HC Deb 13 November 1946 vol 430 cc223-34

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Popplewell.]

10.1 p.m.

Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, King's Norton)

The purpose of this Debate is to ask the Government to make a statement on their attitude towards joint production machinery and to ask them to take all possible steps, in conjunction with the trade unions, to extend joint production machinery throughout the whole of industry. I propose to speak for only four or five minutes in order to enable other hon. Members to take part in the Debate and not because it is a subject which I do not feel to be of profound importance. Indeed, it is of great interest that right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench have recently given attention to this subject. They have come out with a statement that they are in favour of joint production machinery. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) even suggested that the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Lord President were in rough agreement with those of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). If the Conservative Party now stand for joint production machinery, let them play their part in advising employers throughout the country to produce such machinery forthwith, because the trouble in relation to joint consultation is a very simple one. It is that employers throughout the country have not been prepared to introduce it on a sufficient scale.

The value of joint production machinery has been generously admitted by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and by my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) in speeches they have made at recent Labour Party conferences. I do not think that there can be any doubt that the introduction of joint production machinery throughout the war produced very fine results, particularly in the engineering industry. Results were also achieved in other industries, and I am not trying to single out one industry and suggest that results of great benefit were not achieved in other industries. It is generally admitted that the introduction of joint production machinery was a very important factor. It is not merely from the point of view of material advantage that I am advancing this argument. As I understand it, the purpose of the Government is to introduce economic planning which will combine economic democracy with political democracy. It is not economic democracy for an industry to be run by a number of employers who do not consult their workers or for an industry to be run by a board which does not consult its employees. There must be something somewhere between economic control, on the one side, and management by the employees on the other.

I think that is common ground among sensible people who have studied this matter, to whichever party they belong. Unfortunately, it is the fact—and I hope my hon. Friend will give us the figures— that joint production machinery has apparently declined since the end of the war. I hope my hon. Friend will give the reasons for that, and will indicate, as clearly as possible, what steps the Government feel they can take in order to extend joint production machinery throughout the country. Will he consider, for instance, publishing the facts as regards the results achieved by these methods during the war? Will he consider whether other measures can be used to persuade employers to extend joint production machinery throughout industry? Will he consider the use of any means other than mere encouragement in order to make sure that this is done?

This seems to me to be a subject of staggering importance in relation to the subject which has been discussed in many speeches today. Surely, we are interested in the issue as to whether the workers in this country are entitled to have a say in the way in which the industries are run. Surely, we in this House are extremely interested in making sure that the worker in industry, at any rate, knows what the soldier in Field Marshal Montgomery's Army knew at Alamein, namely, what was the broad plan of campaign. Surely, we are interested in finding out how he can contribute his ideas towards the running of industry. The workers are being lectured—and I am not quarrelling about it—very widely upon the need to produce more. They are being told about economic planning, and I am a full and enthusiastic supporter of economic planning, but let it be planning in the light and not in the dark. Let people know how the planning is taking place, and how they can cooperate in planning.

Do not let us have again the situation which occurred in my own constituency, where one of the finest factories in Britain was closed down without the joint production committee or the workers having a reasonable opportunity to find out why it closed down. I am not criticising anybody about this; it occurred almost immediately after this Government came into office. All I am asking is that machinery should be established throughout industry to enable the worker to find out what is likely to happen to him in his industry, and why it is important for him to work on this, that or the other job. It should not be satisfactory to the Government merely to sit back and blame the employers for their failure to introduce this machinery. If the employers themselves are not prepared to introduce the machinery, I suggest that, in one way or another, they must be persuaded to introduce it, and I cannot understand how hon. Members, after all the speeches they have been making about joint consultation in industry, can possibly object to measures of that kind being attempted by a Socialist Government.

I would like to conclude by saying that, from the purely logical point of view, economic planning is, perhaps, the main motive why members of the middle class to which I belong joined the Labour Party. It was not purely from the material point of view that we joined. We joined also—and we are very proud to be members of the Labour Party— because we feel that the coming of economic democracy will enable the ordinary worker in this country to feel that he is no longer merely a cog in the machine, and that it may help to introduce a new spiritual approach to industry in every part of the world. I speak as a strong supporter of the Government, but I am bound to say that in the 17 months since the Government have been in office, I have been disappointed to discover that these processes which grew up during the war are now largely atrophied. I am sure my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary agrees with me about this.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)


Mr. Blackburn

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his assistance on this occasion. I hope that when he replies, the Minister will indicate that he appreciates that there is not merely a material basis for our demand for joint production machinery, but that there is also a deeper one. We desire the workers to be associated with the processes of production, so that in the future, if people say—as, unfortunately, one of my right hon. Friends apparently said the other day—that the workers are not very competent at managing industry even if they have the chance of doing so, we shall, at any rate, have given the workers an opportunity to learn how to manage industry. So far, they have never had that opportunity. I hope my hon. Friend will give a satisfactory reply.

10.10 p.m.

Wing-Commander Shackleton (Preston)

It is clear that this Debate is going to be one of those amiable half-hours at the end of a less amiable day. I hope hon. Members opposite will speak in terms of support of what my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) has just been saying. I have been at pains to try to find out what has been said officially on the subject of joint production machinery. I think it is worth while looking back at the original Whitley Committee which set up the joint industrial councils in 1917. The Committee said they were convinced that Permanent improvement in the relations between employer and employed must be founded upon something other than a cash basis. What is wanted is that the work people should have a greater opportunity of participating in the discussion about and adjustment of those parts of industry by which they are most affected. This Report went on to declare and lay down the sort of aspects of industry in which work people were entitled to be kept informed.

I will not mention-all the points which were advocated, but it is clear, I think, that the purpose of joint production machinery, or joint industrial councils, or whatever they may be, is to improve the relations in industry, to ensure greater production, to enable the work-people to understand what they are at, and to make those helpful suggestions which anyone who is actually doing the job is very often in a position to make. I think it is a very sad commentary that, despite that very progressive report in 1917, we have still not advanced to a stage where joint production machinery is an automatic piece of any industrial organisation in this country. It is clear that the most progressive employers, the most progressive sections of industry, do realise that joint production machinery must operate, not only to the advantage of the workpeople but also to the advantage of the employer. It must operate to the improvement of production, and therefore to the improvement of their profits, and they should welcome it. I believe there is always a certain element of suspicion on the part of employers in letting people deal with subjects which may affect their competitive position; there is a fear that they may give away secrets which will be damaging to them. Nevertheless, it is essential.

It is nothing less than a tragedy that great industries like the cotton industry as a general rule still lack this essential piece of machinery. It is one of the most notable omissions—I think I am right in saying it was omitted—from the Schuster Report that there was no recommendation for the setting up of joint production machinery. It is worth while contrasting the difference between the cotton industry in this respect and a big modern employer like Courtaulds. In the last few weeks I have visited a production week which was put on by the works council at Courtaulds, organised by the workers themselves, the purpose of which was to enable workers In Courtaulds to understand what they were doing, to give them an incentive to produce better quality goods and not just to step up production. This machinery must not be used merely in order to produce more and more through sweated labour. It must work to the general benefit of the industry as a whole. I submit that the good of the industry is inseparably bound up with the good of the workpeople. It is vital that the workers should have an opportunity to express their opinions, to understand what is going on, and to make their own contribution from their own knowledge.

I have also attempted to find out what statements the Government have made in the past on the subject. I find that one hon. Member, who is no longer with us, Sir Geoffrey Mander, was very active in trying to get statements from the Government during the war as to their policy after the war with regard to joint production machinery. The last statement which meant anything was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, who was then Minister of Labour. He said: I am at present considering what further provision should be made to meet the requirements of the postwar position, but I am not yet able to make a statement on the subject."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th October. 1944; Vol. 403, c. 1908.] And no statement has been made. I think it is time that a clear lead was given, both to the private sector of industry and to those sections of industry coming under public ownership.

I hope that under the new nationalised industries it will be quite clearly shown, as, I believe, it will be, that joint production machinery extends from the top down to the workshop itself. It is absolutely essential in a nationalised industry, where the element of competition is removed, that this sort of machinery should be set up, in order to keep a check on the efficient working of that industry, and to provide that extra bit of incentive which, we all know, is essential if we are to get extra production. I hope that the Minister, when he replies, will say not only that special attention will be paid to that, but also, that special attention will be paid to the industries which have been considered by various working parties, and a real effort made to ensure that joint production machinery is extended right through industry.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Assheton (City of London)

I had not been aware that the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) was about to raise this matter, but since he has done so, and since he has referred to some recent remarks which right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House have made on this subject. I should like to have the opportunity of saying how glad I am he has raised the question, and with what very great interest and sympathy we on this side of the House regard this whole problem. I should like to have the opportunity of reminding the hon. Gentleman that during the war, when I was at the Ministry of Supply, I did have the privilege of signing, on behalf of the Government, the very first agreement for joint production councils for the Royal Ordnance factories. There is not time now, because the Minister, I know, wishes to reply, for those of us on this side of the House to express our views fully on this matter, but I did think it only right that I should intervene to say with, what great interest we listened to the hon. Member's speech, and with what sympathy we view this subject.

10.17 P.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Ness Edwards)

I, too, am sorry there is not more time available for Members on both sides of the House to take part in this Debate, but I am sure it will be appreciated that some small time must be left to the unfortunate person who has to wind up. I shall try to say as much as I can in the shortest possible time. I do not believe the House ought to go away unaware of the existence of the Industrial Relations Handbook, a copy of which I have here, which still represents the Government's policy in this realm of industry, and 100,000 copies of which have been issued to industry. The Government's policy is quite adequately stated, and no one, I think, can be under any misapprehension as to what line the Government are taking on this matter. The Government come down very squarely on the side of the establishment of joint production committees at the workshop level.

This subject has been a matter of very considerable discussion over very many years. I remember back in 1916 when the Guild Socialists were arguing with the workers' control section; and arising out of that great contention we had the Whitley Report; and I think it is interesting to note that the backbone of our industrial relationships today consists largely of the in joint industrial councils in the various industries in this country. There has been no decline—in fact, there has been an increase—in the number of joint industrial councils that have been set up to govern industrial relationships. But these were matters mainly dealing with questions of wages and conditions.

The Whitley Councils did not deal with production questions, and it was not until we had the Sankey Commission that we had the first recommendation by a Government Commission for the establishment of joint production committees in the collieries of this country. This recommendation was not actually followed for some years, as is well known in the House, and we had to wait until we had the stimulus of the war, in 1939, when it was essential to mobilise all the manpower and womanpower of this country in the most efficient way to get the greatest quantity of production we possibly could in defence of this country. In this connection the present Foreign Secretary, with his great knowledge, wisdom and experience of industry, gave a stimulus to the establishment of joint production committees. Again, in the case of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, when Lord Beaverbrook was the Minister, it will be recollected how in those mad and heroic days of 1940 he would go to factories, call everybody together, and say, "I want so many aircraft; all of you get into it and produce them." In that case he was not appealing to both sides of industry, he was getting industry together round a round table rather than having them talk across a square one. The stimulus was given, and throughout the country we saw this development of joint production committees.

Mr. Osborne (Louth)

Would the hon. Gentleman make it clear that the Joint Industrial Councils have been in existence in some industries for 40 years, and that they were not a war development entirely?

Mr. Ness Edwards

The Joint Industrial Councils, generally speaking, were concerned with wages and conditions and not with production. There have been notable cases of various experiments in industrial partnership and that sort of thing all over the country; it has been extremely varied, and there has been no common pattern at all, but there is behind us a very substantial amount of independent experience in this field which could be of very great value to us in industry in the future.

In order that I may set at rest the doubts of some of my hon. Friends on this side, let me quote what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour said in December of last year. He said: The establishment of works committees and similar bodies is a matter for voluntary arrangement between the employers and workers concerned on whose mutual desire and good will they finally rest. It is my policy to encourage the establishment of such machinery, but compulsion will be likely to defeat its own object."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1945; Vol. 417, c. 619.] That is the view of the Government, it is a view stated quite explicitly by my right hon. Friend, and it is a view from which I cannot depart tonight. I would like to point this out. There is no intention to depart from the Joint Pit Production Committees that we have in the mines of this country, and which have in very many cases performed a very valuable work in maintaining production and often increasing it, and now that this has become a socialised sector of industry, I do not think we should preach so much to the private employers. It is for the State itself to show an example in those industries over which it has control in the establishment of joint production committees, and working this thing out on an experimental basis so as to get the best possible result. I hope that by the force of our example we shall induce private employers to give these joint production committees a greater place in industry than they have had in the past.

I would refer also to the yard committees in shipbuilding, the advisory committees in the royal ordnance factories, which did a great job of work during the war and are still doing a good job, and which were initiated by the Ministry of Supply—I forget who was the Minister. Then, in 1942 the joint production and advisory committees in engineering were established, and those are still going. In connection with building there have also been established fairly recently site committees aimed at getting the maximum results from those engaged upon the sites. Since the termination of the war other matters have developed, and I think we have got to see this not only at top level but also from the national level and from the industrial point of view as well. In the first place there is the National Joint Advisory Council, consisting of both sides of organised industry in this country, set up to advise the Government on matters of general economic policy and economic planning. Under the auspices of my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade, there is the establishment of the National Production Advisory Council on Industry. Associated with that national development, there has also been set up the regional boards of industry, which represent both sides of industry, and in that way we are making known to everyone engaged in industry the plans, targets and information on an economic level which can be given to them.

Mr. Geoffrey Cooper (Middlesbrough, West)

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that the machinery at the present time needs an infusion of real lifeblood? Can some steps be taken in this direction?

Mr. Ness Edwards

As this is mainly a question for the President of the Board of Trade, perhaps that point can be directed to him. The main thing is that whilst we have these national and regional structures, we must complete it by having at the shop and production level the equivalent joint committees for production purposes. I was glad to hear the references made to Lord Montgomery's speeches to the troops at Alamein. I suppose that the success of the Eighth Army was due to the fact that each soldier knew what he had to do, knew the overall plan, the target, and that no matter how humble his job it was part and parcel of the general plan. We want to do the same thing for industry. The key to success in the industrial field is not only to provide the equipment, but also to let the worker, however humble, know the nature and purpose of our general scheme. No matter how monotonous the task may seem to a worker, so long as he knows that it fits into the general plan, we shall be able to harness to our economic task some enthusiasm, and give to the individual worker the feeling that he is doing a job for society as well as for himself and the employer.

The rehabilitation of the economic life of this country is as much the responsibility of the operatives in industry as of the managements. We must accept, in this new phase of our development, a greater sense of social responsibility, as well as maintaining our sense of industrial responsibility and responsibility for getting our own awards. In that sense the Government want the workers brought more into the general picture. Let them feel that not only are they earning their own wages, and that not only are they concerned about maximum efficiency in their industry, but that it may be a maximum contribution to the wellbeing of society as a whole. It is that new approach which we want to give to the workers in industry, and also to those technicians who manage industry and upon whom so much depends. Reference was made to the working party reports. Some of the working party reports have laid special stress on this. Quite recently I had to go to Manchester to address cotton operatives, arid I found among the cotton operatives in Manchester a greater readiness to accept a larger measure of responsibility for the efficiency of the industry than they have ever shown before. It is that sort of development which we want in industry. I would say to the employers in the sector of private industry that the more they harness to the task the knowledge, ingenuity, skill and experience of the men engaged in the processes, the more efficiently can the job be done, and the greater can be the vitality of the social wellbeing on which will depend the standard of living of everyone in this country. Having made these declarations, I thank my hon. Friends for having raised this matter. I am sorry that the time has been so short in which to deal with it, but I assure them and the House that the Government are conscious of the need for these joint production committees.

Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)

Will the Parliamentary Secretary state when the Industrial Relations Handbook was published? I think he implied that it was a fairly recent publication.

Mr. Ness Edwards

The date of the last publication is 1944.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Ten o'Clock.