HC Deb 14 December 1945 vol 417 cc869-80

Captain Blackburn (Birmingham king's Nortan) rose

Mr. Speaker

I would point out that, if the hon. and gallant Member wants to make a speech he can get no reply. This House should not be considered a common forum for making speeches. It is a House of debate in which speeches are answered. In my view it is contrary to the spirit of Parliamentary custom merely to use it as a platform for speech making.

Mr. Driberg (Maldon)

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, although I do not know what my hon. and gallant Friend is going to talk about, and 1 may not agree with him when he says it, may I ask you to confirm that there is nothing which limits the rights of any Back Bencher or Front Bencher to say anything on the Adjournment—

Mr. Speaker

1 merely pointed that out, and there I am finished, provided the speech is in Order.

3.3 p.m.

Captain Blackburn

1 am a little embarrassed by what you have said, Mr. Speaker, and perhaps before speaking I may explain the reason why I am taking this somewhat unusual course. The Private Member is in the somewhat embarrassing position that he is unlikely to have an opportunity to express the views of his constituents upon broad matters of policy which affect the country in a general Debate, because there are so many people who want to speak in that general Debate. He has the right on the Adjournment to raise specific items provided they do not affect legislation, but in this Parliament, people are so keen that Members of Parliament find it very difficult indeed to get the Adjournment. It happens that I wish to say a word in the course of my speech about a very large factory in my constituency named the Austin Aero Factory. That factory has had vital decisions taken in respect of it operating between now and 31st December. I have balloted for the Adjournment, and been unsuccessful, for the purpose of raising the matter, and it is my duty to my constituents, as I see it, to raise it.

I hope that I do not incur your displeasure, Mr. Speaker, in continuing, but I feel that, in the interests of democracy, an opportunity should be given to a Member of Parliament, which he would not get otherwise, to express his views. Otherwise, we would get involved in a situation in which, when the Government finally decided on an issue of policy, we only had the opportunity to vote for or against, and did not get a chance to air in public such views as we possess, or might consider our constituents possess.

In my view, everyone in this country has been gravely impressed by the recent Debates in the House of Commons, and by the consequences of those Debates. I am accepting these Agreements and I am not in any way trying to go back over the ground that we have all been discussing, but I am desirous of our facing the situation with which we are now confronted, and that situation as I see it is this. We have returned, or under these Agreements we shall return, to a world of free international enterprise. I would like to adopt in my argument this sentence from the leading article in '' The Times '' today:

Whatever the fate and final shape of the Washington draft agreements, the standard of life and world influence of this country will be decided by the output a manhour in factories working for export and for essential home needs. We are now faced with a situation in the world that we have got to be able at least to hold our own, and preferably compete successfully with other countries such as the United States, in the markets of the world. Reciprocal bulk purchases will now be excluded, and we shall, therefore, have lost the benefit of the bargaining factor that we are the greatest importing country in the world. Now in view of that, I would like, with great respect, to make, so that it will be reported in Hansard, for the consideration of the Government, the following general remarks and in so far as the Government are already in agreement with them, I apologise for raising them. America possesses two very great advantages over us in the trade international position. First, that she has not suffered during the war like we have suffered. Her factories have not been bombed and she has not had to make a colossal war effort on quite the scale that we have. Secondly, she is able to go in for mass production on a scale upon which we are not able to go in for it, because her home market is so much bigger and partly for other reasons. She is, therefore, able on the whole to have great ad- vantages in competing with this country. What is the approach which we can follow in this country in relation to our trade policy, and our general national policy so that we can hold our own with America in the cut-throat competition that is bound to result from what we have agreed to this week. I suggest that the recent General Election was fought upon the general principle that we must accept a planned economy which will combine economic and political democracy. The doubts that some of us have had yesterday have arisen over our interpretation of the question which the Prime Minister himself put at Blackpool in these terms:

We want to co-operate, but in co-operating we must see that we do not surrender the power to plan here at home. The Foreign Secretary also said:

We must stand for bulk purchase. While I do not suggest that either of these policies has been rendered impossible of attainment by the agreements, I do think that they are made very difficult to fulfil, and we must face the fact that it will be a very difficult thing indeed to plan our foreign trade. We must also recognise, and I am here referring to the darker side of the picture, not only that as a result of this, capitalist America has ensured that Socialist Britain will compete with capitalist America under an international system which is on the whole favourable to capitalism, but also that enterprise in this country is bound under this Government to be not so enterprising as it would have been if there had been an administration of hon. Members opposite. [An Hon. Member: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that I have received the solitary support of one Member opposite in this speech, but I merely suggest that we have to accept that as a fact, and I do not know whether the hon. Member would like the policy that I am proposing for the Government, namely, that we must compensate for that by public enterprise and mixed enterprise, on a far greater scale than has so far been announced by the Government.

I would like, in outlining four general principles, to remind hon. Members of the most important speech made by the President of the Board of Trade at Blackpool. I do not hesitate to continue to produce this document, because it seems to me to be of such importance to the movement to which I am proud to belong. On this occasion he said, as regards this question of national planning, which is the subject upon which I am speaking:

Those of us who have been concerned with the planning of war industries… realise that when we come to the far broader national plan that will be required, with its degrees of nationalisation and control in different industries, we shall be faced with a very difficult technical task, a task made the more difficult because no due preparations have been made for its accomplishment. We must not lead the people to believe that this is some easy Utopia into which we are inviting them to step. We have got to engender in the people the same spirit of determination to see this programme through that they have displayed in winning the victory in the war. Unless we do that, we shall, I am afraid, find that when we get back into power we are met by difficulties which it will be almost impossible to overcome. The Government have, without the slightest doubt, got the confidence of the people of this country, but they have not yet got the enthusiasm of the people of this country, and it is my respectful submission that it is vitally important that we should, in the words of the President of the Board of Trade, capture that spirit of determination to which I have referred. To do that I suggest that the following four principles, to which I will not refer in any detail, should be announced to the House and to the country. As a preliminary, of course, I should say that the announcement of the conditions upon which the National Investment or Development Board will be established is a matter of vital importance to all the four principles, but to save time I will not refer to this inter-relationship. First, as to the integration of scientists and science in the broad national plan, if we are to improve our production one of the best ways is that we should make a better use of our scientists than any other country in the world. Second, in order to achieve this enthusiasm to which I have referred, I suggest that the Government adopt a really imaginative line of propaganda to the people of this country, that they announce a national plan to the people so that we can understand exactly where we are. I am saying this in no pessimistic sense at all, but in view of what "The Times" described as an "economic Dunkirk" it is appropriate that we should raise the spirit of the people of this country in the same way as it was raised in 1940. This must be done if we are to play that part in the affairs of the world that is so necessary for our future. The third—and I can hardly overestimate this because I feel most strongly about it—is that the Government should extend the joint production committees throughout the whole of industry. It is an integral part of Socialism that you should raise the necessary spirit of enthusiasm among the workers by associating them with the processes of production.

I have often heard people say, "Well of course, all that the workers are interested in, is their food or their drink or their women." It is a perfectly fair answer to that to say that, even if it be true, and I do not accept that it is true, the reason is, that you do not give them a chance to be anything else, because you do not allow them to have a say in the running of the factories in which they are working, and because of that you cannot make industrial democracy a reality. The Government have a golden chance now to make Socialism real to the workers by arranging for joint production committees in all the factories in this country. It was done in 1942 in the engineering industry by an agreement initiated by the Amalgamated Engineering Union. That agreement was due to come to an end when the war finished.

Here I would like to raise one special case which arises in my own constituency, in no critical manner, because it would be hardly fair for me to be critical when the President of the Board of Trade is not here. I must, however, state the facts. There is, in my constituency, a factory known as the Austin Aero. It is capable of producing 50,000 cars a year. It is one of the most efficient factories in Britain, and it has about a quarter of a mile of total coverage under which you could arrange assembly lines that would be almost invaluable for industrial purposes today. That factory is, under the existing proposals, to be withdrawn from making aircraft and aero-engines and turned into an Admiralty gun store, with the result that a factory which at one time employed 10,000 men is now going to employ 2,000. The point I desire to make is that in this factory the shop stewards concerned are very active politically, although they are not of my political persuasion. I am raising this question not because it does me any personal good but because it happens to be in my constituency. The convener is a member of the Communist Party. [An Hon. Member: "That is always the case."] It will therefore be seen that I have no political axe to grind. But these shop stewards made a request to the Regional Board as long as nine months ago in order to find out what was to happen to their factory. They were told by the Regional Board that they could not consider it because the agreement between the Amalgamated Engineering Union and the engineering industry did not cover the transfer from war to peace. Therefore, the workers in this factory, thousands of them, did not know in advance what was likely to happen to them and, therefore, they had no opportunity at all of playing a part in an essential decision on which the whole of their industrial lives might depend.

I am not in any way saying this with the intention of casting reflections upon the Government. It happened as a result of Coalition policy, but it illustrates my point that in the future we must establish the closest possible contacts and the best possible machinery by which the workers in industry can have a say in the control of the industry, and should be able to help in the taking of decisions as to what the future of an industry will be in which they are expected to work. That is the root and kernel of our Socialist faith, and it will be unfortunate if the proposals for socialisation, or for a National Investment Board, finally only involve the sort of consultations and relationships in industry that will take place at the top between the kind of people that are at the top. It must be understood that the workers must have a share in the plans that are made for production in their own industries. They will not be fobbed off with any other sort of plan, and it will be difficult to make them believe that anything which takes place in this House, if it does not achieve this, could be something which is called full democracy. Political democracy must be accompanied by economic democracy, and if that process is to reach fruition then I suggest to the Government that they should take every possible step to encourage the establishment of joint production machinery throughout the whole of industry.

Next, and last of the four principles, I am very anxious that the Government should get rid of a great deal of the hangover from wartime secrecy of which every Member of Parliament must be conscious. Again, I am in no way making remarks intended to be critical, but I do feel that in almost every subject debated in this House on which I have tried to exercise a conscientious judgment, I have found myself, as regards the last 10 per cent. upon which that judgment depended, groping as it were, in the dark because I was not aware of the essential facts. It is true of the decision about the factory to which I have referred, because, without knowing the whole national position, which I am not allowed to know, I cannot decide whether it is absolutely essential for the factory to be turned into an Admiralty gun store or not. It is also true of the Debate we have been having, because we could not put forward a constructive alternative to what was proposed unless we have far greater knowledge than we have of the economic position of the country as a whole.

May I finish with these general comments, and by saying that I believe profoundly that the British people is capable of rising to the greatest possible heights if it is given the chance? If we take the British people fully into our confidence— and I am again quoting from the President of the Board of Trade—

these difficulties may be overcome and, as always with the British people, the greater the demand made upon them, the better they will fight. This is not the time, in my view, despite what has been said, for pessimism, but the time for optimism, and the time for us to grasp the great opportunities which confront us. We must not, I think, in the Socialist movement, concentrate too much upon a bread-and-butter policy. We must recapture the original spirit of Socialism as expressed by men like William Morris and Keir Hardie and make that a flame that burns in the hearts of ordinary people. I would like to conclude by quoting four lines from a poem written 700 years ago by Sir Henry Wotton, because I am very conscious that they might apply to me personally, and because I feel that they are lines which the people of this land might well ponder at this time:

" This man if free from servile bonds, Of hope to rise or fear to fall; Lord of himself, the' not of lands And, having nothing, yet hath all."

3.24 p.m.

Mr. Montague (Islington, West)

I feel that I am, to some extent, qualified to have a word or two in this discussion by the fact that, at the Ministry of Air Transport in 1941, I was responsible, to a degree, for initiating a good deal of the kind of machinery referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for King's Norton (Captain Blackburn); that is to say, working parties and consultations with workpeople by the employers in the production of munitions. It worked well on the whole, although there were some points of administration about which one might be inclined to be critical. I agree, in general, that there is scope for what the hon. and gallant Member calls "industrial democracy," but it has its dangers and I think those dangers have been exemplified in Europe during the last half decade. The danger consists of making your industrial democracy, or in the temptation to make it, more a political indirect democracy than an industrial one. I think we must watch this danger, because there is a tendency growing up today under the name of industrial democracy towards the substitution of factory politics for Parliamentary politics, and that is precisely the way in which Germany went after the fall of the Weimar Government, with disastrous consequences involving the future of Europe.

There is the danger of the workers imagining that, because they are" engaged in industry, they are therefore outside, or parallel with, the Parliamentary democracy to which we have been used in this country and which has grown up by the peculiar nature of the British people's political development. May I give the hon. and gallant Member and the House an illustration or two of the kind of danger to which I have referred? I have, in my constituency and upon the borders of it, a number of factories, one a very large one. All are, to some degree, and the large one particularly—which is a factory employing 4,000 to 5,000 people— political as much as industrial institutions. I do not know how they find the time, nor to what degree the industry suffers in consequence, but I gather, from the politically organised works committees, shop stewards and so on, with the usual Communist background—I am not grumbling about that for the moment, but it is a fact—that they pass resolutions on all sorts of subjects, home and foreign, which come to me regularly. If some thing happens tomorrow morning in Ruritania or some place that nobody had ever heard of before—or in one of those places referred to by Mr. Lloyd George after the last war—

Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)


Mr. Montague

Yes, Teschen. It does not matter where it happens, the result is that there is a deputation to this House of young girls and boys, wild with indignation, who storm into the Lobbies and send for me and other hon. Members in order to tell us what they think about what is happening in Ruritania. That is all very fine, of course, and, perhaps, does not do very much harm, and I am not grumbling too much about it. But there is the danger of that kind of interference with political machinery that is implied in such actions. They pass resolutions and send them on to me, and other people pass political resolutions at their trade union meetings and they are sent on to me. They meet in the Communist Party or the Labour Party and get someone to put forward the same resolution, and that is sent on to me, and very often a committee is set up to deal with the question in general, and more people pass more resolutions and send them on to Members of Parliament. All of this is building up an agitation which is really a fraud, in the political sense, because it does not really represent democracy or the opinions of the people, in any democratic sense or numerical fashion.

Lieutenant William Shepherd (Bucklow)

Has not the process which the hon. Member has just been describing been the means, however unfortunate, on which the party he represents has been built up?

Mr. Montague

No, I know a good deal about the way in which the party to which I belong has been built up, and it has not been built up by those methods entirely, but by methods which will be understood by the hon. and gallant Member who opened this Debate and who mentioned the names of William Morris and Keir Hardie. They were the people associated with the construction and building up of the Labour Party. This is quite a new thing in British politics, and, although it may indicate a great amount of enthusiasm and attention to political affairs in this country on the part of young people —and they are mainly young people who are doing this kind of thing—I want to stress the danger, when these people who intervene in things of that kind, have got their legitimate machinery, which is being undermined. We have seen it in the unofficial strikes—it is all part of the same thing. The trade union machinery and the political machinery is already there, and why duplicate it with machinery for factory politics under the name of works committees, shop stewards and the rest? Though these may be very good from the standpoint of creating good feeling in industry, if they are to be used for this purpose, we shall get into a situation where the prestige and value and power of this House of Commons will be undermined. It is the first step in the direction of Fascism, and we must be very careful about it.

At the same time, I agree that there is work to be done in improving the opportunities for consultation with workers inside the factories. Let me give an illustration of the kind of thing that has to be corrected. I remember that a complaint was sent to the Ministry of Aircraft Production, during the height of the blitz upon London, from an aircraft factory which had been installed in an old mansion in the North. The complaint was that the workers had not any work to do. The reason for that was a certain changeover in design, which could not be helped, but they had no work to do, although they were, of course, paid for their hours of duty. They were instructed to build a bathing pool, if you please, for the bosses—that it how it was put in the letter which was sent to M.A.P.—a glorious bathing pool in the gardens of this glorious house which had been turned into an aircraft factory. I asked the Minister of Food, who was then at M.A.P. assisting in the work there upon a voluntary basis, to go to the factory and find out what had happened. What had happened was that they were concerned about the blitzing of London and were building a tank for static water in order to protect the mansion against fire as a result of possible enemy attacks. The moral of that is that that works committee sent that letter to London with insufficient knowledge, and the people really responsible for that mistake were those who were running the factory. There ought to have been means by which the workers and the organisers could have got together to deal with and understand each other and the work they were doing. From that standpoint I thoroughly agree with the hon. Member, but I thought it was desirable that I should express the danger there is in substituting factory politics for the proper democratic machinery that exists in this country, which can be used and ought to be used by an intelligent democracy.

3.33 p.m

Lieutenant William Shepherd (Bucklow)

I want to add a few words to say that we on this side of the House—[Hon. Members: "We? "]—well, there are two of us now, are concerned about industrial democracy. There is no question that our national life can be improved and our industrial production improved by democracy finding its way to a greater extent into industry than before, but I suggest that a very objective approach is necessary. There are two dangers inherent in production committees and factory committees. One is that the committees will infringe the rights of managers. That is a very definite and a very real difficulty. The second danger is that they will pursue political objectives rather than industrial. Both those dangers have shown themselves during wartime and both have to be got out of the way if industrial democracy is to proceed. This political tendency in industry today is a very dangerous feature, although it is, to my mind, precisely the means by which hon. Members opposite have raised themselves to such power and prestige in this country. It is a real danger in that there is at the present time far too little production in industry. The level of production per man in industry today is far too low, and instead of pro- duction committees being concerned with raising that level they are, in the main, concerned merely with obtaining their political objectives. The very life, the standard of life, of our people depends entirely upon the output per man per week and that problem is not obtaining sufficient attention.

Captain Blackburn

Would the hon. and gallant Member not agree with me that there is not the slightest doubt that the extension of the joint production system throughout the engineering industry has had a quite remarkable effect upon engineering production?

Lieutenant Shepherd

The increase in engineering output was due to the urgency of the emergency rather than to the effect which those committees had, and I would say that at the present time their activities are probably directed towards restricting output rather than increasing it. I am not discussing what happened in the war, I am concerned with our industrial future, and I say the standard of life of every man, woman and child depends upon the output per man in our factories. Today, instead of getting on with the job, far too many people are arguing about what happens in Batavia, and that outlook has to be eliminated. We have to get down to the real job of work, and I suggest there is scope for doing what was done in the Army, that is, putting the workman far more in the picture than he has been before; but that can only be done on the basis of a purely industrial objective and a desire to improve the general standard of living in the country.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-three Minutes to Four o'Clock.