform almost any skilled work at least as well as men. That is far from the case. There is very little which I have not looked into with regard to the training of women. I still say that in many cases, though their training is made better use of than it was, women who enter factories are still sometimes not allowed to do the work for which they have been trained and of which they are most capable. Those conditions still exist, and it is no good the hon. Member shaking his head. It is perfectly true, and I will tell the hon. Member exactly why it is. It is because in some instances we still have factories which do not wish to pay women the rate for the job, and there is still in some cases an unnecessary breaking down of the process when a man leaves his job and it is handed over to a woman because of the preference to pay women a lower rate. There is a very great improvement, but, when the hon. Member interrupts me and asks whether I am not aware of what women are doing, I beg him to remember that this information comes to me direct from women who have spent many months in factories.
Instead of taking this high line about what I know of women's training, I ask him to remember that I attended a deputation to a Minister, who I will not mention, as long ago as May, 1940, when we begged the Minister to set up machinery in readiness to absorb women in industry. We were told that women would not be needed in large numbers in factories in this war. No one wishes to be faced with all that they have said in the past, but at any rate I think it showed a certain lack of foresight which is still not absent at the present time. Another reason which makes it very difficult for many workers to give of their best—and I realise it is not altogether the business of the Minister of Production, because it touches on other Departments—is the extraordinarily inadequate transport facilities serving some factories. I ask the Minister whether he can bring pressure to bear on the London Passenger Transport Board who have been approached on this matter, by many unions and urged to call a Joint Consultative Committee. They are still only "considering" 1256 doing so, and the reason for that is that they do not wish to do anything, otherwise they would have taken the necessary steps to do so long ago.
§ The Chairman
I must warn the hon. Lady that she has got just about as far as she can on this point in asking the Minister of Production to approach the Minister of War Transport.
§ Mrs. Tate
In a great many cases where women are being employed, they are not replacing men quite as they might do. I believe the railway companies are employing some 50,000 women, but those women are not in very many cases replacing men, I believe, where they might be replacing them, because there has been very little attempt to upgrade women in that work.
To turn to another matter, there is one question that I should very much like to ask the Minister. We were told yesterday that our Air Force was superior to the German air force, and I very much hope that is the case. But I am told there are Focke Wulf machines flying in German squadrons which are said to be in some respects superior to our fighters. I understand that our reply to the Focke Wulf is the Typhoon. I may be misinformed, but I should like to ask the Minister whether we have Typhoons flying in our fighter squadrons and whether they are over their teething troubles. Are they flying in fighter squadrons in any numbers? We were also told yesterday by the Minister of Aircraft Production that we had to produce, at any rate as far as aircraft was concerned, the great majority of our needs in this country. Later on he said we were producing bombers over here and that transport planes were being produced in the United States. We were also told yesterday, and in reply to questions to-day, that we have converted one bomber to a transport plane. I do not believe that transforming a bomber into a transport plane is the most economical way of producing a transport plane. When I was one of a company which tendered for the South Atlantic before the war, when it was the policy of the Fisher Committee—a policy which I never understood—to fly the South Atlantic, the largest stretch of water that we were then flying with a land plane, I was under the impression that we had then a Stirling prototype which was a transport plane designed for flying the South Atlantic. If we have that prototype 1257 for the South Atlantic flight, is it not possible still to produce it in this country? In view of the great necessity for transport planes, is the Minister really satisfied that it is the most economical and the wisest plan to allow America to produce all the transport planes and to concentrate entirely on bombers over here? I think there are a great many arguments on both sides which need constant review and reconsideration.
There is one other small point that I should like to make. One has seen from time to time statements in the Press which lead one to believe that there is still a difficulty in approaching Departments both with newer methods and with ideas for production. Only recently two instances were given in the Press, one, I believe, of a clergyman, the other of an ex-admiral, who were producing quite useful parts in quite large numbers in their own houses. It gave the quantities of stuff they were producing and said that, after ceaseless approach to the Ministry and ceaselessly being turned down, they had set to and produced these things on their own. I hope that some machinery is devised which can get speedier recognition for new ideas and for offers of work of that sort. I appreciate intensely the difficult task that the Minister has, and I congratulate him most sincerely on the improvements in very many directions which I believe have taken place in the Ministry of Production in recent months.
§ Mr. Reakes (Wallasey)
I crave the indulgence of the Committee to make a few remarks concerning the discussion, to which I have listened with great interest, and, if I stand here as a new Member conscious of the fact that I have no technical knowledge to offer, it is probably just as well, because I am sure the Minister will be very fortunate if he succeeds in assimilating all the technical advice that has been offered him during the Debate. I am deeply interested in two aspects of production, first of all the question of internal management of all the firms that come within the orbit of the Minister's control and, secondly, the question of transport for the workers. On the first point, I would like to suggest that the Minister should make it possible for surprise visits to be paid to some of these establishments so as to be satisfied at first hand that all is well within them. I have had many complaints made to 1258 me with regard to slackness, or no work to do, in certain important factories. Naturally I do not accept them as being correct, as that would be very unwise, but I am inclined to say that these statements, when made by men working in the factories, should be checked up, and the only way to have them checked up is to have the factories visited in the way I suggest. It is customary to have public institutions visited, particularly those which come under the control of the Home Office, and I am one of those who make periodical visits to such places without notification. That is not because they are under suspicion but because it is part of our routine work, to make sure that all is well in the management of those institutions. That practice could very well be adopted in the case of these big concerns on whose work so much depends. Members of this House are able to give the Minister of Production evidence such as I have suggested, which should be investigated without delay.
The hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) and previous speakers have rightly referred to the question of transport. I must be careful how I deal with this question, because I do not want to be called to Order. I want to mention it because it is of transcending importance to the workers engaged in war industries. I speak from experience. I have stood on the landing stage at Liverpool on more than one occasion and have stood in close proximity to shipbuilding yards in the same area, and I have ample evidence that the workers have to wait a long time in queues for transport to take them to their homes. It is a necessary duty for all managing boards of firms who are doing work of national importance to make sure that their workers can get home within a reasonable time and can get transport to bring them to their places of work at the proper time. Delays are dangerous. Furthermore, this waiting has a detrimental effect on the health of the workers. How can we expect workers to put in long hours on arduous work and sometimes be called upon to work overtime if they have to wait in queues or pedal it if they are fortunate enough to have bicycles? This aspect of the question is of greater importance than ever because of the large number of women who have been taken into industry. I have spoken to them in the queues, but they do not complain. There 1259 is a wonderful spirit among the workers, and it wants encouragement. I hope that the Minister of Production will remember that this is an important matter. I pay tribute to the local authorities who have co-operated with production firms which are far distant in rural areas and been successful in arranging motor-coach transport facilities for the workers. That, of course, is not sufficient. The bulk of our industries are on the outskirts of cities and towns, and they present a tremendous difficulty.
I want to pay tribute to the Minister of Production for the courage he has displayed in assuming this tremendous task. He has inherited something which is greatly to his disadvantage. All the difficulties we see in production to-day, the lack of tanks and aircraft, are due to the criminal complacency which existed before the war and for which the right hon. Gentleman is not responsible. The legacy which he has inherited is a most tragic one, and it is sad to think that on the eve of the fourth year of war this Debate should be necessary. The Minister of Production has shouldered the burden and he deserves well of this House and the nation. I am only too glad to think that while it would be possible for me to make a maiden speech based on much criticism of the Government, on this particular occasion I can make a speech in acknowledgment of the heroism and courage of the Minister in taking on this good work. I am happy to think that it has been possible for me to limit my speech to a brevity of less than 10 minutes and to offer what I hope are two useful suggestions.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
May I offer my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the Committee and say to him that we are very glad to hear his speech and to have his practical knowledge of the world outside brought to our deliberations here? It is to be hoped that he will very frequently address the House in the same practical, helpful and stimulating way.
I should like to say at once to the Minister how much we appreciate the work he has already accomplished in the administration of his Department. In particular, I would like to congratulate him on the appointment of his two regional boards, the chairmen of which he 1260 has chosen with great skill and selective judgment. Some credit must be recorded in favour of the old regional boards that existed in different parts of the country. If I may introduce a personal allusion, I should like to say that in the case of the West Midland Board, with whose activities I have been closely associated for a considerable time, the Chairman, Mr. Walter Chance, ought to be thanked for the services to the country that he has performed in a voluntary capacity so efficiently and effectively for so long. There were great difficulties with the old regional boards because of the limited powers conferred on them by the Government. I was glad to hear the Minister say yesterday, in reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite), that he is giving necessary powers to the regional boards and that they will be able to deal with the series of complex questions which arise in reference to the transfer of labour, the transfer of contracts, the supply of raw materials, and, above all, the embarrassing situation of idle machines owing to the absence of man-power at night.
There is nothing more deplorable than the number of machines which one finds idle at night. I make it my business to go among our own workpeople on the night shifts and see not merely that their comfort and welfare are looked after as well as possible within the limits of our organisation, but the extent to which machines are standing idle in our works. Works managers and men who have been engaged in productive activity consider that the idle machinery in this country, owing to the weakness of man-power on the night shifts, must mean something like 30 to 40 per cent. reduced production compared with what it might be if the man-power were available. I do not think the Committee realise the magnificent achievement that has been carried out in the organisation of production in this country. I would like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply for his work. Everybody associated with the industry will acknowledge his capacity and his long view of what is necessary in the organisation of war production. He has had long practical contact with industrial organisation and has brought into play since the opening of the war those fine qualities of constructive purpose with which we identified him in his previous career.
1261 It is a remarkable fact that at the present moment, notwithstanding the criticisms—and how much silly, stupid and ill-informed criticism of production we hear—the output per human unit in this country in war production is the highest in the world. I regret two sorts of criticism—one attacking our workpeople and the other attacking our management. I am convinced from personal daily contact with our machinery of management that we have as fine a type of management as any other country in the world, not even excluding the United States.
§ Sir P. Hannon
But taking it by and large we have a management of industry, especially taking into consideration the restrictions imposed by the war effort, as efficient and competent and as far-seeing as any in the world. When one realises that the whole of our population between 14 and 65 years of age are engaged in one form or another in industrial activity, it shows the immensity of this man-power problem, and how diffident and cautious we should be in criticising the activities of the Minister in view of the heavy task which he has to discharge. I was very much gratified yesterday by the analysis he gave of his whole scheme of direction from the centre. I think the scheme which he is introducing in order to bring the whole of our productive personnel into contact with their real responsibilities in the war by diffusing information among our workers is an admirable development. I do not know any way of evoking a warmer or more intelligent response from them than by talking to our workpeople in their canteens or in the workshops: it is a means of focusing their minds on what is really happening and stimulating their sense of duty. The formation of works committees is, I think, a step in the right direction. At the beginning I was very much opposed to them, but having had the opportunity of seeing them in actual contact with managements for the last five or six months, I am satisfied that, carefully directed, they are a very wholesome feature of our war effort.
§ Sir P. Hannon
I am always inclined to qualify when I make any observation that may be criticised by the hon. Member. I was rather sorry that yesterday my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Aircraft Production did not pay a little more tribute to the immense work done at his Ministry by Lord Beaverbrook when he was the Minister of Aircraft Production. I think it is the fact that the work done during that period, when this country was at its highest point of danger, was almost phenomenal, and made a contribution to national safety and security which will always be of outstanding brilliance in the history of our country; and it is unkind and ungenerous of some hon. Members to criticise the work done during those momentous and dangerous days. Some of those who criticise and make those unkind allusions have not themselves made very much contribution to the success of the war effort. In the difficult times through which we are passing the vitality of our productive effort is essential to victory, and we are all particularly proud that the present Minister of Production has taken this work in hand. I believe he will meet with a cordial response from everybody engaged in industry, but I would remind him that there is still room for expansion, that this is no time for relaxation; and I also hope very much that he will do his best to put himself into personal touch with those engaged in industry, and in that way see for himself the nature of the difficulties which arise and give stimulus and encouragement to managements and workers which, on the psychological side, will prove very helpful.
Taking up an observation let fall by the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate), I would say how much we owe to the women in our munition factories. I would add that we are taking a great deal of care of them in their training and their welfare. In the Midlands we have established a series of women's clubs and hostels in order to safeguard as far as possible the welfare of the girls who come to that area from parts near and beyond the Border. We have also, as was mentioned in another place a short time ago, introduced in many works preliminary courses of training, so that girls may be given a pretty clear idea of the nature and complexity of the work which they will have to undertake before they actually start work in the factory.
1263 On the whole, production stands high. The only difficulty in many cases is the difficulty of skilled labour, the difficulty of adjusting the relationships of managements and workpeople. All these will no doubt work themselves out, but I know that with the regional boards, acting with full power, subject to appeal to the Minister, and with the other organisations which the Minister has introduced into the direction of his Department, we can look forward with confidence and hope to increased production as an essential preliminary to victory and the winning of the war.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
I should like to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) in congratulating the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Reakes) on his maiden speech. I do so for a double reason. He and I were born about 10 miles from one another; and last night, with three other Members, we slept in this building, and when I left my hon. Friend at 7.30 this morning he was happily dreaming of a successful maiden speech. His dream has now come true. He mentioned, incidentally, the problem of passenger road transport in relation to munitions production. If he has any precise information on the subject I shall be grateful if he will send it to me, in my capacity as chairman of one of the sub-committees of the Committee on National Expenditure. I do not think it is any breach of Privilege to say that that sub-committee is just about to begin an investigation of that problem.
The Minister of Production gave us some interesting figures yesterday measuring the scale of production. Naturally he could not tell us exactly how many guns and tanks we have made of this design or that, and he chose the useful method of index numbers. He spoke of what he called warlike stores, by which phrase I take it he covered the whole range of shells, guns, tanks and the rest. Taking January, 1941, as 100 he told us that by July, 1941, we had reached a level of 153, and that at the present time the figure is 289, which I think is an increase of about 80 per cent. calculating it quickly. That is interesting, and in this connection I would ask hon. Members to recall the production Debate of June last year, when the hon. Member for Kidderminster 1264 (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) expressed the opinion that we were doing only 75 per cent. of what was possible. I would also remind the Committee of the sequel. The Prime Minister protested that that statement had done a great deal of harm. He said that it had been sent all over the world. In consequence, the Prime Minister proposed a further Debate on production in which he took the principal part. He said that no such statement should have been made, that it was not true. In the autumn, the Minister of Labour said that we could increase our output by 50 per cent., confirming what the hon. Member for Kidderminster had said and completely contradicting the Prime Minister. Now we have authentic figures from the Minister of Production showing that output has gone up from 153 to 289. In the meantime there has been some addition to the labour force, and certain machinery and buildings which were then in course of construction have come into operation, but making the fullest allowance for these factors, the increase announced yesterday by the Minister of Production proved conclusively that the hon. Member for Kidderminster was right when he made his rather sensational statement last year.
At Question time yesterday I asked the Prime Minister what steps were taken after it was learned that the Germans were using the 88 mm. gun in Libya in 1941. We did not know until Lord Beaverbrook mentioned it in the House of Lords that that was so. I got from the Deputy Prime Minister the usual—and not very intelligent—answer:I regret that it would be contrary to the public interest to give information on this subject."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1942; col. 1062, Vol. 381.]An hour afterwards, the Minister of Production told us what the Deputy Prime Minister said it would not be in the public interest to disclose. He told us that the 3.7 mobile anti-aircraft gun had been sent to Libya. I knew that. I had got it all saved up for a supplementary question if a proper answer had been given to the original Question. The 3.7 has been in mass production for four years. As far as I know, it is a better gun than the 88 mm. gun. We are told that it was in Libya. I can only say it is a pity it was not used. Not one single reference in any communiqué, speech or Press story mentions the use of this gun. Therefore I can only 1265 assume that it was not used. If it was used, why not advertise it? Look at the Ministry of Information with all their influence, and all their Richard Dimblebys. With all their information and resources, they cannot trot out this fact. Either the publicity is rotten or the gun was not used. I do not mind which way, but I hope we shall have an explanation.
I have here a couple of reports of the Select Committee on National Expenditure. The contents of these reports came, in part, from the supply sub-committee of which I was chairman for two years. I want to draw attention to some of the things to which we referred in the Second Report presented to the House on 18th April, 1940, and available to Members a few days later. We emphasised the vital importance of close contact at all stages between those engaged in design and those engaged in production. As the designer goes on he should send for a production engineer and say "This is the way we are developing the design. Can you make it efficiently?" It is the only way—constant interchange of view between the production engineer and the designer. In the case of warlike stores, constant communication as the design goes on, should be maintained with the customer. In this case there is only one customer, the Army, and that does not happen. As I say, on 18th April, 1940, we drew attention to that underlying principle. We had the usual polite reply, printed some weeks or months later. It usually takes some months for the people concerned to read these documents and make their comments. It is a scandal that a large number of men of considerable experience should spend hours investigating such matters and at the end of the investigation be treated in that way. We are far better informed upon the particular subject after we have investigated it, than the Minister can be. That is not our merit, or his demerit, but because we have concentrated our minds on the problem for a period and at the end we know a great deal about it. The Minister in this instance did not take effective action.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent (Mr. Ellis Smith) said yesterday that although this was said to be an engineer's war there was not an engineer in the Government. I must tell him that he libelled the Government. There is one 1266 highly qualified engineer in the Government, judging by the letters after his name. He is the assistant Postmaster-General—in a war of engineers—and he is the only engineer as far as I know in the Government. He has spent a long time in the Whips Office and is now, as I say, Assistant Postmaster-General. Engineering knowledge in the Post Office is very useful, but I think there ought to be more than one engineer in the Government. Sodom and Gomorrah wanted one honest person for their salvation. The Government have got one engineer but they are not using him in the right place.
Take the question of substitute materials. We found great waste in all kinds of constructional work in the use of rare materials where others were more available. This was increasing the cost. As a result, one of the witnesses who came before us was, at our suggestion, allowed to get into touch with every Department which had given evidence before us and a committee was set up. Nearly all the Departments were represented on it, and they devoted their minds to the simplification of certain specifications of articles, largely used in the building trade, substituting steel for brass, for example, and some plastic material for steel, and doing a useful piece of work. The committee presented their report and were then dismissed. At this moment a committee on substitute materials is more important than ever before in our history. Remember the disaster at Malaya; it was incredible, militarily, but it was disastrous industrially. We are faced with the problem of synthetic rubber, which the Minister for Production mentioned yesterday. My interest in synthetic rubber began in 1909 in a curious way. I was at that time technical assistant to a consulting engineer. He was approached by people who had been asked to buy interests in a method of producing synthetic rubber by bacteriological treatment of a coal derivative. The process lasted for six weeks. The material had to be kept at a constant temperature and twice a day I visited the laboratory in which the test was being carried out. We had a preliminary test, at the end of which we were able to discover a quantity of rubber. We thought we ought to have a test under seal lasting another six weeks. On this occasion we did not discover any rubber, and so those clients did not invest anything in the process.
1267 Progress has been made since. It is now known that synthetic rubber can be obtained from oil and coal. I do not know what our consumption of rubber was, but I think it was at the rate of 200,000 tons per annum. It is a little difficult to get the figure, but that figure is not far out. Whatever the total, the argument remains the same. If my information is right, it will take about 1,000,000 tons of coal to produce 200,000 tons of rubber. Plenty of coal can be obtained economically by developing outcrop mining. I hope it is not being neglected. I was very distressed the other day to learn that Mr. Gibson, a very old friend of mine, had been dismissed from the very important work he was doing.
§ Sir H. Williams
I see. He was fed up and he has resigned. It is not the first body from which he has resigned. He had a very responsible position in the Ministry of Supply and he was very disturbed at the methods which were being pursued. He is a man of high reputation. As to this process, we can save 200,000 tons per annum of shipping space", at what expense? Certain capital expense in this country and the possible importation of certain plant from the United States of America. It is criminal that this industry should be carried on only in the United States and that we should be entirely dependent upon shipping transport to bring this essential product to this country. Part of our supply of synthetic rubber ought to be produced in this country, in the immediate war interests and also on grounds that anything we do in the war which can have a post-war value should be taken into account, although it should not be the predominant concern at the moment. I sincerely hope that the Minister of Production will revise his decision with regard to synthetic rubber, which I think is thoroughly unsound on the grounds of shipping.
I promised not to exceed 12 minutes, and I have had about 11, but I would just like to refer to one other aspect of the reports of the Select Committee. I have merely picked out one or two examples; there are heaps more. We examined the area organisation and 1268 reported on it on 28th May, 1940. We found that it was unsatisfactory. It has taken until one month ago to give effect to the principle of the recommendation that went forward from the Select Committee on 28th May, 1940. There is no excuse for this dilatoriness.
I will give another example. Last summer my Sub-Committee visited two Royal Ordnance factories. We went there without any particular purpose in our minds; we thought that we ought to visit such factories, and we did. We had not been in one factory for more than an hour when we discovered the seriousness of the absenteeism. We asked the management a lot of questions and decided to interview the works committee, a large representative body composed of some 30 Lancashire men and women. They knew that what they said to us was confidential in the sense that no names would be mentioned and that the management was not present. They were frankly critical. We saw a similar group at the next factory the next day. We saw the catering manager, the transport manager, and we asked about difficulties. We embodied all that in a report presented to this House, and that is why I am free to discuss it. Four days after it was presented, my committee were seeing the then Minister of Supply, Lord Beaverbrook. I asked him if he had read it and he said he had. I cannot go too far into a private conversation, but he said he was very much impressed by it, and told us what action he was going to take—action very satisfactory to us. We were delighted at the promptitude with which he intended to act. In the production Debate the Prime Minister referred in highly complimentary terms to that document—a "shrewd document" I think he said. Incidentally, he said it had all been done by him at two meetings in January and February, five months before we investigated the problem of this grave absenteeism.
Last December I asked a Question about absenteeism in Royal Ordnance factories. It was slightly worse. The other day another hon. Member asked a Question, and on the grounds of the public interest the information was refused. I suggest that the only ground of public interest was that the Government had failed to give effect to our recommendations, which they had accepted, 1269 and that they dared not tell the people the truth. Whether that is so I do not know; I have not yet had an opportunity of finding out and, as it is contrary to the public interest to disclose the information, it may be difficult for me to find out what is the present position. But I suspect that it is very bad.
Why should a solemn body of Members of Parliament, 32 strong, each attending nearly 100 meetings a year, examining each year two or three thousand witnesses and travelling many thousands of miles, present these documents to Parliament and then find them treated largely as waste paper? I protest, in the strongest possible way, against the failure of Governments and Ministers to give effect to recommendants carefully thought out and presented after taking full evidence. I think I have gone a little over my promised time, but I am so heated about this waste of valuable information, that I feel I must make the strongest protest I can.
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
Can the hon. Gentleman tell the Committee how many reports this Committee has rendered to the House up to date, and on how many occasions the House has troubled to debate them?
§ Sir H. Williams
I believe the number is 40, and I think that this is the first occasion there has been any kind of Debate, and it has only lasted 12 minutes so far.
§ Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)
I want to refer to the speech made by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Professor Hill) yesterday and to that of the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) who opened the Debate to-day. The hon. Member for West Lewisham said he did not understand the remarks of the hon. Member for Cambridge University in regard to his criticism of the way in which scientific inventions and designs have been applied to the war effort. As the hon. Member for West Lewisham referred to it in that way, I think it is necessary to stress once again that this war, in which science and engineering are all-important, can only be won if there is some body of experts and strategists who are there for the purpose of applying scientific discoveries in practice in the field, and who are independent of the various Departments. The fear expressed by the hon. 1270 Member for Cambridge University and by others of us who feel like that, is that too many of our best experts are locked in the Departments and consequently are not as available as they ought to be. The best brains in this field should be independent of the Departments, and should be looking at the strategy of the war as a whole, looking at the various discoveries of science as a whole, and seeing how best they can be applied to the war strategy. That cannot be obtained if they are in the Departments and are consequently bound to adopt a merely departmental point of view.
A case in point is that one of the best brains in the world of physics is in the Air Ministry, and it has been felt that excessive emphasis on the long-distance bombing policy has been depriving other Departments of very important and useful weapons which could be used for defeating the submarine in the Atlantic and elsewhere. I maintain that that overemphasis on one arm would not have taken place, if there had been an interdepartmental body of scientists and strategists looking into the question from the point of view of war strategy as a whole. I believe that difficulties of a similar nature exist now, if not that particular one. That is why I would emphasise what was said yesterday and explain to the hon. Member for West Lewisham—as it seemed to cause him some doubts—what it is that some of the critics are aiming at.
I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) in what he has just said regarding the work of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, on which I am serving with him. We feel that many of the recommendations of this Committee have been given too scant attention by the Government. The 21st Report of this Committee of last Session made certain recommendations. One of them concerned hours of work in factories. It is still a fact that far too long hours are being worked in the factories and that this affects production. I am speaking now, not from the point of view of the social effects on the workers—that would be out of order in this Debate—but from the point of view of the effect on production. The undesirability of long hours has been recognised long ago, and I would only repeat that it defeats its own 1271 object. Men are working now in some factories 70 hours a week and women 60 hours a week. This is bound to defeat its own object, because beyond a certain maximum of hours output per man is bound to go down and production is bound to be affected. I know it is said that there is insufficient labour to enable factories to change over from a two to a three shift basis but I still maintain that even if it is not possible to get all the labour needed for a three shift basis a reduction of hours on a two shift basis is essential, and would pay in the long run. That is one of the things to which the Select Committee on National Expenditure paid special attention in its 21st Report last Session. I have regretfully to call the attention of the Committee to the fact that nothing has been done. This is still going on in very many Royal Ordnance factories and many private factories working for the war effort.
Another question was raised by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Reakes), who has just made his maiden speech. That is the transport question, which is very important and which is not in a satisfactory position. On that, the Select Committee on National Expenditure has also been reporting. I, along with the hon. Member for South Croydon, have visited Royal Ordnance factories. We have seen that workers have to travel very long distances, often 20 and 30 miles. Often the buses are very inferior, the service is late, the men come very tired to their work, and go back very late after these long hours. The result is absenteeism. Can you blame the men? That is one of the main reasons for absenteeism, I think. One of the reasons given to us was that there are not the buses, and that it is difficult to get the parts to repair them. My answer to that is, very plainly, that the parts to repair these buses and to keep our transport in proper order should be No. 1 priority. The excuse should not be available that there are not the parts required to keep our transport arrangements working properly. Then, again, there is the question of hostels. It has been found that in many cases hostels have been built at these factories far in excess of the requirements, and great waste has taken place in consequence. Large sums of money have been wasted in building hostels at these factories which are not being used. I know it is a difficult 1272 thing. Men like to go back to their homes whenever possible, but it does look as if many of these hostels have been built in such an unattractive way that the workers prefer to go on these long bus rides and lose time. It should have been made attractive at least for those who are single to remain on the factory sites where good hostel accommodation could easily be organised. Many hostels are not such as to induce workers to remain and live on the sites.
There is one other point, in regard to workers' earnings. One of the reasons, apparently, why there has been a reluctance to reduce hours of labour is because the workers themselves fear that their earnings will drop. It is reasonable that they should have that fear but it shows that there is not sufficient means whereby the whole question of earnings can be reviewed from time to time. It is, surely, essential that by consultation with the trade unions there should be that readjustment from time to time so that if hours are reduced, the workers shall be guaranteed against loss of earnings. If that is one of the reasons why nothing has been done to reduce hours I say that the Minister of Production ought to look into this matter at a very early date, with the Minister of Labour, and see that fear of reduced earnings is not made an excuse for not reducing the number of hours.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Major Sir Edward Cadogan)
I think that the hon. Member is getting a little wide of the subject of production.
§ Mr. Price
As I said just now, I recognise that I am on dangerous ground. I refer to this question only because all these points have an application to production, since failure to deal with them is preventing, in fact, the production capacity of factories being brought into full use. I will not go further than to indicate that all these are points that have been dealt with by the Select Committee on National Expenditure, but up to now have not been properly dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman's Department. I hope he will see to it that they are dealt with at a very early date.
§ Lieut. - Commander Joynson - Hicks (Chichester)
When listening to some of the speeches we have heard during the course of this Debate, one is rather inclined to gain the impression that it is a 1273 matter for wonder that we have been able to sustain the effort of this war at all during the past two years, and in fact, at one moment, I was inclined to wonder whether or not we could even now be in a state of war, so grave and serious was the position apparently with regard to the outlook of our war industry. A good many assurances have been asked from the Government, and I could not but notice, in particular with regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville), the assurances for which he asked had already been given in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate. So far as I have been able to gauge the evidence which has been submitted, it would appear from all the available information that the Department over which the right hon. Gentleman is now presiding has succeeded in attaining a very great, a very marked, and a very steady increase in the war production of this country. I think most of the criticisms which have been directed are directed against the earlier production efforts of Supply Ministers. The words Shakespeare used are exceedingly apt, thatThe evil that men do lives after them.The good is oft interred with their bones.One is apt to fail to appreciate, after the lapse of time, the assured foundations which have been laid by the previous Production Ministry.
I come from an agricultural constituency: that is not the sole reason why I venture to intervene in a Debate on war production, but agriculturists are reputed to be the most conservative of people in their attitude towards innovations. Nevertheless, since the war began—and the agricultural industry has been proved to be one of the moat important industries in war-time—that industry has been completely revolutionised, so that at present no fewer than 2,000,000 additional horse-power—a very mighty figure—has been added to the incidence of farming, and we have more tractors to the square mile than any other agricultural industry in the world. If that industry, with its reputedly conservative attitude, has been able to achieve such a revolution, surely it is fair to assume that industries which have the reputation of being so much more progressive and keener to accept new methods have attained at least as great a revolution. But there is another aspect to that matter. If we have 1274 added such a vast amount of mechanised equipment and implements of all sorts in agriculture, the production of those tractors and implements must have come out of our war potential. Had the industries not been producing tractors and other implements for the industry of agriculture, they would have been available to produce tanks and guns.
When we are considering the problem of war production, we are rather apt to focus our view on the results we have seen in Libya. I think that that is not the perspective in which the matter should be viewed. Industry has had to provide vast amounts of material irrespective of that which has been sent to Libya. For instance, it has had to equip the whole of our Army at home and to send an immense quantity to our Forces overseas as well. In addition, there is the vast amount of equipment which has had to be provided for Civil Defence and of antiaircraft guns for home defence. All these things require to be taken into consideration. I have heard some mention of the fact that certain armaments even have been produced by the industries of this country for our naval efforts. Our industries have also produced such things as fire floats, fire engines, trailers, and pumps, and matters of that sort. So when we gauge this question of production, we should take a broad view, rather than confine our attention solely to what has been not only produced, but despatched and made use of in the Libyan campaign.
There are two aspects from which the question of war production can most easily be viewed. One is the aspect of whether our military, scientific, and production sides have been interwoven, both at home and abroad, to operate as one complete unit. The other aspect is whether the response of industry to the call is satisfactory or not. Hon. Members have addressed this Committee to a considerable extent on that subject, and my submission is that companies and industrial units have succeeded in meeting the call to a very great degree indeed. Comparisons are always odious. In addition, in this case, I believe, they are very difficult to make. It is hard to know whether the productive capacity of this country is running to its maximum extent or whether it can possibly be increased. There is no yardstick measure in such a matter. If one tried to compare production to-day with production before the 1275 war, one would have to compare tanks with motor cars, or R.A.F. machines with civil aircraft. Such a comparison cannot be made. Then, again, suppose we try to compare our productive output with that of some other country. If we attempt to compare it with that of Germany—which is the country with which we should naturally attempt to make such a comparison—it is almost impossible to do so, owing to the different sizes of the industrial potential in the two countries, and the difficulty, to which attention has already been called, about the periods in respect of which the two countries should be compared. Germany has been on a basis of war production much longer than we have. If we turn to America, we are met with the same difficulties in attempting to make any comparison.
There is one lesson which can be learned—and perhaps two. One lesson particularly arises with regard to America. We in this country, who have an immense admiration for the power and the effort of American industry, felt that the moment that America came into the war industrial production for the benefit of the Allies would be completely changed, and that all needs were likely to be met. I do not say that any individual person held that view, but that feeling prevailed considerably in the public mind. Yet, notwithstanding the immense and colossal efforts made in America, which are universally recognised, it is beginning to be realised that even in that country of mechanised production and speed it is impossible simply to press a button and to produce tanks. We may take comfort from the fact that if America, even after the warning she had had, was unable to press a button and produce tanks forthwith, we have been able to produce in this country, with the traditions we have, all that could be achieved in production.
There is another lesson which we have learned, which is illustrated by this story. An American soldier, on his arrival in this country, when he was welcomed by a British soldier, said, "Why should we not come over? After all, we are relations, are we not?" The English soldier was rather taken aback, and said that he could not remember having met the American soldier before; and the American said, "At any rate, if we are not exactly related we are both descended from Ethelred the Unready." The basic 1276 question is, are our production units delivering the goods? I believe they are. But I believe there is some disturbance in the public mind in regard to reports that there do exist unscrupulous contractors who, if they do not actively encourage, at any rate condone, waste of time on the part of their employees, on the ground that the greater the cost, the greater the profit that they will make. Such reports undoubtedly exist, and if it were possible for the right hon. Gentleman the Minister to give a categorical denial that contracts still are placed or continue to be placed upon a plus-cost-percentage basis, I believe it would do a great deal to eliminate these false assumptions and to enhance that prestige in which the industry is already held by the public.
Another point with regard to the question of individual production is that which was partly touched upon yesterday. One hon. Member referred to the fetters which there were upon industrial output in the form of Government inspectors. Another fetter which is almost as overbearing, if it is not quite so physically strong, is the shower of forms which fall upon company after company which is involved. I do not suggest that any one Department is the parent of all the offspring which are foisted upon industry, but that is the trouble. Every Department of the Government appears to require a further series of forms to be filled up. If it were possible for the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Production to take some action with regard to the elimination of the need for all this welter of information, I am sure that the saving of effort, as well as the saving of annoyance and mortification on the part of the industries concerned, would be great, and I believe that the number of people who are involved not only in the production of the information but also in the collection, sifting, collation and dissemination, for it is that of which effective use cannot be made, would be great and their efforts would be of far greater use to the country in some more productive form.
One final word upon the second aspect of the matter to which I earlier referred and that is, the amalgamation of effort by the industries of the United Nations. I believe that at no previous moment of history has there been shown such a unity of purpose as is now being exhibited by the democracies. Reference has been made to the industrial contest which is 1277 going on between the United Nations and our enemies. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) mentioned that our air raids over Germany and enemy-occupied territories had not even scratched the enemy's war potentials. I do not know the hon. Member's source of information, but I should like to say, in defence of the efforts of the Royal Air Force in their night after night attacks on the enemy's war potentials, that having seen the scars which the enemy air raids made upon the industries of our own country 18 months ago, scars, which, if they have not completely disappeared, at any rate have largely been healed, I find it very difficult indeed to believe that the far heavier raids which the Royal Air Force are carrying out have not done much more than scratch the enemy's potential production. Whatever may be the industrial production advantages of the totalitarian direction over not only the actual German industries but the industries in enemy-occupied countries which work for Germany, I do not believe that there can be any shadow of doubt whatsoever in the mind of any person who is in a position to exercise independent thought that the free independent will of the people of the United Nations, coordinated, as I believe it is, into one cohesive effort, will out-strip and overwhelm the enemy in this conflict which is now being waged in regard to engineering production.
§ Sir George Schuster (Walsall)
It is a very great pleasure, and to me it is all the more vivid since my own memory is close of a similar experience, to be able to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks) on the great success of his first effort in this House. We shall all listen to him with the most genuine pleasure in future. If I may say so, he has helped greatly to restore balance to this discussion. It may be that this very novelty to our counsels has helped. He has in a sense perhaps played the part of the chorus to the Greek tragedy in commenting on the course of the drama as it is unfolded. It falls to me to take up again not the controversial discussion, but at any rate some of the issues which have engaged us in greater detail.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Production said at the beginning of this Debate that it was an extremely difficult 1278 Debate in which to take part, particularly for himself, because of the vastness of the subject. It is indeed difficult to choose what particular aspect one shall cover, and if I select one aspect, I hope that that will not be taken as indicating that I think that that is the whole, or again if I mention directions in which there is room for improvement, I hope it will not be taken to mean that I do not recognise the vast achievement which has been brought about in this country during these three years of war. I want to concentrate upon one particular aspect—the production of war weapons as used by the Army. It is extremely difficult to say all that one wants to say in a Debate of this kind. I wonder whether Parliamentary Debate is really the best way of getting what we all of us want in these matters. The Minister concerned has to come down and make a general apologia and he puts up—quite naturally and rightly—something in the nature of a façade. We on our side can only effectively deal with that if we bring facts and figures from our own knowledge to bear on what he has said. But then we are in the difficulty that in public debate one cannot bring these matters forward. I shall try to keep to general terms and to concentrate upon the issue of organisation.
But before I get on to that I should like to say one thing. It seems to me that there is one type of speech which should not be made and of that, I select, as an example, the speech which the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) delivered yesterday. I know that he is perfectly honest in what he says and that he felt sincerely the points he was making, but I put it to the Committee that it is a very dangerous thing if we allow to go abroad the impression that we here think that our soldiers in the field are being asked to fight with totally inadequate weapons—weapons which are out of all comparison worse than those of the enemy. I believe myself that there is room for very great improvement and that with our resources we could have done better, but I am quite convinced that the hon. Member yesterday put forward a misleading picture. I wonder, therefore, whether the Minister of Supply, in replying to the Debate, could give us an accurate comparison between our weapons and the weapons of the Germans. In what precise respect were the 1279 weapons which the Germans used in this last battle better than those they used at the end of 1941, when, as soldiers say, we were able to "see Rommel off"? What have the Germans done that has given them anything like a marked superiority over us, bearing in mind the fact that we beat them at the end of last year? I will not myself deal with this matter, because I might say things which are inaccurate, but I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to put before us a fair picture of the relative advantages of the weapons of both sides.
As regards organisation, we stand now at a period when we can review our position. We all know the past history. Ever since we knew that we were likely to be involved in total war there has been pressure in this House that national production should be organised under a single head and that the whole national effort should be subject to a clear co-ordinated control. That pressure met with no response for a long time, but eventually, as we all know, a Ministry of Supply was set up. But that was really no answer to the demand, because the Ministry, instead of taking over the whole range of production, was concerned only with war weapons for the Army. Resistance to the demand one could well understand because there is natural resistance on the part of the users to giving up control of what they intend to use. There is a great deal to be said for that. In the result it seems that what we have done represents, in a sense, a typical, illogical, British compromise which can be said to give the worst of both worlds. We have given up the unity between user and supplier and have not had unified direction. We have had the Army looked after by the Ministry of Supply, the Air Ministry looked after by the Ministry of Aircraft Production, while the Navy, which, as people say, always travels first-class, has been able to retain its first-class corner seat. But even the Navy is not fully in the control of its own needs, because naval aircraft have to be produced by the Ministry of Aircraft Production. The feeling, persistently voiced in this House, continued that that was not a good arrangement. Eventually this led to the setting up of a Minister of Production and we are now waiting to see what the result of that change will be. Those of us who are interested in these problems 1280 were extremely pleased when my right hon. Friend told us in his first speech, when telling us of his plans, that one of the things to which he would give his most urgent attention was how, as the Prime Minister has put it, to "clamp together" the needs of the user and the task of the supplier. He told us of the setting-up of the present Joint General Staff for Production, and since then other changes, all moving in the same direction, have been announced. Yesterday my right hon. Friend told us of certain other steps he was taking in the same direction.
Our position now is that we are waiting with great attention to know what the effect of these changes will be, and being in that position it is not quite fair to take what has happened till now and use it as a basis for making anything like charges against my right hon. Friend. It is clear that all that has been happening in Libya, for example, has been conditioned by steps which were taken long before he took over his duty. Nevertheless, I am sure he will agree that it is worth while to look very carefully into these happenings so as to see what lessons can be learned from them as to what our future organisation should be. I said I proposed to talk only about the Army, but there is one word other I would like to say first about aircraft—I mean naval aircraft. I believe the Minister of Aircraft Production would admit that in the story of his Department the chapter dealing with the construction of naval aircraft, particularly torpedo carriers, is not one of the happiest. I should like to register a note of emphasis that that still is a matter which requires his most urgent attention. I believe it has had it, but I still think it wants more.
To turn to the Army, our attention to-day is concentrated, naturally, on what has happened in Libya, and I want to narrow the issue down to what I consider to be strictly a fair issue. Obviously, what we could send to Libya was diminished by what we sent to Russia, and I do not think enough has been made of the vast quantity of resources we sent to Russia. We were told the other day that 2,000 tanks, enough to equip something like six armoured divisions, had been sent to Russia—a tremendous drain on our resources which would have made a vast difference to what we could have done in Libya. We have also to leave out of account as available for Libya what we 1281 need to retain for the defence of this country, and here I believe there is a charge to be made that there has been undue diversion of labour and material to that tank—the Mark IV Infantry Tank—which was originally conceived solely as a weapon of defence in the urgent months after Dunkirk, in 1940. I believe that if the truth were told, there would be general admission of the fact that too much labour, armour plating and engine building have been absorbed by the programme for that particular tank. That is a serious matter, but I do not propose to pursue it to-day.
I want to argue the much narrower issue that, given the diversion of our resources to Russia and the retention of resources at home, out of the balance available we could, if we had had better organisation and direction, have put into the last Libyan battle weapons not merely much better than we actually did put in, but weapons which in total, if properly used, would have been more than a match for anything the Germans had. I make that statement very deliberately. It is based on certain inquiries, and I cannot establish it now by giving facts and figures in a public Debate. But I would ask the Ministers concerned to review the decisive dates and the past history of the production of 6-pounder guns and the tanks to carry them. If they make that review impartially, I believe they will say that my statement is not entirely unjustified.
And it is not only a question of what could have come out on properly designed mass production lines, but what, without interfering with our main mass production programme, could have been done by improvised combinations and modifications to put into action a sufficient number of effective weapons to make quite a decisive difference on the Libyan front. I think this is a very important point. My right hon. Friend yesterday pointed out with great truth the immense difficulty of combining flexibility and elasticity with mass production. But are we sure that we are not in a sense getting too mass-production minded, I would even say, almost Maginot-Line minded about mass production? The point I want to make is that, without interfering with mass production, there is a great deal that can be done in an immediate emergency to produce some sort of extemporised weapon 1282 with modifications which, as I say, might have made a decisive difference.
It is interesting to compare what we have done with what, I understand, the Germans have done. I believe we started this war with a fair measure of equality in tanks. I am told by the soldiers, for instance, that our Matilda tank, in the early days in Belgium, was better than anything the Germans had and that they would never go near it; and our 2-pounder gun, as the Minister told us, was as good as the tank-guns of the Germans at the beginning of the war. They captured our 2-pounders after Dunkirk, they knew what tanks we had, and they set about going one better. I understand that what they did was to say to their designers, "What is the hardest-hitting gun that you can fit into the existing turret of our standard mass-produced tanks without involving such major modifications of design as could affect the production programme?" In the result they produced their 4½-pounder gun. By doing that they certainly got one stride ahead of us, though when we are fully equipped with our 6-pounder we shall be one ahead of them as regards that type of gun. I understand that, as a second urgent modification, they have added a frontal apron of armour to their Mark IV tank, and that this has made a considerable difference to its fighting capacity without in the least altering its mass production design. Thirdly—I do not know whether I read the lessons aright—it seems to me that they have taken their anti-aircraft and field guns, adapted them for anti-tank purposes, and made them mobile in a way which it would have been perfectly open for us to do with our anti-aircraft guns and 25-pounders. I put it to the Minister that we have, as a matter of fact, done something on those lines, but not nearly quickly enough, and that we have not got the things out where they were wanted at the critical time.
Therefore, while fully accepting the point which my right hon. Friend has made about the impossibility of being hasty over mass production, I want to put to him the point that if those responsible for production were to keep always in mind the practical object, which is to produce at the front something which will go one better than what the enemy has at a given moment, they would see that the task can be visualised under three heads. First, there is the immediate need, when 1283 improvisations can be adopted. I am told, for example, that in Greece the Germans took some of our captured 25-pounders, tied them with wire ropes to caterpillar chassis, and used them with very great effect against us. I do not mean anything quite as crude as that. But I do suggest that in order to meet our immediate need, it is very important that we should use all our technical skill combined with the experience of the fighting soldiers to develop short-range measures of efficiency. Secondly, there is the visible future to deal with, say, to the end of 1943, when we have to get on as quickly as we can with our planned mass production programmes. Lastly, there is the unknown future, and for that we want our scientists and technologists, working with the practical people, thinking out new weapons. I do not think these three things should be mixed up. The same people may be employed on them, but they are three quite separate functions, and we are rather apt to forget the first.
Beyond that, I believe that we are too slow in developing our mass production methods Let me go through historically the stages in the construction of a thing like a tank. First of all, the Army conceives the idea of what it wants. It discusses that with the designers, and so on. Presumably, they say to the Army, "You cannot have just what you want, but you can have something very near to it." The Army comes back again and says, "Give us something a bit different." Argument must go on for a bit, but there ought to be a point at which a responsible authority can say, "This is final; this is the nearest we can give you." The points I want to make are, first, that in this early stage of argument the practical manufacturer should be brought in, and secondly that there should be somebody to say, just as a motor-car company accepts its new model for 1943, "This is final, and you have got to have it." Then there is the second stage in which industry is notified of the requirements. It is then for industry, for the manufacturer, to get busy making the pilot model, which he makes in mild steel exactly to the weight of the proper tank. As I understand it, one of the processes which it is most difficult to speed up is getting on with the drawings in this stage. I wonder whether it would not be possible to have a special emergency 1284 staff of draughtsmen who could be turned on to do the drawings necessary for a pilot model immediately after the main points are decided—of what sort of armour, what sort of suspension, what sort of armament, what sort of engine, etc.
At that stage, and at all stages, I want to emphasise that the expert responsible for the armament, which to-day is essentially the gun, should be in close consultation with the expert responsible for the designing of the tank. It has been stated already that the Director of Artillery, who should be responsible for the gun, has himself been removed from the War Office and sits at the Ministry of Supply, but having gone over there, he is not on the Tank Board. It seems to me that that is a dangerous division of responsibility.
I have brought matters to the stage where the pilot model is completed. This goes for its trials, and as a result of the trials, naturally a number of modifications have to be introduced. I understand that at that stage, after the trials have been gone through and one is getting to the stage of the first production model, there has been great delay caused by the introduction of constant modifications. The Army is constantly changing its mind. I believe that in the past we should have got much better value if we had been a little more certain, taking the risk of a decision and going ahead with what has been decided. Those who look at this matter from the factory point of view say that they do not mind being asked to make modifications which are the result of experience in the field, but that they object to small changes, made perhaps by some gentleman sitting in an office who thinks he would rather have the ammunition on one side than on the other, and so on. I do not want to exaggerate these things, but I am certain that in practice there has been substantial avoidable delay.
All these stages that I have covered take a tremendous amount of time. Let us assume that the first discussions take about three months, that then the production of the pilot model takes another six months, that testings, until we are ready for the first production model, may require another six months, and that then before there is production on any scale a further three months may elapse. We have, therefore, 18 months at least, even if things are properly done, before we 1285 are ready for large-scale production. In addition there is another six months before we can get the machine out to Libya. In practice it may take much more than that, but anyhow, it is a very long time, and even a moderate percentage saving would make a critical difference. Therefore, the point I am putting is that by concentrating resources on this limited objective of getting a new type of critical war weapon out quickly we might get quite a substantial saving in time. The greatest need of all is that at each decisive point there should be some individual, not a committee, upon whose shoulders responsibility squarely rests; some individual who stands to be hanged if things go wrong, and, I would add, there should be found for these posts individuals who are not afraid to take decisions because of the risk of being hanged. I think these are very important matters.
It is easy to say these things, but it is much more difficult to suggest what to do. The one point I should like to put to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench is, having now improved the setup of the War Office so that we have a member of the Army Council who is responsible for weapons of war, we should have on the production side—perhaps at the head of the Joint General Staff of Production—a. man of fighting experience who looks at things from a fighting man's point of view, who has vision and drive, and what I have called a sense of the urgency of battle. I will leave my remarks with that suggestion.
In conclusion, I want to raise very shortly a different point, and that is the method for discussing these issues. Some hon. Members have raised the question of the action taken on the Reports of the Select Committee on National Expenditure. I was very glad to hear this raised. I believe that that Committee has done good work, and that it might have been of greater help to the Government than it has been. We do not want to approach these matters from the point of view of critics, but we do have opportunities to go round, and I believe we can be of greater help to the Ministers than we have been. But apart from this I have for long been wondering whether Parliament is really fulfilling its functions properly in discussing these matters of production. They are not political issues. They are difficult 1286 to handle in public political debate. I want to read to the Committee certain words from a paper which came into my hands the other day. It is written by someone who, when one wants to find good words, almost always provides one with the best possible quotation, and that is the Prime Minister. In delivering the Romanes lecture at Oxford in 1930 he spoke about the functions of Parliament in dealing with economic problems, and I believe that what he said about these problems has a bearing on this essentially similar problem of Production. He said:It must be observed that economic problems, unlike political issues, cannot be solved by any expression, however vehement, of the national will, but only by taking the right action. You cannot cure cancer by a majority. What is wanted is a remedy. Everyone knows what the people wish.We all know what the people wish now. They want increased production. He then went on to say in regard to economic matters:It would seem, therefore, that if new light is to be thrown on this grave and clamant problem,"—and that is an apt description of the organisation of production—it must in the first instance receive examination through a non-political body, free altogether from party exigencies, and composed of persons possessing special qualifications in economic matters. Parliament would, therefore, be well advised to create such a body subordinate to itself, and assist its deliberations to the utmost.I do not know how that can be fitted in with our existing procedure, but I suggest that it contains elements of great value which it would be worth while for the Government and for the Committee to regard as a matter deserving very serious consideration.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
Throughout this long Debate the various Production Departments have received a very large number of technical suggestions and technical advice. I feel that the time has now come to leave them to digest the advice they have received, some of which is contradictory. I do not propose to give them any more advice, because I do not feel competent to do so, but, like other Members who have spoken, I have had some insight into production which is taking place. I should like to say at the outset that there is a tremendous visible improvement, as compared with production of 12 months or even six months ago. One 1287 need only go into a factory and ascertain what is their programme and what is their output as against that programme to realise that quantitatively we are doing a great deal more than six months or a year ago. In certain spheres our achievements have been almost incredible. I should like to pay a tribute to the Minister of Production for the speech he has made in this Debate, and for the speech which he made a fortnight ago, neither of which was particularly popular. I think the speech which he made a fortnight ago was very necessary, because it is essential that we should all realise the tremendous handicaps and the tremendous obstacles which face us as a result of the legacy of the past.
Reference has already been made to the long time it takes to get a new design into production, and I think it was very necessary for the Minister to make that kind of speech, and I compliment him on the courage he showed in making it. His speech in this Debate was an indication to me that he was fully alive to most of the problems of production, and that he was making an honest and strong attempt to meet the obstacles. He has done one very wise thing by taking into his Ministry one or two of the critics of production, including Mr. Kipping, who wrote memoranda after memoranda dealing with weaknesses in production, and who is now in a position of responsibility where he should be able to get over those weaknesses which for so long he has criticised. I think the time at my disposal pan be most usefully devoted to making three particular criticisms.
My first criticism has been made by so many other Members in the course of the Debate that I almost hesitate to repeat it; but it is a fact that we do not always produce the right weapons, and I should like to analyse some of the reasons for this. Firstly, there is a lack of liaison between the user, the designer and the producer of a weapon. Let us take the tank, as the example which has been most often given. The Army put forward a requirement for a tank. They have no technical knowledge. They merely say they want a tank heavily armoured, or one which will carry such and such a gun, and that is all they can say. That is put before a designer, who has normally no experience of warfare or of the 1288 use of the tank. He designs something which may or may not be satisfactory, and it is then put to the manufacturer, who produces the tank. It seems to me plain common sense that those three stages should be telescoped into one, that the user should be as well informed as possible of the manufacturing posibilities, and that in any case the user, the designer and the manufacturer should be brought together. I want to go a little further than the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster). I want all three parties to come in immediately there is a conception of the weapon that is required. If that had been done in the past, I am sure we should have avoided many of the mistakes that we have made.
Then we are not using the scientific knowledge that we have. We have some of the greatest scientists, and yet we pretend to despise science. We use scientific knowledge only as a last extremity, as one goes to a specialist for one's health. But science, as the handmaiden of production, should be used in the earliest stages. We have an immense talent of invention, but anyone who has had any experience of inventions which have been put forward will realise the immense difficulty which any inventor has in getting his inventions even considered. I agree that perhaps 99 per cent. of the inventions that one sees are from cranks, but perhaps it is worth going through the 99 per cent. of rubbish in order to get 1 per cent. of something valuable. I hope the Ministry will pay much more attention than it has done in the past to the possibility of using inventions and encouraging inventors to come along, even though they may be a nuisance, because I am sure that out of the mass of rubbish you will get something useful.
In the past we have had what I cannot describe better than a defensive outlook in the production of our weapons. We have designed them more for the purpose of defence than for offence. Again I cannot give a better example than the A22 tank, which was designed as one that would stand up to the invasion of this country. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will explain how it was hoped that this tank could be ready in time to meet the invasion which was imminent in the autumn of 1940 or the spring of 1941. How was it hoped to get tanks in sufficient production to enable them to be used for defensive purposes? Another 1289 example is the dive-bomber, which we have not yet produced either in this country or outside. We need a more offensive outlook in our design of weapons. We have not taken a sufficiently long view of the need of weapons. As the Minister of Production says, we were looking at to-day's battle, and not at the battle of to-morrow or the day after. We ought to be thinking to-day how the war is going to shape in 1944, 1945 or possibly 1946. Unless we take this long view we shall not get the weapons that we need.
So much for my criticism about the lack of the right kind of weapons. My next criticism is as to the lack of a sense of urgency in the Production Departments. I do not suggest for a moment that the Ministers of Supply, Production and Aircraft Production are lacking in a sense of urgency of their task. That would be wholly untrue. They are too close to the scene of battle. But the men in their Departments, who are more remote, are not so much seized of the sense of urgency. May I give the right hon. Gentleman a homely example? I sometimes cross the Strand, and I see long queues of young men, many of them from the Ministry, at about 11 or half past, waiting for cigarettes. They may very well have to wait half-an-hour for them. That sort of thing does not inculcate a sense of urgency. One need only look at the way in which correspondence is dealt with. You never get a reply to a letter, however important it may be, in less than a week or 10 days, and you are lucky if you get it in that time.
§ Sir P. Hannon
I have addressed scores of letters to the Ministry of Supply on all sorts of matters affecting production and supply, and I have had replies from my right hon. Friend by the next post, or the next but one.
§ Mr. Silkin
I readily admit that, and it has been my own experience, but I am speaking of the experience of manufacturers. I have taken the trouble to look at correspondence and to see what has happened. I do not make this allegation particularly against the Ministry of Supply, but I am satisfied that there is considerable delay, and in my view unnecessary delay, in dealing with correspondence. I want to go further and deal with decisions. Many firms want to make certain improvements in their premises in 1290 order to improve production. It takes many months to get a decision. It may perhaps have to wait for a decision from the Ministry of Works and Planning, but where a Production Department is interested in a certain improvement being made it ought to take charge of the whole thing and see that it is made, and that permission is given within a reasonable time. I was told, for instance, of certain factories where it will be an advantage to employ women, but there is no accommodation for them, and it is necessary to build this accommodation. I was told that it takes months to get the licence through. Though the Production Departments may take the view that it is not their business, I suggest that it is, and that they ought to make themselves responsible for any delay that takes place in getting the necessary licence.
There is this leisurely outlook among the subordinates in the various Production Departments, and perhaps it is not very surprising. After all, the Civil Service was recruited for quite a different purpose than to hurry and rush. It was recruited from gentlemen and ladies who desired to live a more or less leisured and sheltered life, and that is the type of person we are getting. There are exceptions, I admit, but in the main the Civil Service we have to-day consists of people who are not suited for the rough and tumble of life in war-time. Some of the persons who have been recruited from outside the Civil Service have lost their own habits of the past and have acquired the habits and temperament of the Civil Service. I suggest that the Production Ministers—I do not want to refer only to my right hon. Friend's Department, for it applies to all of them—should ruthlessly go through the Departments and see that the persons in charge are men of action, vigour and energy, and if they are not, the Ministers should be ruthless and get rid of them. We have no time for sentiment in war time.
There is a certain amount of satisfaction and complacency—I hate that word, but it best expresses what I mean—about what we have achieved. Sometimes credit is taken where it should not be taken. In that connection I should like to say a word about the Sten gun. Yesterday morning there was a broadcast about this gun and the remarkable achievements of Colonel S. and Major T., to whose initials were added "en" to give the name to 1291 the gun. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Production in his speech added to the encomiums that were paid to those responsible for turning out tens of thousands of Sten guns. If I am saying anything which I ought not to say, I hope that my right hon. Friend will stop me. I understand that, as a matter of fact, these guns have come into the possession of the enemy, that they know all about the gun, and that therefore, they know at least as, much as we do about it. As a fact, the Sten gun is a German gun. It was manufactured in Belgium for the Germans for a number of years. It was known as the Schmeisser gun, and the Sten gun is merely a slight modification of it. It was offered to the Ministry of Supply early in 1940. The manufacturer of the Schmeisser gun in Belgium offered to set up a factory in this country, but he was refused. He was told that we had no need for this gun. Some month later, the gun was again offered to the Ministry of Supply, and it was said that the British Army had no use for it. It was not until many months later that the gun was finally offered. It was accepted and was quickly put into production, with certain modifications.
It has taken something like 16 to 18 months to get this gun with the slight modifications into production. If my story is true—and I have every reason to believe it is, because I have certain documentary evidence with me which supports it—I say that the Ministry of Supply were not justified in taking to themselves this high praise for the speed of production of the Sten gun and for giving the country the false impression that Col. S. and Major T, whoever they may be, had designed and invented the Sten gun and that it was one of our most remarkable achievements.
§ Sir P. Hannon
Is it not more important to concentrate on producing the gun in big quantifies than to deal with these historical associations?
§ Mr. Silkin
My hon. Friend may not like the historical associations, but I put the story forward under my second head of criticism that there is not a sense of urgency in the Department and that it sometimes claims credit where credit is not due. I readily admit that the gun is being produced in large numbers, and I am 1292 pleased about it; I merely make the point that the Ministry should not have claimed credit for a remarkable achievement when it was not a very remarkable achievement. Is there any advantage in calling it a Sten gun when it might be confused on the (battlefield with the Bren gun? There mignt be the possibility of misunderstanding, and I suggest that there might have been a better name for it.
As my third criticism I want to deal with the statement of the Minister of Production that we have practically reached the end of our labour resources. I suggest that we are not using the labour we have to the best advantage. There are a number of firms which are still hoarding skilled men, that is, they are not using their skilled men to the fullest extent. I know that the Ministry of Labour have gone round in certain cases and have combed out skilled men, tout they have not done it sufficiently. Even in the shipbuilding yards there is a wide divergence in the proportion of skilled to unskilled men as between one yard and another. When there is such tremendous need for developing our shipbuilding we ought to take the utmost care to see that no yard has more skilled men than it needs and that any surplus should be given to those firms that need them. My right hon. Friend is as guilty as anybody else because in his own Royal Ordnance factories there is a surplus of skilled men. I hope he will set a good example and release the skilled men to places where they are more needed. There is still a reluctance to dilute, and that goes with the hoarding of skilled men. We should give every inducement and use every possible pressure on firms to dilute and train. There is far less training going on than there ought to be. We started this war with a limited supply of skilled men and we ought to increase that supply by upgrading and training. Not enough is being done and there is too much haggling over the cost, of the training and who is to pay for it.
We are still failing to apply the lessons we learned in the last war and which we are beginning to learn in this war. Workers are working far too long in some cases. There are men working over 70 hours a week regularly. Men might work that number of hours in an emergency, but there are men who are doing it week after week. That cannot be good, and the results of the inquiries of the medical men employed by my right hon. Friend's 1293 Department are that the hours worked over 60 are wasted or, indeed, that the men are doing less work in 70 hours than they would in 55 or 60. The same applies to women. There are women doing over 60 hours a week and my right hon. Friend is not the least of the sinners in that respect. I hope that he will pay some attention to this point because if the results of our investigation are true we are wasting the time and energy of large numbers of people. There are still wage anomalies which are interfering with production. In many cases it pays better to do unskilled or semi-skilled work than skilled work. We get the example of the daughter who is semi-skilled earning more money than her father who is doing a skilled job. I do not want to embark on a list of the various wage anomalies, as I have dealt with them in the past. I may be unpopular with my hon. Friends when I say emphatically that it is not sufficient to say that wages have to be settled entirely by negotiations between employers and trade unions and that the State has no interest in the matter. The State has an interest when production is impeded. I suggest to the Minister of Production that he should look into cases where there are wage anomalies interfering with production and be courageous, as I know he is, in dealing with them, treading upon any corns that may be in the way.
I want to say a word or so about absenteeism. The Minister of Production went very lightly over absenteeism, but I tell him that it is still serious in many directions. It is as high as 25 per cent. in extreme cases. That is the highest I have come across, and there may even be cases in which it is higher. Something has got to be done. Where absenteeism is of the order of 25 per cent. it means that a quarter of the labour force is not being used. [Interruption.] I mean 25 per cent. of the labour force of a factory. One very important cause of absenteeism and loss of labour is lack of transport. Workers are frequently late and in other cases have to stay away because of breakdowns in transport, and they often wish to leave early in order to make certain of getting transport home. I have calculated that probably not less than the work of 1,000,000 workers is lost to the community as a result of unsatisfactory or inadequate transport. If my figure is anything like right, then by improving 1294 our transport we could get the equivalent of the services of something like 1,000,000 additional workers. I suggest that it might be well worth while to look into that point. I have put forward three criticisms which I think are vital and which, if they are attended to, will improve production, but I repeat that I have done so against the background that production has been doing well, and if it can be improved I think that so far from this Debate being regarded as a Vote of Censure the Government may be congratulated upon the way the Debate has gone.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Raikes (Essex, South Eastern)
I want to propel my remarks mainly in the direction of a statement, I think a valuable statement, made by the Minister right at the end of his speech yesterday, when he said that whatever we did in this Committee we should avoid doing anything that was likely to depress our own workpeople in regard to the stuff which they are producing. I think the Committee have done their utmost to support the Minister in that respect, but if our workpeople are to go forward confident in the knowledge that they are pro-during the best munitions and weapons with which to meet the enemy we must ask for a little more help than we have had from the Government in overcoming the mistakes which have been made and in avoiding future mistakes. In spite of many of the arguments which were put forward in regard to the Libyan failure, we know that there was failure in respect of certain of the material with which the Army was then equipped, and it is vital that our people should know that our guns and our tanks are equal to or superior to those of the enemy, that they reach the right place, and also reach the right place at the right time.
As regards tanks, we all appreciate that the Government were facing difficulties in 1940 and had to provide the light tanks straight away. That is not, however, altogether an excuse for the rather gloomy picture which the Minister had to paint in his speech a fortnight ago, when it was shown that in the operations in the desert in 1941 the tanks had not proper cooling apparatus and that the turrets were wrong. When the Churchill tank came out in January, 1942, it was hailed as being the most wonderful tank yet produced. Many hon. Members who read a 1295 periodical called, I think, "Tanks Ahead," will remember that it was spoken of as the best tank yet produced in the war. We hear now that that tank, up to May of this year, had not been found suitable for work in the desert in Libya. I must say frankly that these things cause many people to feel worried when they hear, "We have got more tanks coming on now which will be as good as any which the enemy produce."
The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) touched upon a point which I should like to elaborate. He urged the necessity of getting the Army and the Ministry of Supply to work in closer cooperation in regard to the design of tanks, but I cannot help feeling, over and above that, that the points urged by the Junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Professor Hill) require consideration from the Government. Until and unless we have not merely departmental scientific bodies but a super-departmental scientific body to act as a check between the Ministry of Supply and the War Office, or the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the War Office, we may still get this tendency on the part of the Ministry of Supply to put forward their goods by the best methods of salesmanship, rather, perhaps, to hide defects, rather, perhaps, to put forward to the War Office the claim "Now here is something magnificent." We do want a check so that not only may the best stuff be produced but when it is produced and there are defects—and there must be defects at times—the users shall know what those defects are. Various things have been said about the German Mark IV tank. We have been told that some of our tanks could not be perfectly designed because they were produced hurriedly, that we had to go straight from the drawing-board into production, without time for experiment. It is rather curious that that German Mark IV was used upon the battlefields in France, and that it was still being described by "The Times" correspondent in Africa as recently as June of this year as being the tank which was dominating the Libyan battlefield. One cannot help wondering whether the Government would not have been well advised to take note earlier of the design of that tank, descriptions of which appeared in the Press of this country as far back as 1940, rather than rushing British tank 1296 production in the way it was done by Lord Beaverbrook.
I turn to the question of guns, because there are one or two matters in regard to the 6-pounder and the 3.7 gun which have never been cleared up by the Government. We have been told that the 6-pounder existed in Africa but that it was not on the Libyan battlefield in any large numbers. I notice that Lord Beaverbrook, speaking in another place a little time ago, I think on 1st July, said that we had plenty of 6-pounder guns which could have been used on tanks if we had had the tanks to fit them on to. If we had not got the tanks, presumably the reason was that the Churchill tank failed as a tank. I must be careful in the way in which I put it. The Churchill tank had not reached that state of development for it to be used in the African desert. The General Grant was only coming in from America just at that time. If we had not got tanks at that time, why was not that gun used on a mobile gun carriage as an anti-tank gun? We ought to have an answer on this subject. I noted a little time ago something which I think it is fair to quote. It was in an article or a letter which, many hon. Members will recollect, was written by Mr. Westbrook in "The Times" after his visit to Africa. He said, in regard to this gun:So impressed was I by the necessity for a new mobile 6-pounder unit, that I got those responsible to review a full size mock-up of an idea, which, if proved satisfactory, would certainly have avoided the present situation. It has been seen by many, but no one has had enough in them to say Yea or Nay.There was a slip-up on that matter. If it had really been proved that you could use your 6-pounder gun as an anti-tank gun, was it held up because certain people were unable to make the decision to set it up on a mobile gun carrier? This Committee and the country are entitled to know the reasons. We are entitled to know that the 6-pounder gun is now—as I presume it is—being used as an antitank gun.
The same applies to the 3.7. Like the 6-pounder, it has been praised up tremendously as being as good a gun as anything that the Germans have. The 3.7 is like the Germans' 88 mm. gun, an anti-aircraft gun which has been converted into an anti-tank gun. Its conversion means that you have to give it an 1297 armour piercing projectile, and you must have the right sort of gun carriage for it. Lord Beaverbrook observed in the same speech that we had plenty of those 3.7 guns, but that they were being converted into anti-tank guns, and he said there should be an inquiry as to why they had not been used in the desert if, in point of fact, they had not been used. Questions have been asked in this House, but I do not know, and I do not think any hon. Member knows, whether this gun has ever been used in the desert as an anti-tank gun. If it has been used, it would be cheering to the country and to our workpeople to be informed. If it has not been used, there must be a reason.
The reason may be that, although we have the gun and although the gun is as good as the German gun, we have been slower in converting the gun than the Germans have been in converting their 88 mm. into an anti-tank gun. The Government would be quite right to say, "We had not got it ready at that time, but we have it ready now"—if they have got it ready. Unless the Government have got it ready, the vague sort of assurances that supplies are coming along which are better than those of the Germans will not cut as much ice as the Government hope, in the country. If the explanation is, "Certain of these guns were on the way, but, owing to this or that, the battle started before they got there, but we have many of them coming up now," that is the sort of thing the country want to hear and want to know. If the country are taken into the Government's confidence and if the workpeople realise that the Government have a start now which will beat the Germans, the Government will get much less captious criticism in the country and in the House of Commons. But if this sort of muddled picture is drawn, the veil never being lifted far enough, what is to-day a trickle of friendly criticism may become a great volume, and the Government may find themselves in an uncharted sea.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter (Hertford)
The Minister of Production painted a very rosy picture yesterday of the production effort of this country and went into details about tanks. I would like to remind him that in 1916, when we first put the tank into action, it was armed with two 6-pounder guns, one on each side, yet we have heard that in the Libyan battle, 1298 tanks went into action armed with 2-pounder guns. Somebody, surely, is responsible for that. I am sorry that the Secretary of State for War is not here, because I should like to ask him what many of my constituents ask me, how it is that our tanks are not as well-armed as those of the Germans. Who is responsible for it? Somebody must be. It is no good saying that it is the President of the Tank Board or the chairman of some other board. The Army Council have a responsibility in this matter exactly as the Admiralty have for the arming of their warships. I should like the Secretary of State for War to tell us exactly what the Army Council have been doing instead of developing these tanks. I submit that for the last four years, since 1936, the Army Council have not served this country well in failing to develop an up-to-date tank that could beat the German tanks.
We have heard a good deal about the General Grant tank in Libya. We were told in the Press that we had, at last, a tank that was a match for any German tank. I have looked at the pictures of the General Grant tank. Its main armament is on one side. I should like the Minister of Supply to tell us why that is so. We first called tanks "Landships." They are very much like ships. But I should be very sorry to go into action in a ship the main armament of which was only on one side. We develop both sides of the ship. I cannot see the advantages of the General Grant tank but perhaps the Minister of Supply will be able to tell the Committee whether it is an entirely efficient tank, justifying the rosy pictures which were painted when it first came into action in Libya.
Passing from tanks to our air effort, the Minister of Production said that he had soldiers, sailors and airmen on his Joint Production Staff. I would ask him whether he has on that staff any representative from the Naval Air Service, whether that representative naval man is in touch with the Fifth Sea Lord, and whether he, in turn, is entirely satisfied with the percentage of aircraft he gets for the Naval Air Service. Is the Fifth Sea Lord satisfied with the type of torpedo aircraft now being supplied? Is everything being done to speed up the supply of the very latest torpedo aircraft? We would like answers to these questions, for the country is very much perturbed about our torpedo aircraft not being quite as 1299 efficiently developed as they might have been. Yesterday I asked the Minister of Aircraft Production whether he was in touch with the American aircraft industry regarding the American torpedo bombing aircraft because I understand that in the battle of Midway and in the action off the Coral Islands the American torpedo aircraft proved very efficient. We would like to know whether the American torpedo aircraft carry the 18-inch torpedo or the 21-inch, or whether their warhead is more efficient than ours. The Minister of War Production has lately been in America and no doubt he could answer these questions.
The hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) yesterday seemed to be under the impression that it took a very long time to introduce new weapons of war. I will take three cases, first the submarine. In the 1901 Navy Estimates money was taken for building the Holland type of submarine in this country, and in 1902 we were carrying out trials with those submarines. We could have produced them in quantity, but we did not at that time because we went in for the A Class submarine, which was better. But within two years we could have been starting to build those submarines, and could have produced them in quantity if we had wanted to do so.
Then there is the torpedo seaplane. In 1913 we lifted a Whitehead torpedo in the air for the first time; in 1914 we dropped it from the air and had an efficient run for the first time in history, and in 1915 we sank three ships in the Dardanelles with torpedoes dropped from aircraft, scoring three hits with three shots. That was within two years; it did not take very long to develop. Then on 16th February, 1915, I gave the present Prime Minister, who encouraged us very much in the development of tanks, the first caterpillar demonstration on the Horse Guards Parade. The first tank, built on the caterpillar tracks we got from America, went to its trials in 1915. Another model was tried in June, 1916, and in September of that year the first tanks went into action. I therefore submit to the hon. Member that it does not take so long as he thought to introduce new weapons of war.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
Nothing which the 1300 hon. and gallant Member has said just now or yesterday conflicts in the slightest with the statement I made. None of the examples he gives are examples of mass production requiring the production of special machinery for the rapid and repeated output of quantity. Nobody produces submarines, for example, on a belt system or as motor-cars are produced, nor are torpedoes produced in quite the same way, and therefore that is not in conflict with what I say. This Government has produced several things in two years, but I think it essential to remember that the Battle of Britain kept us going for practically two years, and that only now are we getting the benefit of the new production.
§ Sir M. Sueter
The impression the hon. Member left on the Committee was that it took a very long time to produce new weapons of war.
§ Sir M. Sueter
I beg to differ. The hon. Member said new weapons of war, and illustrated it by saying that the tank was not a new weapon of war but the gun was. It does not take too long if you put energy into it, and with regard to mass production we could have produced——
§ Mr. Woodburn
It is very important that this matter should be made clear. Mass production is not a question of producing weapons. It is a question of getting high precision machinery on which to produce the weapons. It is the making of the machinery which causes the difficulty, not the production of the weapon.
§ Sir M. Sueter
I have had some experience in introducing new types of aircraft in the last war, and I know a little about production. All I would say is that anybody introducing a new weapon of war must not run away with the idea that it takes very long. That was my point.
I thought the Minister of Production enlarged yesterday on the saving of shipping space. He said that we were going to clothe the Americans over here, while our men in America would be given their uniforms there to save shipping space. All Ministers are always talking about the saving of shipping space, but is anything 1301 done to try to save the ships torpedoed by enemy submarines? When the Whitehead torpedo hits the side of a ship there is, of course, a terrific explosion. Are any experiments being carried out with a view to minimising the effect of that explosion? Some years ago I carried out experiments with three cylinders, one filled with ordinary atmospheric air, another filled with water, and the third with compressed air at 45 lbs. per sq. inch. I detonated half-an-ounce of gun-cotton underneath those cylinders with very marked effect. The one containing the water was the least damaged, and I want to ask whether any experiments are being carried out, particularly in connection with large ships and warships, to minimise the explosive effect of the torpedo. We want to save the ships, and if we could meet the exploding underwater projectile with a counter-force it might be possible to minimise the effect of the explosion and so save the ship, particularly if there were quick flooding arrangements on the other side to compensate for the hole in the side of the ship. Are any scientists carrying out experiments of this nature? In America experiments have been carried out with cork and in the Navy we used to have protection from the coal, but none of this was much good. Are men like our hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Professor Hill) studying this question of finding some means of reducing the explosive force of the torpedo. I should be very much obliged to the Minister of Supply if he would tell us when he comes to answer whether experiments of this nature have been carried out. I believe the Germans have carried them out with cork, not very successfully, but if we could save the ships it would be of the greatest advantage to this country.
§ Mr. Muff (Kingston-upon-Hull, East)
I would like to thank my hon. and gallant Friend for bringing an authentic note of reality into this Debate. I was particularly struck with the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) who, unlike my hon. and gallant Friend, proceeded to give us an icy cold douche, telling us the many months it took to do this and the many more months it took to do the other, and finally brought us to the year 1946 as the time when we should be really ready to undertake an offensive. At all events, that is not the message, even 1302 though it is delivered in the suave accents of the hon. Member for Walsall—I am sorry he is not here, for I should have liked to have said a little more about him—which the country needs at the present time. People have been going through a lot, and this House was largely responsible for it, in the days of January and February, when we had an epidemic of nagging against the Prime Minister on his return from Washington.
I am glad that the Minister of Supply is converting poachers into gamekeepers. There is no reason why he should not take a man with a mind like the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall). There is also the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) who is not subversive, but is perverse sometimes, like a small boy. I am sure the Minister of Supply could make use of him. We ourselves must show greater signs of adaptability, just as we tell young officers, when they go to our Officers Training Units that they have to be altert, adaptable, and ready to improvise. I would say, as the then Minister of Supply said in 1940, "Go to it." Not only the Ministry of Supply, but the Ministry of Production needs to jump to it. I should think it terrible if the hon. Member for Walsall or the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), two Job's comforters who have made contributions to the Debate to-day, were shown to be right. I do not wish to indulge in an epidemic of wishful thinking. I want the Minister of Supply to tell us whether it is a question of six months, plus six months, plus 18 months. Let us know the worst, if it is as has been suggested, but I can hardly think it is so, from my own small experience in a concern of some considerable importance.
I wish to remind not only my own constituents, but this Committee, that in this war we have never been able to choose our strategy except on one occasion. That was in Libya, and General Wavell certainly did a fine job of work when he was able to choose his own strategy. We have had situations forced upon us, not of our own seeking, in Greece, Crete and elsewhere, where we have done our best in the letter and the spirit. We are also giving our best to our Russian Allies, and I am glad we have been able to do so. Speaking as one back bencher, and speaking, I know, for my constituents, sorely pressed as they have been—more so perhaps than any other constituency in this country—I say our chins 1303 are up. But they and I expect from the Minister of Production and from the Minister of Supply that a lot of the formalities of production shall be cut away.
I remember a representative of one of the biggest firms of tank steel producers coming to me in September, 1939, and showing me a letter from the then Minister of Supply stating that the Ministry had ample supplies of steel for every requirement in the making of tanks. I saw other letters in succeeding months from the same firm, and the same reply from the then Minister of Supply. Then in August, 1940, they were told, "You can go ahead," That was the spirit of officialdom, at any rate in the Ministry of Supply, in those days. Fortunately this firm, a great firm, had ample capital and was able to cock a double snook at the mandarins who were dominating the Ministry of Supply in those days. They got on with the job and did not wait until August, 1940, before doing so. That is the spirit of firms like that. Before coming here to-day I rang them up and asked how they were getting on. I was told, "We are getting on splendidly. We would like a little more petrol for the lorries to collect spare parts, but we have too many formalities which are trying to the flesh." They are good Christians, these people. At any rate, they have got on with the job, and we expect the Minister of Supply to put as few formalities and as few obstacles as possible in the way of production. We expect the Minister of Production, who was out in Egypt, to be able to brief his colleague, the Minister of Supply, so that in his reply the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us an authentic view on whether the hon. Member for Walsall and the hon. Member for Peckham are really giving us the truth. If they are, then I say, "God help us."
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
I am sure the Committee will agree that the last two speeches have been very helpful. From my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) we have had expert advice from a man whose record speaks for itself. The last speech, again, from a Member with practical experience, has been heartening, at a time when anybody who can legitimately hearten the public spirit, is rendering good service in doing so. In the few remarks I 1304 have to make I speak neither as an expert on production nor as a practical man, but rather from the standpoint of one who studies, and has studied for a long time, public reactions. It is, of course, the custom in this House not to criticise those who cannot answer for themselves. Thus we may condemn bureaucracy but we do not name any civil servant who cannot defend himself. Similarly, when disaster or failure overtakes us on the field of battle, we turn to the Ministers who are responsible for the direction of the war rather than fasten upon an officer in the field. But I submit that the very observance of that tradition, which one would not lightly disregard, may bring to a Debate such as this, and even more to the recent two-day Debate on the Motion of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) a certain unreality, because in fastening upon a Department or a Minister who can answer, we may not be unearthing the actual truth.
I wish to speak particularly about Libya because in the public imagination this Debate fastens upon the tragic disappointment of what might be called the first part of the Libyan battle. Over and over again we have heard in this House and have read in the Press that the equipment of our troops in Libya was inferior to that of the enemy. We have heard regularly from the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson)—I am sorry he is not here to-day—speeches on this subject, but I think my fellow Members will agree with me that the hon. Member is developing something of the habit of a gramophone needle, which proceeds along its way, moving towards the interior until it comes upon a crack and there it stops and repeats itself. The name of that crack in his case is Beaverbrook.
All the hon. Member's speeches, no matter what the subject, reach the crack in the record. I suggest a new needle or a new record. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about a new gramophone?"] We should need a General Election to achieve that. Then there is the hon. Member's soul-mate, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). He joins in this denunciation, which, of course, embraces Lord Beaverbrook. We need not worry too much about Lord Beaverbrook. It is within his power, and within his disposition, to make such replies as may occur to him from time to time. But, unfortunately, 1305 these two hon. Members yesterday, against the sounding board of this House, sent out this message to the workers: "The weapons of war that you have been making during those long and arduous hours in the factory do not compare in efficiency with those of the enemy." Then there is a message which they have sent to the men in Libya, and to the Army in Britain, waiting to form, soon, I hope, the second front. That message to the soldiers is: "Under incompetent Ministers, you will go into action with weapons that are in no way equal to those of the enemy." An Army, to achieve victory, must first have victory in its heart. Is this the way to make our men feel that they are invincible?
The reply will be, "What about the weapons of war?" I again suggest that we should, for once, disregard the tradition under which we blame only the Minister. I put it to the Committee, and I believe that the facts will bear me out, that when the Battle of Libya began the strength of our tanks, as opposed to those of the enemy, was seven to five in our favour—I am speaking not of the quality, but of the actual numbers. Of those tanks of ours, one-third—the American General Grants—were better than anything the enemy possessed. That is the impression of those who took part. One-third of the German tanks were of second quality—the Mark III tanks, not the Mark IV.
§ Mr. Hammersley (Willesden, East)
What is the basis of the hon. Member's statement that the General Grants were better than anything opposed to them?
§ Mr. Baxter
I am sorry, my time is very limited, but I will give the hon. Member the report that I have seen. When I said that I would speak for five minutes, I did not realise, Sir Dennis, that you would take me at my word and I must be very brief. Gun for gun, tank for tank, our forces were equal to those of the Germans. What really happened in the Battle of Libya was that on 13th June, 300 of our tanks were led into an ambush. They were destroyed by guns which were waiting for them. Had the Germans attacked us with 300 tanks, our guns would have performed a similar destruction of the German tanks. [Interuption.] I put that to the Committee as a fact. Criticism must go on, especially in the matter of retaining superiority in fighters, 1306 which is a matter that has agitated many of us. But let us say to the world, what is the truth, that in the factories of peace-loving Britain and America we were able to produce weapons which in Libya compared with, and in many cases excelled, those produced by the enemy, who had a six years' lead over us in producing the devilish armoury of war.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
One would scarcely imagine that this Debate was so intimately connected with the stormy Debate of a fortnight ago. I was expecting, in this Debate, more than echoes of that other Debate, but it is a tribute to the good sense of this House that now when we are dealing with practical methods of production, we discuss them in a calmer atmosphere than that which prevailed when we were discussing deeper issues a fortnight ago. I would join issue with my hon. Friend on the question of whether or not the weapons were there for the men. I have felt for a long time that the British soldier is as good as his father was, and, observing the conditions under which he has to fight, and the inferiority of his weapons sometimes, I have come to think that he is better in some respects. He has shown a remarkable capacity for maintaining his courage, even in defeat; though that is a thing that he might well be called upon to do once too often.
I was pleased with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Production yesterday, and not least with his report from America. It is a fine thing that this country should be linked with the United States in the way indicated. Some day we should think about exchanging workmen with the United States, so that each country may benefit from the experience of the other. The right hon. Gentleman gave his report yesterday, almost two years after a Minister of Production was first suggested. We are glad to have such a Minister now. I wonder why we did not have one before, and also why we did not have the Regional Controllers of production. In peace-time almost every great Department in this country had found it impossible to operate from Whitehall alone. They had sent out their regional representatives. The Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Health and the Treasury had sent their people into the respective regions. They had been compelled to send out a sort of key men. I think it would be agreed that it was that 1307 system which enabled us to put the Civil Defence into something like order. The whole tendency in respect of production was to work the machine from Whitehall. I should have thought it was obvious that, if there was anything in connection with which you should have direct representatives in a region, it would be when you were handling such a complex thing as industry. I say that because I am still not satisfied with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Regional Controller. The Trades Union Congress, as a result of their experience, asked for Regional Controllers and for a Minister of Production two years ago. It is now at least 18 months ago since I put the question to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply for the reason that I believed that somebody had to be there who would be authoritative. The right hon. Gentleman was asked by the hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) yesterday:Have the regional boards directional authority or can they only make suggestions?The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Production said:No, they are not merely suggestional boards. The right of appeal from the decision of the Regional Controller by the individual controllers to the Supply Ministries exists and must exist from the constitutional point of view. Nevertheless, since the regional boards have started, the whole of the contracts given by my Department, the Ministry of Aircraft Production, the Admiralty, and so forth are all the same. It is an absolutely agreed basis, and I think it will work very well. If it does not, some other arrangement will have to be made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1942; col. 1114, Vol. 381.]I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what that means. Has the Regional Controller authority or has he not? It is very important. I do not want—and I do not think that it would work—a man to act as dictator. That would not do in industry. In fact, it would not do in our mode of living at all. But it does mean that the Regional Controller should have such a status as would enable him to get quickly on to the job and forestall difficulties, and that would be called "an authority." On the question of material and a whole lot of matters, the Controller represents the Minister of Production. He deals with both ordnance factories and with factories 1308 in the hands of private companies. I hope that this works out all right, but the Minister will have to take steps to make that authority very clear if what he wants, and what the Committee understands he wants, is to be made effective in the respective areas. I believe that there is something bigger behind this than giving this control authority to the localities from Whitehall. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) struck the imagination of the Committee yesterday when he pointed out that workers were making nuts and bolts but did not know for what purpose they were to be used. Some workers were engaged indirectly in the making of the Lancaster bomber, and it would be a good thing if they knew that they were making parts for the Lancaster bomber, and if sometimes they could see what they were making. That goes for the whole of the country. I think I understand something of why this war has become to some extent a vast impersonal thing. There are workers in shipyards who help to make battleships, cruisers, destroyers, submarines and merchant vessels, and in other parts of the country they make aeroplanes, and so you could take the various things that the workers produce. There is a kind of hush-hush when a great battleship is constructed. It would be a very good thing indeed if the workers could be more closely associated, as my hon. Friend suggested, with the products they help to make. It is to the point to ask in this Debate, Are we sure that the Ministry of Production will succeed in doing what we hope it will do and that it will help us to avoid many of the mistakes that we have made in the past?
I now come to that hackneyed subject of the dive bomber. Do not let any Minister think that because the previous Debate went off as it did and we supported the Government, that is the end of the story, because it is not. There is deep disquiet in the minds of the people of this country and of the workers about the fact that some of the things which they produce were not there just when they were wanted. I am not concerned about whether an order was given or anything else, but the fact is that the actual dive bomber was not there when it was necessary, and, as far as we know, it is not there yet. I am coming to another phase of that same problem. Here is the point that was put to me by a man. He said, 1309 "Mr. Lawson, I am 100 per cent. behind the Government and a 100 per cent. supporter of the Prime Minister, but I have a son in Tobruk who has been dive bombed. Why have we not these bombers?" That is the kind of question which is being asked.
According to "The Times" yesterday there is evidence that the airmen themselves have actually, in their own way, so fitted their Kittyhawks and Hurricanes as to be able to use them as dive bombers. It is a very plain story, and it tells how this was done. They screwed on bomb racks and used them for dive bomber purposes. The story is to the effect that they are actually more effective than the dive bomber while they have, in fact, the same effect upon the nerves. I hope that is so. But the point I want to make is this: I have never felt easy in my mind as to whether there was not, somewhere, some authority who was antagonistic to the dive bomber. When we were told that the order for dive bombers had been given to America questions were asked, and the explanation was that they were priorities. Will the Minister of Supply, when he winds up the Debate, tell us whether there is any antagonism in the higher ranks of the Defence Services to the use of the dive bomber and its production? Are we facilitating the production of that very effective weapon?
Then there is the question of tanks and anti-tank guns. The Minister of Production has been brought in because he is a business man. I do not think he would call himself a Socialist. But I was interested yesterday to hear his statement about the 3.7 and 4.7 guns as anti-tank guns. These guns are produced in Government ordnance factories, so that the Minister is a good Socialist. I think the Government ordnance factories can take great credit to themselves that while it may be—and I believe it is—that these guns are being produced at the present moment in other factories, they are the product of the Government ordnance factories. Indeed, I go further and say that they are the original products of the Government ordnance factories. They have been produced for a long time, but I think the right hon. Gentleman was admitting too much when he fell back upon these guns as anti-tank guns. They are useful for that purpose, but the real anti-tank gun as understood by a soldier 1310 is one that is carried on a tank and used in in-fighting——
§ The Minister of Production (Mr. Lyttelton) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Lawson
Well, I hope I am wrong but what is wanted is speed and ability for in-fighting purposes. Have we the A.22 tank in any quantity even now? This Debate has been calmer than it might have been, for the simple reason that our troops, under General Auchinleck, have stopped the rot and are holding the line at the moment. But it is right to ask whether they are getting from our factories the tanks and necessary guns and weapons for their own particular purposes. I have put certain criticisms before the Government, but I think criticisms would carry far more weight if regard was had to what had been accomplished. A great deal has been accomplished. I agree with the Minister of Production that we must give our workers every encouragement. In 1940 we had to turn our whole complicated machine of production and industry from peace to war purposes. Little had been done up to that time; what has been accomplished has been magnificent, and I think tribute is due to workers as well as managements and all connected with the Government. Great problems were involved, problems of material transport, billeting and a multitude of other things, and I do not think this country would have been able to do what has been done had it not been for the great industrial prestige of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour.
Here I would say that we have in this country a weapon which is greater than all the 3.7 and 4.5 guns—the weapon of the self-confidence of our workers and our people. That self-confidence applies to our soldiers and other fighting men as well as to our workers. They have with the fortitude and resolution which are so characteristic of our people withstood reverses which might have had an undermining effect. It is important that we should take all the necessary steps to give our men the proper weapons with which to fight. We shall have reverses, but not repeated reverses, and it is possible to undermine the confidence of our people by saying that production counts for nothing. Is it not a fact that a fortnight ago it was not reverses we cared about—we knew our men would stand—but that we cared about their effect upon our faith 1311 and confidence? As for the workers of this country, like our fighting men anything we ask of them they will do.
They believe in their cause. It is possible to speak about absenteeism here and there, for there is a selfish one here and there, but the great mass of the workers believe in the cause for which the nation is fighting, and are prepared to pay a very great price in that cause. We are very well aware of the great responsibility which the Government have to carry, and sometimes we sympathise with them; but all we ask of the Government is that they do not ask the soldiers to fight with inferior weapons and that they give to those who are producing the weapons a feeling of confidence that the things they are producing will be used to break and smash this cruel force which is assailing many great countries.
§ The Minister of Supply (Sir Andrew Duncan)
No one charged with any responsibility could fail himself to feel that the closing observations of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Law-son) applied to Ministers as well as to all others. Whatever controversies still surround us in the field of munitions production, it is at least some satisfaction to know that we have reached the stage when the total volume of our own output does not raise any serious point of doubt. That is due not merely to the fact that we have switched over plant, machinery and labour from peace-time activity to war activity. It is in a large measure due to improved planning, to the organised pooling of knowledge and experience, by groups of manufacturers who are engaged on like products; it is due in part to the initiative within the works themselves, and it is due also in a large part to the enthusiasm and the untiring efforts of the workers. As a measure of the increase in output arising at Ministry of Supply factories along the whole range of the engineering and allied trades, I would point out that between January, 1941, and June, 1942, output per person increased by one-third, and that, when one adds the volume of output that has arisen by adding more persons to the roll, this accounts fully for the great increase that has taken place. Output per person brings it down in the end to the individual; and I am sure I am interpreting the Committee rightly when I Venture to say 1312 that, in the name of the Committee we ask the workers to accept from these Debates an appreciation of and a tribute to their work. This recognition and appreciation are all the more required at the present time, because none of us would pretend that we shall not be asking for still further efforts, and I hope, therefore, that in acknowledging what has been done already, we shall be justified in expecting a call for more to be equally well answered.
The Debate has ranged over a very wide field. I have innumerable questions to which to reply, but I feel sure I shall conform to the wishes of the Committee best if I venture to take one or two leading points which bear more upon the field of the Ministry of Supply, namely, tanks, guns, and kindred subjects. I was very glad to hear the Committee so well prepared by the speeches of the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster), and others, for the statement that in approaching the question of a tank we have to realise at once that we are approaching a long-term proposition. I do not enter into any assessment as to whether one hon. Member was right in putting it at two years or another hon. Member was right in putting it at eighteen months, but the fact remains that one must approach it as a long-term proposition. There is no easy road to the design, development and production of a tank. It follows, therefore, that we cannot escape, even at this advanced date in the war, the inherent weakness which this country suffers through not having for many years prior to the war devoted sufficient effort to the research, development, experiment, and production of tanks. I am fully aware that some hon. Members find it difficult to be tolerant of harking back. I am anxious only that we should have a correct assessment and appraisal. As has been said in the Debate, we won the Battle of Britain in the air partly because of the valour and endurance of our marvellous airmen, partly because of the inspired effort from the workshops at the time, but also because the fighter planes had been designed as far back as 1937, and even then were the outcome of a long series of experiments on earlier prototypes. The war found us ready with an established aircraft industry on which to 1313 expand still further, and shadow factories ready for that expansion. Whatever may be said about tanks, let it be remembered that all that background and all these advantages were denied in the field of tank production.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
According to the Prime Minister at the time, they were also denied in the field of aircraft production.
§ Sir A. Duncan
We had started the war with negligible resources, and our losses in France found us, in the middle of 1940, as impoverished as we were when war began. And, of course, with France no longer as an ally, we had to start a new chapter. In the circumstances of the time, therefore, it was quite impossible for any Department or any Government approaching the problem of tank production to do other than turn their attention, at the very first moment of time, to making the best of such models as existed. Could there ever have been a time when the insistence on immediate production was more pressing than it was then? We had, therefore, to build up our tank policy under the pressure of the immediate need for tanks, and that urgency and immediate need for tanks lasted well through 1941. Besides building up to safeguard this country against the very serious menace of invasion—I well recall how anxious the Prime Minister was from month to month to see a given number of tanks in this country and how urgently he was asking about production figures—we had during that year to supply complements for the Middle East, and we had also in the autumn of that year undertaken a commitment to Russia of very considerable proportions.
The first duty in tank development and design remained for some considerable time the perfection so far as it could be done of the existing models. Of these models there were two infantry tanks, the Matilda and the Valentine. These tanks have had adaptations and have been greatly improved, and for a long time now they have been reliable tanks. The tanks which we sent to Russia have given excellent service under all the conditions of the Russian campaign, and they have given excellent service in Libya as well. Then there is a third tank, namely, the A.22, about which we have heard so much in the course of this Debate. I think it is unfair 1314 to talk of the A.22 without bearing in mind the background which has already been explained—the need for numbers. The A.22 was, therefore, put into production off the drawing board, and there is no secret that in regard to the question of tank design haste calls for its penalties, and unquestionably these tanks did for a very long time show serious defects as they came out of production. Inasmuch, however, as they came into production in 1941, they performed a very useful service at home, and they have performed a very useful service right up to the spring of this year, in adding to our sense of security and permitting us to send other tanks abroad—the Matildas and the Valentines. New major improvements have been made in the A.22 tank in order that it may fulfil the very stringent tests which performance in the field demands, and it is now hoped that it will perform successfully, not only at home, but in other parts of the world.
Besides these infantry tanks two cruiser tanks, one the Crusader, were nearing the production line. The Crusader came into production early in 1941. It also showed defects in its early production, but these were speedily and successfully remedied, and the Crusader during this last campaign in Libya has proven to be a reliable tank. I am not overlooking the fact that these three tanks must have owed much of their earlier worth to those who were in office before 1940, and before this Government. I would not seek to lay the claim falsely—it matters nothing in these affairs; it is the national cause only which counts. I am giving the background, not for the purpose of laying claims for this Government or giving the claim to other Governments. I am giving it to show how we stand to-day, because that is all that counts. We must get a correct appraisement of how we stand, and, if we do, I feel confident that the country will close its ranks and rally behind production for all services for which it is asked.
§ Earl Winterton
I need hardly say how glad some of us who were members of a former Government were to hear the very generous tribute which my right hon. Friend has just paid. Would he mind telling the Committee when the Crusader tank was first designed?
§ Sir A. Duncan
It came into production early in 1941, and I should think the first design of an early prototype would be in 1939.
§ Sir A. Duncan
I have not checked it. In addition to building up improvements to existing prototypes, the Government set their face at once to the wider problem of providing for the future. Between August, 1940, and January, 1941, two very significant things happened as a result. The Government sent a Mission to the United States when we were very impoverished, and at that time we ordered the General Grant tanks, and the General Grant tank is in the Middle East to-day because of the action taken at that time. The General Grant tank became part and parcel of the Government's provision in this matter of tanks. The Government did more. With the best brains in the manufacturing industry we at once tested out four different designs, and comparatively soon—it can never be quite soon—we settled upon a new prototype. We decided at the same time that a gun of higher calibre should be put into tanks at the very earliest moment at which it could be done without impeding the flow of production. All these steps were taken as soon as practicable. But something more has happened in the interval. A great body of experience has been built up which was absent when war broke out. A great body of experience is necessary before you can have a background upon which quickly to devise modifications or improvisations. Still more, a body of the soundest engineering quality has been built up which makes it much more certain that the next tanks which come off the line will be really good tanks. That is precisely the kind of background which Germany has had all along, and now that we have established quantity and experience in this country, we can establish quality. I say there is every reason for us to take the view that to-day we are in the position of having at last reached a point when we can rely, not upon production being of such quality as will ensure equal terms, but that in future we can keep ahead.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha (Devonport)
May I ask the Minister how long it took for General Grant tanks to come into production from the moment they were ordered? I take it that the General Grant tanks were not ordered straight off the board, but did they come into use more quickly than the ones that did?
§ Sir A. Duncan
No, Sir, they did not come more quickly. It proves what a 1316 long-term proposition it is, because we had precisely the same disappointments in America as to the keeping of dates as we had in our own country, and we did not get deliveries in anything like the quantities and time we had expected. A new orientation came over this situation in another respect. It was recognised to be essential, if we were to make the fullest use of the production resources of this country, that we should have the minimum number of types to work upon. Preparatory work was done with a view to the imaginative looking forward which is necessary in a matter of this kind. A Mission was sent to America at the beginning of this year, and it was fully equipped with all our experience to come if it could to terms with America on a joint programme for the two countries. The programme they were aiming at establishing was a programme which would determine not only design and development but likewise allocation of production, and I am glad to say the Mission succeeded in coming to a unanimous and full agreement with the American Government on all these points. The two Governments have approved the agreement, and now we are in the position of going straight forward on the whole of this business in complete agreement with our American friends. That is a matter of very great importance indeed when we assess the confidence with which we may approach the future. Considering the background against which this situation had to be faced after Dunkirk, and remembering the need that continued long after Dunkirk for quantity production, no course other than that which was taken would have done other than place the Government in a completely impossible position if invasion had been attempted.
With regard to guns, early consideration was given to a higher-powered gun than the 2-pounder. The 2-pounder was the gun chosen before the war both for tank and anti-tank purposes. In the technical development of guns I do not think there has ever been any question as to the fact that we have kept well ahead. I hope that that will be appreciated by all, because we run great risks if we depreciate ourselves too much. The 2-pounder gun—it is really a 2½-pounder—in fact proved itself in France to be more than a match for the German counterpart. We lost many of our 2-pounders in France. We knew perfectly well that 1317 Germany would improve upon her gun, and the Government made the closest study of the gun situation but kept in mind that the gun situation, as far as the tank gun was concerned, was very closely related to and wrapped up in the tank situation. There was little purpose in going in for a policy which would make it necessary to curtail the production of tanks at a time when the production of tanks was the first thing you were clamouring for. The 6-pounder, the higher-powered gun, was approved, put into production, and came out of production in very substantial quantities in November, 1941, and that was a very significant performance. The Minister of Production commented recently on how significant a performance it was. To-day the Army have more 6-pounder anti-tank guns than they had 2-pounder anti-tank guns a year ago. Guns were and are available for tanks in greater quantities than can all be put into tanks, but that situation will go on improving all the time from now. It is true to say, therefore, that no time was lost. In so far as we had to decide on the policy of tanks, the policy on guns followed the policy on tanks
I wish to repeat that the importance of getting this thing right in our own minds is great because of the reaction in the workshops of the country. The Army have never asked that all the tanks produced should be fitted with 6-pounders. The reason for this is that the advantages of a bigger crew, more rapid rate of fire and greater supply of ammunition attaching to the 2-pounder make this capable of being a more effective weapon for many operational conditions. I would like from this Committee to say to the workers of the country that we hope they will keep the programme of production going to the full so long as it is required. A fortnight ago there was, as a result of the Debate in this House, great restlessness in many factories, and I hope that the Committee will allow me to say to all the workers engaged upon these guns that it is their duty and ought to be their joy to conclude the programmes as they have been designed and put to the factories. I ought to make it clear that in the whole of this tank policy and the tank and antitank gun policy there has never been at any material moment of time any difference between the Ministry of Supply and the War Office. The policy was considered, reviewed and approved by the 1318 Defence Committee as well. It has been suggested that there is insufficient contact between the War Office and ourselves at the Ministry of Supply. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a most regular contact at every level between the two Departments, and the appointment of the new forward weapon policy committee by the Minister of War will give us the assurance that collaboration at the highest level will be maintained on the most forward looking lines.
It was said by the hon. Member who spoke last that this Debate would be of no value unless it stirred us to look well ahead. I would assure the Committee that every conceivable step is being taken by the two Departments to examine the lessons to be drawn from what has happened. We have representatives in the theatres of war. For the last fortnight one of these, a senior military officer, has been at home sitting with us and the members of the Tank Board reviewing and learning all the lessons to be learned. Reports have been received throughout the Libyan campaign from our own representatives. We have access to all War Office reports. We have continuous contact with serving soldiers at home, and in addition to all that I am glad, in view of the questions asked by some Members in the Debate, to be able to say that we encourage manufacturers to keep in the closest touch with serving units at home. We go further and we make arrangements for manufacturers to be allowed to send representatives abroad. That always has been the practice, and invaluable lessons have been learnt as a result; indeed, the volumes of information which we have at our disposal would, I think, hardly allow us to plead the excuse that we did not know what was going on. It is well known and always has been.
I would say only one word about the Tank Board. There has been very great misconception as to the constitution of the Tank Board and as to its regular meetings. The Tank Board has had a chairman over the last 18 months—a new chairman came in in the last 10 weeks—who has given his whole time to the affairs of the Department, and therefore he has been in the closest possible touch all along with the problems of the Board. The Board has met and meets regularly, and the chairman has been in constant touch with the members of the Board all through in the intervals between the meetings. 1319 I am advised by the new chairman of the Tank Board that he found a very sound engineering background in the Department. He is satisfied that they are equipped for scientific research and for development and have practical knowledge—knowledge of all the kinds required. He is satisfied that the policy is on very sound lines indeed, and I have every confidence, therefore, that we shall make good use of the situation in which we now find ourselves. With the body of tanks now going through the workshops, and with the provision that has been made ahead, it is possible to-day to pay much more attention to the development of policy for the future, and I would give the assurance that that is being fully attended to.
I realise full well that occasions will still develop when Debate on these matters in this House will be necessary, but nevertheless I venture to claim that on this occasion we are able to say with great confidence that we are now on better things. Whatever controversies surround us, I venture to believe that these Debates do good. They are intended to offer constructive criticism and suggestions to Ministers and to all who come under Ministers. No person who holds a responsible office should dare to resent fair and solid criticism, and I do not resent it. The Supply Ministers are working most cordially under the arrangements made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Production, and I am very glad to say that 1320 the body of organisation which he is building is going to be of very great strength in the Government machine, connecting future policy with present production developments.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
Is the Board of Admiralty taking an active part in this co-operation?
§ Sir M. Sueter
Will the Minister have answers to our questions sent to us from the Department, as has often been done in the past? Several of us have put questions.
§ Sir A. Duncan
I shall be very glad indeed to do so. Certainly all the questions will be looked into, and I shall be very glad indeed to send answers to any hon. Members who wish to have them.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again"—[Major Sir James Edmondson]—put, and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.