HC Deb 12 March 1942 vol 378 cc1205-9
Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (by private notice)

asked the Prime Minister whether he has any statement to make on the subject of Production?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)

My right hon. and gallant Friend the present Minister of State will be appointed Minister of Production. The Minister of Production is the Minister charged with chief responsibility—I may here interpolate the fact that, in the White Paper, publication of which was withdrawn, the expression "prime responsibility" is used. "Prime" in the dictionary is capable of meaning either "chief" or "primary." It is in the sense of "chief" rather than "primary" that the word is used. The word "primary" might conflict with the departmental responsibility of the Prime Minister.—He is charged, as I say, with chief responsibility on behalf of the War Cabinet, for the business of war production as a whole, subject, of course, to the policy of the Minister of Defence and of the War Cabinet itself. Subject to the position of the Admiralty, which I will mention later, he will have full effective powers to concert and supervise the activities of the Production Departments, including the adjustment of existing programmes and the initiation of future policy.

No new Ministry, incorporating the existing Supply Departments, will be set up. Subject to the performance by the Minister of Production of the duties assigned to him, the Ministers in charge of the Supply Departments will continue to be responsible to the War Cabinet and to Parliament for the administration of their Departments. That is the general position: but the House will no doubt expect some closer definition of the Minister's responsibilities in regard to specific matters.

He will be responsible for the duties hitherto discharged by the Production Executive, including the settlement of production priorities, the regional boards, and the allocation of industrial capacity, except shipyard capacity (which will be allocated as heretofore by the Admiralty). He will direct the work of the British representatives on the combined bodies set up here and in the United States, to provide for the most effective utilisation of the joint resources of the United Nations in munitions and raw materials. He will organise, in co-operation with the Dominions and other Empire Governments, the general planning of the production of raw materials, machine tools and finished munitions in the Empire.

As regards raw materials and machine tools required for war production in this country, he will be responsible for planning the development of home resources, for arranging the import programme and for settling the allocation and release of stocks. He will determine the scope and extent of the building programmes.

In all matters connected with the allocation, distribution and efficient use of labour within the field of war production, the Minister of Production and the Minister of Labour and National Service will work together; the latter being generally responsible for the supply of labour, and the former for determining the relative importance of the various demands for labour for war production.

As regards the Admiralty, the position is that the Board will continue to control the design, construction and armament of all naval vessels, and the naval programmes, subject only to the approval of the Minister of Defence and the War Cabinet. The Board of Admiralty will also remain responsible for the construction and defensive equipment of merchant vessels, and for their repair in this country, but will be advised by the Minister of War Transport about such matters as the types of merchant vessels to be constructed. In all other respects the functions of the Minister of Production will extend to the field of production for which the Admiralty is primarily responsible.

It is not intended to issue a White Paper on this occasion. I had hoped that the Leader of the House would be able to arrange for a Debate on the scope of the duties of the Minister of Production next week. I am sorry to say that the illness of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of State may impose some little delay, as he wishes himself to make a statement upon the view he takes of his duties and also to reply to any suggestions and questions that may occur to the House.

Sir Percy Harris

Will the Prime Minister make clear the exact relation between the Minister of Production and the Admiralty, especially on the production side and the demand for material, which are intimately related with the whole problem of production? There is competition between the three Departments of Aircraft Production, Supply and the Admiralty, and I want it made clear that the Admiralty are not in a preferential position.

The Prime Minister

I think that is clear in my statement, and it can be further elucidated in the Debate.

Mr. Shinwell

Will the Minister preside over a production executive on which the various production Departments will be represented? Further, will regional boards be created of a unified character over which he will have control? Does the Prime Minister not appreciate the primary need for bringing all merchant shipbuilding construction, which involves certain priorities, under the control of the Minister of Production?

The Prime Minister

That would be a very good topic for the Debate.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

Is it proposed to have the Debate on this question before Easter?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I hope that the indisposition of the Minister of Production will be only temporary and brief and that he will be fit to take the Debate shortly.

Mr. Hammersley

Will the Minister of Production have an adequate technical staff to enable him to watch the progress of production and planning, in accordance with the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has just made?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. The Minister will have a thoroughly effective secretariat, and he will, of course, have assistance from all the technical staffs in the Departments under his general supervision.

Mr. Higgs

Why was it necessary to issue a White Paper three weeks ago and now it is not necessary to issue another? Does the Prime Minister expect better cooperation between the Minister of Labour and the other Supply Departments?

The Prime Minister

I do not think it is necessary to go into these domestic details. As a matter of fact, we prefer to stand on a general statement of policy, and we should not run the risk of publishing a White Paper and of appearing to settle everything in too legalistic a manner.

Mr. Granville

Does the Prime Minister's statement mean that there will be no Minister representing production sent to the United States?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, on the contrary, and if the hon. Gentleman will read the statement, he will see that that is not the case. That is a matter which must be considered by the Minister of Production. It is possible there might be.

Sir P. Hannon

May I ask the Prime Minister whether merchant shipbuilding will still continue under the Admiralty?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Hore-Belisha

With reference to the penultimate answer, is it to be understood that Lord Beaverbrook will or will not undertake the duties in the United States which were decided when the announcement was first made?

The Prime Minister

Lord Beaverbrook will, I understand, undertake those duties, and should any change take place in what was announced, I shall take occasion to have Parliament informed.

Mr. Leslie Boyce

Will my right hon. Friend say whether the activity of the Ministry of Works and Buildings, which competes in the market for labour and materials, will come under the supervision of the Minister of Production?

The Prime Minister

I said that he will determine the scope and extent of the building programme.

Mr. Boyce

Thank you.

Mr. Shinwell

Is it not perfectly clear that Lord Beaverbrook is not going to undertake the duties assigned to him in the White Paper?

The Prime Minister

The White Paper is cancelled.

Mr. Shinwell

May I ask my right hon. Friend a perfectly plain question, which ought to have a simple and perfectly truthful answer?

The Prime Minister

What do you mean by that?

Mr. Shinwell

Exactly what I said. I am asking for a plain reply to a plain question. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it really is the case that Lord Beaverbrook is going to undertake the duties assigned to him?

The Prime Minister

I am not quite sure. That is truthful, and I am not accustomed to be told—indeed, I think any Member of this House is entitled to be protected from being told—that the answers he gives are not truthful.

Mr. Shinwell

I did not suggest for a single moment that my right hon. Friend would give an untruthful answer.—[Interruption.]—What I do say, now, is that the reply he gave was evasive.