§ 3.49 P.m.
§ Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)
The first question that we on this side of the Committee want to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply is, "Is his Ministry really necessary?" Of course, be may reply that 41,300 non-industrial civil servants would answer "Yes" or know the reason why. The Ministry will spend £395 million during the period covered by the Estimates, and, therefore, he may say, it must be important. Nevertheless, the question remains a serious one, and requires an answer. Is a Ministry of Supply in peacetime a necessary Department? I would remind the House that against the £395 million which it will spend during the 12 months of the financial year, no less than £259,500,000 are Appropriations-in-Aid, or, in other words, are spent on behalf of other Government Departments. This shows how much work the Ministry of Supply does for others.
Turning to the subject of munitions of war, I must refer again to the Admiralty system. I think it has been the system ever since Mr. Pepys or before, that the Admiralty itself is responsible for the design of His Majesty's ships and for placing the orders with industry for ships and naval stores. There are some of us, speaking quite irrespective of party, who 1609 would prefer to see the Admiralty system adopted by the Army and the Air Force. I admit that if this line of policy were adopted some special arrangement would have to be made—or should be made—regarding what are called in modern jargon the "common user" items such as boots and shoes and small arms and munitions used commonly by all three Services. But if, in the main, the Admiralty system had been adopted, then the Ministry of Supply would either have disappeared altogether—and among the plaudits would have been mine—or else would have shrunk to a very small proportion, and the abilities of the right hon. Gentleman would have found a satisfactory outlet from some even more distinguished position on the Treasury Bench. I am not going at length into this fundamental question, because for better or for worse, and I think for worse, the Ministry of Supply exists.
I want next to ask the Minister the number of industrial workers directly employed by his Ministry. We already know that the non-industrial civil servants total no fewer than 41,383. I should also like to ask the right hon. Gentleman how many requisitioned houses are occupied by his Ministry in London. During the winter when, thanks to the Minister of Fuel, the only way of keeping warm was to walk about the streets, I took a number of walks in the North London area around Paddington, and I was amazed at the number of houses that have either a Ministry of Supply Board or some other insignia on them. Almost every other house in certain squares appeared to be occupied by the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry, so that we know where some of those 41,383 persons are accommodated. It must indeed be one of the very biggest Departments of State. I said that for better or for worse—and I thought for worse—it had been entrusted with the vital, complicated and elusive problem of trying to keep abreast of the modern needs of the Army and the Air Force in weapons, and of the research and development in all forms of defensive measures and waging war, offensive or defensive. I must use the word "offensive" as well in this connection because if we are attacked we must have the means of counter-attacking and, of course, it is commonplace nowadays that the principal means of defence is attack.
1610 I have personally some reason to know the difficulty in war time which such a task presents—the difficulty of marrying production with the tactical needs of battle on the ground or in the air—but at least in war time it took the Ministry of Aircraft Production, the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Production to tackle the job. I would remind hon. Members that in some ways the task is even more difficult in peace time because none of these weapons can be tried out in actual battle, and the State commands a much smaller number of scientists, research workers and research engineer:, because their activities are devoted to peace. I think we should also remind ourselves, as the war recedes, of the immense field which is covered by these weapons and by these defensive means in the twentieth century. I remember this figure from the old days; a modern Army has no fewer than 750,000 items of equipment, and the production of these and of the Air Force stores, from aircraft down to the last nut and bolt, present an immense and widely diverse problem of production.
After all, weapons range from fighter and bomber aircraft, whether jet-propelled or otherwise, to aircraft spotters and searchlights, electromatic gun control, artillery, mechanically-propelled artillery, defence measures against gas or chemical warfare and anti-aircraft artillery, right through to radar, rocket weapons, shells, lorries, signalling equipment of the most complicated kind, tanks and mechanically propelled track and wheeled vehicles. I apologise for giving this long list, but these are very complicated and diverse items of equipment. On top of all this, there is an entirely new field which is to be covered by the Ministry of Supply, namely, that of nuclear-physics, the research and development of atomic bombs, and the counter-measures which are necessary to defend ourselves against them.
The first reason why I believe that the development of weapons should be devolved upon the separate Service Ministries is because I believe that only thus can the soldiers and airmen form their tactical plans upon a true knowledge of what production can do for them in the twentieth century. Conversely, only by this means can the civilian industries get a real insight into how the Services think that the tactical battle of the future will 1611 develop. No amount of liaison officers ever produced the same co-ordinated effect as is produced by the Admiralty system where the Admiral who is controller of the Navy one day, may well be corn-mander-in-chief later on. The second 'reason for devolution upon the three Service Ministries, with a small Ministry Of Production acting as a co-ordinating body, is just because the task of keeping abreast of the modern development of weapons and means of defence, both on the ground and in the air, is by itself too large and too diverse a problem for a single Minister.
In a frame of mind, which is not un usual to them, of "Oh, we know so much better than everybody else," the Government, so far from recognising this truth, 'have flown straight into its face and flouted it. At the very outset of their term of power they made three major organisational blunders on these subjects. First, they took away from the Board of Trade the relations of the Government 'with the engineering industry, and entrusted them to the Ministry of Supply. This offends against all the canons of good organisation, since the Ministry of Supply is not supposed to have much to do with trade, least of all with the export trade, and the engineering industry is one of the most important of our export industries. Again, the engineering industry makes the tools for other industries and is, therefore, inextricably mixed up with the problems of production of almost all other industries. Most of those others, with the obvious exceptions of shipping, railways, gas and electricity, are in the charge of the Board of Trade so that this divorce of the engineering industry, which provides tools for all other industries, from the central department charged with trade is an organisational blunder.
Secondly—and I am now trying to build up briefly before the Committee the immense range of things which the Ministry of Supply has to tackle—the Government have left with the Ministry of Supply the control of a wide range of raw materials, chiefly metals and minerals, which are vital not only to the armament industries—in which case one could understand the reason for the Ministry of Supply—but also to a great number of civilian industries producing exclusively civilian goods which have no significance in war at all. I have a list here of the 1612 raw materials controlled by the Ministry of Supply. There is one large section consisting of abrasives, another of refractories, another of iron and steel, and then the non-ferrous metals direct, goods like coppers, lead, zinc, nickel and so on. For the same reasons these should have migrated long ago to the Board of Trade, which is the central Ministry dealing with trade, whereas the Ministry of Supply has to deal with only a section of it. But still worse is to come.
The one thing which ought not to be put on the Minister, with his charge of the development, for instance, of modem aircraft, is preoccupation about lavatory seats and housing components—[Interruption.] There is some more coming— oil-boring machinery, gas and electric cookers, kitchen cupboards, wood working machinery, hosiery machinery, tool making, locomotive wheels, parts for steel houses, concrete blocks, moulds for Airey houses, and components for bottle-filling —what would Lady Astor have thought of that? There are, further, biscuits for gramophone records, fertilisers, internal combustion engines, needlemaking machinery, office furniture—a vast amount of ordinary civilian details. All these products I have mentioned are only a part of those which the Royal Ordnance factories—what a misnomer—are manufacturing at this moment. I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman after dinner tells his Socialist friends, "This is one of the greatest experiments in manufacture by the State that has ever been seen." If he was charged only with the production of civilian goods we might find, owing to his agreeable manners, some excuse for this, but his prime job is keeping up to date with weapons of war. It is unpardonable, therefore, that His Majesty's Government should allow these activities to take the place of what is his vital task.
I want to refer again to the Ordnance factories of which there are 22 at the moment. I know no way in which the taxpayer, who owns directly the Royal Ordnance factories, can ascertain either concurrently from day to day, or even once or twice a year, the simple industrial facts about the investments which have been made in his name, the simple industrial facts about how his money is being lost from day to day, or what is the cost in, for example, Wigan or Blackpool or Enfield or Poole of the products which 1613 are coming out of the Royal Ordnance factories. At what price are they sold, and in what volume? What percentage of the floor space available in these factories is actually occupied and is in use? How many people are employed? What are their wages? Are they satisfied with the work that is given them? My information is that they are extremely dissatisfied in a number of cases—I will not quote the "Daily Worker" because I have not got it with me, and the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) is not in his place. What is the value of the output per square foot of factory space compared with that of private enterprise? What is the ration of staff and supervisory staff to the hourly-rated workers on the floor of these shops? The taxpayer is entitled to know the answer to all these simple questions and to know it through the House of Commons, and he is entitled to know it by means of quarterly reports made to this House.
The right hon. Gentleman, if my memory is not at fault, made his first mark in public life as the secretary of the Shareholders' Protection Society or some such association, and I used to watch with sympathy his efforts over a number of unsuccessful companies which attracted his attention. I think it would not be far wrong to say that most of his life at that time was spent in trying to get details on all kinds of matters out of the companies which he suspected to be bad, or where he thought the management was treating the shareholders unfairly. I would ask him if he is an apostate from those beliefs today. Has his elevation to the position of a Socialist Minister changed his belief that in all industrial affairs, the spotlight of publicity is one of the principal ways, in which inefficiency and slackness is prevented? Or is it that the. Socialist Government are too frightened to publish in detail the cost of these factories as compared with competitive industry?
The absence of any statement of results to someone as disillusioned as I am in Socialist experiments leads me to believe that there cannot be anything good to tell. So I want to obtain from the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon a definite promise that full details and costs of production of the Royal Ordnance factories—that is to say, goods other than weapons of war—will be available by 1614 three-monthly or six-monthly returns published in detail so that the taxpayer can watch his money being lost from day to day. If the right hon. Gentleman shares the views of the President of the Board of Trade and of all hon. Members of the House about the Companies Act, he should have no great struggle with his conscience in taking this step because the central idea of that Act, which we all applaud in the main, is disclosure; and here are large activities about which the shareholders, who in this case are the taxpayers, know nothing whatever.
I would also remind the right hon. Gentleman of a somewhat flippant pamphlet which used to circulate to subalterns when I was first a soldier, probably written by the Junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert). The first paragraph began something like this:There is a time to work and a time to play. The time to work is when you are being watched.Unfortunately the converse is a little bit true, that when one is not watched, one's inclination is perhaps not to work so hard, and the Royal Ordnance factories carry on their activities behind a thick veil and their—as I think they are—inefficient operations are cloaked in this secrecy which hides their shortcomings from the eyes of the public. No statement of profits or losses such as the ordinary concern makes annually awaits them; they can go fast or slow as they like, in the sure and certain knowledge that under the Socialist regime at the end of the year the losses can be put down to the taxpayer who, at present, has no means of finding out how they are being incurred or what is their extent. So we shad scrutinise the figures, which I hope will be afforded if the right hon. Gentleman acquiesces in this. They will have to be very full, and we shall not be put oft by the statement that in the past the Royal Ordnance factories have always been secret. That was all right when they produced munitions, but it is no reason when they produce lavatory seats. I have only been able to ask question about the Ministry of Supply on the industrial side.
I now want to turn to some of the raw materials bought, controlled and allocated by the Minister, and I recommend hon. Members who are advocates o: bulk purchase and who sat up very late 1615 last night, to leave the Chamber at this moment because what I have to say will be very distasteful to them and will upset them a great deal. May I make it quite clear that, in my opinion, the present Government and the right hon. Gentleman have the advantage of a brilliant team of civil servants who handle these problems, many of whom, since 1939 in particular, have acquired an extensive personal knowledge of handling these commodities. However, since the Government's policy is one of bulk purchase, all the skill and ingenuity in the world cannot make their work successful. Now I fear I must ask the Committee to follow me into some technicalities.
The two instances of raw materials which I want to cover are copper and zinc. As a group they go naturally together. Both metals are important individually and, as an alloy, they form brass, and brass is of hardly less importance. The Raw Materials Division of the Ministry of Supply is charged with the task of keeping stocks of copper to supply the whole copper using industry of the country. The order of magnitude of the demand is about 1,000 tons of copper a day or 30,000 tons a month. This very large amount has to be—bought by the British Government. In the last two years the British Government have been in the market, competing for copper. Since they are, by far, the largest buyers in the world and are seen coming a mile away, they have contributed by that mere fact to the huge rise in copper prices. Every time the British Government make a bid for copper, the world price tends to rise above the price which the British Government have bid.
What are the figures? At the end of the war the price of copper was £62 a ton. I am talking about this country. It is now £132, having been £137. The Ministry price of copper remained unchanged until April, 1946. Since that date it continually rose, until March, 1947. What is even worse than the extent of the rise, which I would remind the Committee brings the price of copper to more than twice its original cost, has been the series of violent individual rises. In April, 1946, the price was raised from 02 to £72. In July. the rise was from £72 to £84; on 13th November, X84 to DO; on 1st January, 1947, from f98 to £117; on 28th February from £117 1616 to £127, and on 1st March from £127 to £137, or more than twice the original price. What is worse is that this has not been a steady and gradual rise. I would inform hon. Members that in a free market a £1 rise in copper is very exceptional. They will see from the figures which I have just read out that the market has gone up by a series of violent hiccoughs. Nothing disorganises a trade more than that kind of thing. It is fair to say to the Ministry of Supply that during the rise, the manufacturer or user of copper has been able to buy his copper slightly under the world price. For long periods he has had a rising market in which the value of a few shillings counted for very little. Where it is necessary to buy at fine prices is when the sellers' market changes into a buyers' market, as I think it is doing now.
What is happening? In the last eight or nine weeks, the American manufacturer, or fabricator as he is called there, has been able to obtain his copper at a much lower price than his competitor in the British Isles. Today, the American manufacturer who uses copper can buy electrolytic copper, which is the commonest form in which it is most widely used, at about 21½ cents per lb. or £119 10s. per ton. He can get copper for forward delivery, three months hence, at about 20½ cents per lb., which is about £114 per ton. The price of electrolytic copper in this country is £132 a ton. The difference in the supply price of copper is £12 10s. in favour of the American or the buyer of any other country who uses the free market, or £18 per ton if he wishes to cover his copper purchases forward. Those are very large differentials, and by themselves would be a fatal handicap to any British manufacturer trying to compete with competitors from America or any other country in the markets of the world. All that is due to bulk buying.
I must ask the Minister of Supply a straight question. Is he prepared to vary the Ministry of Supply prices day by day in accordance with the world market? If he does not do so, on a falling market, which we may well see in copper at some time, the British user of copper is always going to be at a competitive disadvantage against those who are outside bulk buying. Those who use the free market get every day a price which represents the natural 1617 synthesis of supply and demand, and not what a Government Department thinks it ought to be, however intelligent that Government Department may be. Of course, under the system of bulk purchase the Ministry of Supply no doubt suffers, because they are probably told by the Treasury that they must not make a loss. I see the right hon. Gentleman is leaving us at this moment. He is going to get the Treasury to alter it, I daresay.
Unfortunately, both for the Ministry of Supply and the Treasury, the Ministry of Supply has contracted—I think this information is right—to take considerable tonnages of copper at much higher prices than those which rule today. I believe these contracts have still several months to run. I ask the Minister whether he will come clean and tell the Committee what tonnages of copper are involved, the prices at which he has bought and for how long these contracts are to run? It is quite clear that unless all competitive disadvantage is to be passed over to the users of copper, the taxpayer will have to meet the bill. Of course, the Government could not hedge copper. That would indeed be against doctrine. We have all heard of the Secretary to the Department of Overseas Trade saying that nothing is less Socialist than to ensure against a fall in the market when you have a stock. It has a sort of Capitalist tinge about it.
Now let me turn to the question of zinc. In 1945, the Ministry of Supply formed the opinion after V J-Day that there was going to be an abundance of zinc. The typical situation which confronts the bulk buyer had to be faced. At that time they could have bought a very large quantity of zinc in this country at about 30 per ton. In my opinion they could have bought it at an even lower price. However, the economists told them that zinc was going to be abundant, but as often happens to theorists the estimate was entirely wrong. In the event, a serious shortage of zinc developed all over the world. The Americans bought most of the then surplus, much of it from the British Empire. The British Government had afterwards to scramble in anyhow and buy in bulk even from the United States. Today, the price of zinc as sold to the consumer in this country is £70 a ton compared with £58 7s. 6d. in the United States, which does not indulge in the 1618 luxury of bulk buying. How are fabricators expected to expand the export trade when they have these differentials?
These illustrations of the working of bulk buying are not intended to criticise the very able men in the Ministry of Supply who handle these affairs. They ire illustrations of the inherent handicaps and trade disadvantages which the hulk buyer must always suffer. The Government bulk buyer must always carry a substantial stock. He is responsible to the whole industry. He cannot run storks down below a certain quantity. I ask h3n. Members to give some weight to what I am now going to say. The disadvantages of bulk buying are mainly—it is painful how often the theory comes home in practice—that the bulk buyer must always tend to lose his stock rapidly at the beginning of a rise in the market, and must tend to accumulate his stock rapidly at the top of the market just before a fall. I must not devote any more time to the subject of bulk buying.
I want to turn to the subject of Government allocation of sheet steel. This is an important matter. It is only an instance of how the machinery of allocation creaks and groans under the over-centralised system which the Government have imposed. Sheet steel is allocated by an inter-departmental committee presided over by a Cabinet Minister, and it has other functions besides. It is the body responsible for the allocation of sheet steel. The industry feels that the allocations are purely arbitrary and are done without regard to the real needs of industry. Some of the information at my disposal would go to show that there, is very little consulation with the industries concerned, for instance, with the sheet metal industry's association, and the Government are trying to work a rigid system of doling out things in equal dollops—a good Socialist doctrine—without having any regard to the merits of individual cases. The Ministry has lost a great deal of skilled help which they had in the war. The common experience, especially of the smaller firms, in dealing with the Ministry of Supply, is that allocations of sheet steel are dealt with by junior officials who know very little about the trade and who day by day are getting to know less and less about it. I heard an instance of an old-established firm who believed in the British Government's ex- 1619 hortations about the export trade and put in a lot of new plant. They are now treated as newcomers and cannot get any sheet steel and the plant is lying idle.
I must say a word about the conversion factor. I have often discussed in public the difficulty of making allocations, but if there is one guide in this extremely elusive problem it is the conversion factor. If a firm which spends £1,000 on steel is able to make an export of £50,000, it is clearly entitled in commonsense to a higher allocation than one which spends £1,000 to get £2,000 in export.
§ The Minister of Supply (Mr. Wilmot) indicated assent.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The right hon. Gentleman nods his head, but his Department, unknown to him, entirely frustrates the excellence of his intention. It is difficult to know what 41,000 people are doing when one is in the House of Commons making a speech.
I will give the right hon. Gentleman some instances of what they are doing. I would ask him whether we have agreed to export to Finland 4,500 tons of sheet steel, and, if we have, whether he is aware that that sheet steel, if fabricated by our own industry, would produce a conversion factor of about 20 times, giving him 20 times the amount of timber which this outlay will bring? I know another instance where special steels which are extremely short in this country have been supplied in their semi-manufactured form to Switzerland, whose position, incidentally, in these special steels is very much easier than our own.
I must also quote the instance of the scientific instruments industry. This is an industry which, over a wide range of products, is a good deal ahead of the rest of the world, including the United States, a thing upon which we ought to congratulate ourselves. It has "at full bat," a production worth about £50 million, but in order to make that amount of instruments it has to have 5,000 tons of steel. Up to a short tithe ago it got about 1,000 tons a quarter, or four-fifths of its requirements. That allocation has now been cut to 250 tons a quarter, or one-fifth of its requirements. If we apply the factor of conversion, what might be 1620 a total production of £50 million has been reduced by the unintelligent allocation of steel to only £10 million worth of scientific instruments per annum. That has produced very great dissatisfaction, not least among the workers who are engaged in this industry and whose skill is, of course, a large contributory factor to the great world position the industry occupies.
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that all his machinery will never be any good because nobody, except a bookmaker or an astrologer, can allocate things scientifically. The allocation is done so badly now that it is high time that the whole so-called system was thoroughly overhauled if the Minister can find out who among this enormous mass of civil servants is doing it. The reputation of the Ministry of Supply in the industrial and business world is that while the top men are among the ablest administrators in the country, it consists on the whole of an amorphous mass of officials, parked out in innumerable private houses, engaged on innumerable inefficient enterprises. It has a reputation, by and large, of being the worst administered Department in Whitehall. I except, of course, the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the Ministry of Food; I do not wish to be rude to the right hon. Gentleman. It has the reputation of providing more obstructions to the course of production than any other Department. Instead of confining itself to its function, which was keeping abreast of the development of arms, offensive and defensive, it has engaged in a vast experiment of producing inefficiently, at small capacity and high cost, a large range of civilian products which it is selling, no doubt helped by the taxpayers' money, outside in competition with private industry which could make these products far more efficiently.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ The Minister of Supply (Mr. Wilmot)
I am sure we have all listened with great relish to the most interesting and lively speech to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) has treated us. I am quite sure that he does not subscribe to all the cracks which embellished his remarks, as I think I shall explain in the course of what I shall say.
It is, of course, a very difficult job to allocate raw materials which are basic to 1621 our economy, like steel, of which the production is running almost at an all time "high", on a plant worn and damaged by the war and badly in need of renewal and expansion. It is a difficult job, and I can understand that the right hon. Gentleman can find faults and flaws and can find users dissatisfied because they are unable to get all that they can use. It is, of course, a tragedy to British industry that at the very time when it could make an unexampled use of an extra supply of steel it has to be limited in this way. But I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, who has a vast experience in this field, would he abolish the allocation machinery and leave a free-for-all, a scramble with no price control, no allocation, with material devoted to whatever purpose for which those who would pay the highest price would be willing to use it? Is that the kind of scramble he would substitute for allocating machinery which no one claims is perfect and which can never be really satisfactory but which is the best we can do in a situation which is nobody's fault except Hitler's? I should be very glad if he would tell me the answer to that.
As the right hon. Gentleman has asked me a question, I would refer him to the report of my speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow. He will find there that I did not advocate doing away with the allocation machinery. I advocated that it should be thoroughly overhauled and proper account should be taken of the conversion factor which I have demonstrated in the case of an individual firm which I picked up by chance but which is representative of the whole industry. I could have gone on for another half hour giving more instances.
§ Mr. Wilmot
I am sure that would have been as interesting as the first half hour, but it is a difficulty and a dilemma from which there is no entirely satisfactory escape. The machinery is continually being overhauled and, I hope, improved, but the fact remains that when one has less than enough to go round, everybody cannot be satisfied. The conversion factor which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned—how much foreign exchange one can get for a given weight of steel when it is turned into this or that product —is in fact a vitally important factor. 1622 I can assure him and the Committee that in the allocation of steel and other materials that is given very great weight, but there are other factors.
There is a need of steel for certain fundamental basic purposes upon which all other production depends—steel for the coalmines, and the power stations which still fall short and are given a first priority. I think that the Committee will agree upon consideration that that is right, because if we have not got fuel and power, we cannot even convert the steel into the high conversion article which the right hon. Gentleman would have made in greater quantities.
After these essential priorities of fuel and power in their various forms have been met, no factor comes higher than the one which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned. To overhaul the machine would not alter that, because it is done already; neither would it increase the amount of steel available. Unless he tells us a bit more specifically in what respects he would improve the machine for overhaul, what he would do that is not being done or leave undone what is being done in the mechanism of production, we cannot follow his reasoning. All he says is, "It is a great pity we have not enough but I wish you would do a bit better." I will try, however inadequate it may be, to show to the right hon. Gentleman, flat, even if he were here, things would not be very much better after all, because the factors of the situation would be exactly the same.
I am very glad to have this first full opportunity of giving to the Committee an account of the work of the Ministry of Supply. I am glad that the right t on. Gentleman is facing me on the other aide of the Committee. This Ministry of Supply is, I believe, performing a useful function. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong in his analysis, which led him to the conclusion that import ant organisational mistakes had been made, and I shall try this afternoon, I hope at not undue length, to prove, as I believe I can, that this Ministry, which was made out of the former Ministries of Supply and Aircraft Production, is a worthy successor to those very great Departments of Sate and carries on the very high tradition which they began.
1623 It was in October, 1945, that the Prime Minister announced the decision to form a new Ministry of Supply, and he set out very clearly what the functions and primary duties of this new Ministry were to be. Its primary duty—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will give me his attention while I set this out for him, because he made this point and rightly so—is and will continue to be to furnish all supplies to, and to do research and development work on designs for, the Fighting Services.
§ Mr. Wilmot
In part for the Navy. The Navy still reserves to itself certain marine matters which it properly knows all about. These are the primary responsibilities of the Ministry of Supply to the Fighting Services. The Prime Minister in setting out that statement in October, 1945, said there would be close collaboration with the Service Departments to ensure that the user interest in the stores provided was always given a proper weight. I am very happy to say that as experience has developed a very large number of gifted officers from all three Services are serving in the Ministry of Supply, and are rendering very valuable work in ensuring that the work of the Ministry is catering for the user interest. There are over 2,000 personnel of the Army, 259 of the Navy and over 4,000 of the Royal Air Force serving in or with the Ministry in the carrying out of this work, so that there is a very close link-up between purveyor and customer. I think it is very important that this should be realised.
This, in fact, is the first duty of the Ministry of Supply. It is through this primary duty that the Ministry carries out the main responsibility of government in the engineering industry, because it is realised that the Ministry of Supply is thus responsible for the procurement of all munitions and stores of the Fighting Services, and that it must have the most intimate and special connection with the engineering industry, whose resources are absolutely basic to the Fighting Services both in peace and in war. Modern war requires that the whole of the resources of the nation shall be capable of instant mobilisation for the purposes of defence, 1624 and therefore the Ministry responsible for munitions in their widest sense must have a continued connection with the engineering industry in peace as in war in order to ensure that it is developed upon the lines which will best serve those twin purposes and which can, in fact. be capable of the maximum amount of turnover in the minimum of time.
The same consideration applies with regard to the Ministry's responsibility for the basic raw materials in the engineering industry. Iron and steel, the non-ferrous metals aluminium, copper, lead, zinc and magnesium are included in this category. That is the fundamental purpose and function of the Ministry of Supply. It has to look to the welfare of those industries and commodities in peace and war, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this responsibility cannot possibly remain static in its manifestations, but it must be continually changing with changing circumstances. I will show in a few minutes how a number of responsibilities which were inherited or placed upon the Ministry in its early days have been shed, and how in their place new responsibilities arise out of new circumstances. A particular example of the latter is this important task of responsibility for the research and development of atomic energy, and I am very glad to be able to say to the Committee today that the work which was set going so recently at the research station at Harwell is making very good progress indeed. The first experimental pile will be in operation later this year and we hope in time to build up there a university of nuclear physics second to none in the world.
The adaptation of the Springfields factory to the production of pure uranium from pitchblende is proceeding smoothly, and, as announced yesterday, work is about to begin at Sellafield in West Cumberland on the pile which will carry the process to the next stage. In connection with the announcement that I made yesterday, I wish to pay a tribute to the great firm of Courtaulds, whose plans have been upset by this national need. The siting of this factory on the site of the Royal Ordnance Factory at Sellafield, will involve this company abandoning their proposal to set up a new rayon factory on that site. I wish 1625 to say how much the Government appreciate the co-operation with the Government, of a firm which, of course, has a tradition of public spirit second to none.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the point about atomic energy, although I appreciate that he cannot go into details, can he tell the Committee the difference, broadly speaking, between the establishment at Harwell and that at Sellafield? I understand they are both making the same materials.
§ Mr. Wilmot
It is largely a matter of purpose and size. Harwell is a general research establishment, and such plant as it has is of an experimental nature of pilot size. The new plant to be erected at Sellafield will be a production unit producing fissile material for use in atomic energy development generally.
§ Mr. Bracken
Can the right hon. Gentleman say when he expects that Sellafield will be equipped for production?
§ Mr. Wilmot
It is very difficult to say. We are undertaking construction of plant in which there is no experience. We do not know what difficulties will be encountered, and I think it would be rash to make a forecast. All I can say is that the work will proceed as fast as we can do it, and I cannot give any kind of exact estimate beyond that.
I have tried to set out in very broad outline, the functions of the Ministry and as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot said, they cover a very wide and diverse field. But I think there is reason in this diversity, and necessity for this range. I will try to show why I believe that to be so. First, may I refer to what is certainly the more important side of the Ministry's work? I know the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the most important is research and development. The Ministry of Supply has brought together a remarkable scientific organisation. It is, in fact, the largest scientific organisation in the country, Government or private. The Ministry is responsible for the research and development which precedes the production of aircraft and the equipment of the Royal Air Force, the Fleet Air Arm and airborne troops. It includes weapons, ammunition, fire control equipment, fighting and, 1626 transport vehicles, engineering and signal stores, and all the equipment required by the Army and the Royal Air Force.
A considerable amount of work on naval equipment is also done on behalf of the Admiralty, and the Ministry is responsible for the development of aircraft for the Navy, and for the publicly-owned airline corporations. The Ministry have done very much work on gas turbines for military and civil purposes in the air, on the land, and at sea, for we believe that the gas turbine has a part to play in all these elements. It is only right to say—what I think,will be generally admitted by those who have knowledge of this subject—that British attainments in the field of jet propulsion and gas turbines generally are equalled in no other country. We are in the van of progress. It would also be right to say that a very large part of this credit is due to my predecessors at the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and at the present Ministry of Supply, and no less to the aircraft industry which has made such splendid use of the foundations first laid.
§ Mr. Wilmot
Yes, I will bring them all in. It has been a very fine job to which a large number of people, industries and firms have contributed. The business of scientists and engineers in association with the Ministry is not merely to produce weapons to the specifications of the Fighting Services. I think it is clear from the experience of the war—and the right hon. Gentleman will be very closely informed on this matter—that it is necessary that there should be not a one-way but a two-way flow of ideas in research and development between the Services and scientists outside the Services, and thus the work is of benefit not only to the Services but to industry and to the community at large. Especially is that true in aeronautics and atomic energy, developments in both of which fields may have the most profound effect upon industrial affairs of the future.
During the war, revolutionary charges took place in aircraft. Aircraft today are being manufactured for flying at speeds approaching, and even beyond, the speed of sound, and for flying at heights far greater than was ever thought possible of attainment only a year or so ago. Many of them will be pilotless. The reciprocat- 1627 ing engine is likely to be replaced for a whole range of purposes by various forms of gas turbine, and the rocket motor will almost certainly find a place as a power plant in these things in the future. As regards weapons, long range self-propelled and remote controlled missiles will replace shells and bombs for many purposes, and revolutionary changes are taking place over the whole field of research and development in which the Ministry of Supply are concerned. Very much research is required before these ideas can be crystallised into stores for the use of the Services. Certainly they cannot completely displace the older and more traditional equipment. So attention has to be devoted concurrently to the improvement of such weapons as aircraft, artillery and tanks, which are certainly not replaced by these revolutionary developments which I have been describing.
During the war, the attention of the industry and research in this country was concentrated upon combat types of aircraft and similar work upon transport aircraft was carried on, in the United States. The effect of these two facts upon the merits of interim types of civil aircraft is a subject which we debated in the Committee some little while ago. The Ministry and the industry are devoting great efforts to this question of civil aircraft, and I believe it will prove to be true before long that we' shall get the benefit from the late start, and that the new civil aircraft types which will come into service through the efforts of British science and British industry will be the best aircraft in the world. In staffing the many aircraft establishments which are associated with the Ministry of Supply, we have always to keep in mind that the universities and industry must this time have the first call upon the scientific manpower, which is painfully short, and that this work of ours must be carried on with that in mind.
The research and development work of the Ministry is, however, not confined to its own establishments. Other Government Departments, such as the Admiralty and the D.S.I.R., greatly assist us in our work, as do the universities, which carry on special tasks at the request and at the cost of the Ministry to a very large extent, acid the -industries themselves do an 1628 immense amount of development and research work under contracts from the Ministry of Supply. It is necessary—and this bears upon the size of the figures which the right hon. Gentleman found so difficult to understand—that this work should be done, and if it is so, it is also necessary that the special buildings and equipment which it requires should be provided. These developments in aircraft and in aerodynamics require the provision of wind tunnels of enormous size. The development of radar, radio and gas turbines is a matter of fundamental importance, on both the Service and the civilian side of our work, and it would indeed be folly to starve this work of what is necessary for it to be done.
I wish to say a few words about the Royal Ordnance factories, to which the right hon. Gentleman paid some attention. At the end of the war we had some 40 Royal Ordnance factories, and the demand for factory space for civil industry made it an urgent matter quickly to decide how many of these factories could speedily be released for civil purposes. Only 20 of the 43 were retained as permanent peace-time Royal Ordnance establishments. The decision to maintain them was taken with vital considerations of war potential in mind, and the civil work of which the right hon. Gentleman so bitterly complained is work undertaken for the primary purpose, to maintain those Royal Ordnance factories as active economic productive units, with a nucleus of trained staff and workpeople, in order that they may perform their functions for the Fighting Services. I know that the right hon. Gentleman's experience of industrial establishments is such that he will agree that a productive unit cannot be maintained in an active state of readiness unless work is done in it, and unless there is maintained, in association with it, a body of technical staff and trained workmen. The modem requirements of the Services demand the highest kind of skill in special branches of industry, and unless those people were kept in association with the factories and the machines which it is necessary to maintain as war potential, it would be an illusory potential upon which it would be most unwise to rely.
Therefore, for this reason it is necessary to keep these factories in active employment, and it is most desirable that that 1629 active employment should be the production of articles of which there is a great unsatisfied need among the civil population. It is industry itself which has placed orders for a large volume of civil production upon the Royal Ordnance factories. They are making internal combustion engines, components for small electrical generators, mining machinery, oil drilling machinery, and a whole range of other products, always in cases in which the normal capacity of the industry is inadequate to meet the demand. Orders from industry do not, however, constitute either the whole or the bulk of the civil work being done in the Royal Ordnance factories. Much of it is Government work being undertaken for other Departments. Railway wagons, an urgent need of our transport system, are being made in large quantities in the Royal Ordnance factories, because we cannot get enough railway wagons at the present time. Concrete railway sleepers, concrete hulls of prefabricated houses for rural purposes and chemicals for agricultural and industrial use, are all parts of the work which is being done in Royal Ordnance factories for the dual purpose of maintaining the capacity of the factories and skilled labour, and also for meeting these crying, unsatisfied needs of civilian industry.
I wish to give just one example of an effort made by the Royal Ordnance factories which I think is interesting in itself and is a justification of the policy which is being followed. There is a most inadequate supply of electrical ceramics, and there is no possibility of the British industry producing these vital components of every electrical undertaking in anything like sufficient quantities. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, from his own experience, will know that this is true. After every attempt to expand the industry, we decided that the only possible way in which we could hope to meet this demand was to lay down capacity in the Royal Ordnance factories, and so production units have been set going in six of those factories. In two, the work is already well under way, and two million pieces have already been produced. The quality has been the subject of most favourable comment by the people who have bought them, and they have been sold at competitive prices.
§ Mr. Wilmot
I will come to the question of costing and prices in a few moments, because it is important, and there is nothing to hide. I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that everything has been above board and up to the best commercial standards, so far as they apply. Of course, they do not apply entirely since we are using to meet a national emergency factories primarily maintained for a different purpose. A great contribution has also been made by these factories to the very skilful breaking down of bombs and ammunition, often a dangerous job. This task, which accounts for part of the "swollen personnel," about which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot so bitterly complained, is a direct contributor to the supply of nonferrous metals. We are recovering brass, copper, steel, and other metals in considerable quantities by the breaking down of this ammunition.
I would emphasise that I do not claim that the work which is done in these Ordnance factories can be justified on purely commercial grounds. It is no: a commercial operation; it is supplementary to the primary purpose of these factories as Royal Ordnance factories. Most of the civil work is, however, obtained by competitive tender, and in the case of particular articles I think it would be possible to get costings. We have independent advice on these matters, and it is untrue to say that production is uneconomic or wasteful, or that workmen do not do their work well and faithfully. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot gave a graphic account of how people work only when they are watched. That is not true of the workmen in the Ordnance factories, who work all the time and very well, and whose output compares favourably with that in private factories.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I do not wish to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman unnecessarily, but he has made a number of assertions, and I hope he is now coming to that part of his speech where he will be prepared to support what he has said by figures.
§ Mr. Wilmot
We have not been waiting two years. The Ministry of Supply was not set up in its present form until October, 1945.
§ Mr. Wilmot
Oh no. Most of these operations have been running only a few months. The right hon. Gentleman need not get himself into a fret about this matter. The accounts will be produced. He will be able to see what has happened, and the Public Accounts Committee and the other mechanism in the House of Commons for financial control will be able to exert a proper influence. These civilian orders are considerable. We have orders on hand for over £18 million worth of goods. But I say again that this work is supplementary to the main function of the Royal Ordnance factories. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman would seriously contend that it should not have been undertaken. If it had not been undertaken, the nation would have been short of goods which it so badly needs. It is right that this war potential should have been used to relieve the national need, following the end of the war.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
Apart from electrical ceramics, what are the goods which the nation needs?
§ Mr. Wilmot
I was afraid to speak at too great length, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman. We are making cookers, steel office furniture, mining, excavating, and lifting machinery, woodwork machinery, steel wagons, concrete sleepers, and laundry machinery. We have repaired a large number of railway locomotives, and are making a whole range of machinery and machine parts. We are relieving bottlenecks in industry, so that we may quickly get into production.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
The right hon. Gentleman says that these factories are fulfilling civilian needs which could not be supplied by ordinary methods of production. How does he arrive at that conclusion? If civilian industry were supplied with the same amount of raw material as is supplied to Ordnance factories, would the right 1632 hon. Gentleman still say that they would be incapable of meeting that need?
§ Mr. Wilmot
Yes, I would. I would like to make it clear that the Royal Ordnance factories get no special priority in raw materials because they are Government owned. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth will accept my assurance on this point, because I have looked into it very carefully. I know that we are fulfilling a national need, because these orders are placed with us by the firms themselves, which cannot get components otherwise. That is an indication that we are doing something which otherwise would not be done. I think that our work can be justified up to the hilt on that ground, and, if I may say so, it is thought that it is being done rather well. I am quoting the opinion of those who buy the goods which these factories make. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot may have other views. The thanks are not to the Minister; they come to the people who organise and do the work. They have done., a good job in difficult circumstances, learning new techniques with machinery adapted, very often, for different purposes, involving re-tooling and re-jigging in many cases and adaptations of plant, because of the perpetual shortage of raw materials.
§ Mr. Wilmot
It is true of the production of ceramics. We have had to put down machinery and moulds.
§ Mr. Cove (Aberavon)
On a point of Order. Is my right hon. Friend to be allowed to make his speech without interruptions by Members opposite?
§ Mr. Wilmot
—because there is great interest in this matter. I have indicated that the Ministry are charged with responsibility for the engineering industry, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot thought was a great mistake. I should have thought that that was absolutely vital to the other functions of the Ministry. We have a number of 1633 advisory bodies inside the Ministry which, I am assured, render great services to industry. Advisory bodies, which are staffed by experts of the sections of the industry concerned, make available to the Ministry, and indeed to each other, a common pool of experience and knowledge which is something good in British industry and about which those who make use of it express great appreciation. It is a very important task to encourage the development of new processes, new products and techniques, and to facilitate the proper development of the various branches of the engineering industry by giving such aid as we can where the work of Government impinges upon the work of the firms. I believe that the effect of the aid which the Ministry of Supply is able to give to various parts of the engineering industry is appreciated and valued.
We have encouraged the specially high conversion industries within the engineering industry about which the right hon. Member for Aldershot spoke. I will give to the Committee one example, the manufacture of office machinery, high precision machinery used for calculating and other purposes. This is a most important field. A new factory has been located in a Scottish Development Area and is already building up a fine export record. Indeed, 30 per cent. of this industry's output is being exported, and from the 1938 figure of £636,000 the export total has now risen to just on £2 million. We expect a very significant contribution from this industry. In another field, there is the manufacture of watches and clocks. There was a time when Britain was supreme in the production of watches and clocks. Examples of famous British craftsmanship are now prized pieces. But in modern times the watch industry has disappeared from this country, and it is vitally important, both for commercial and for war potential reasons, that there should be in this country a flourishing modern high precision watch industry.
The hazards of getting this going under postwar conditions by private enterprise, the building up of the labour force over a period of years, the training of this labour, the acquiring of the very advanced technique involved, in our opinion justified direct assistance from the Ministry to suitable schemes. It is a little early yet properly to assess the results, but watch 1634 manufacture on an increasing scale is now going on in South Wales. I believe that this help which has been given through the Ministry of Supply to the founding, sponsoring and encouragement of this industry in a host of ways will prove to be a very fine national investment. We have also encouraged the scientific instrument industry which made very good progress during the war. Its labour force has increased from 32,000 in 1935 to 74,000 today, and its current production is running at over £16 million. The exports have risen from 20 per cent. in 1938 10 33 per cent. this year. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman urging that this should be done and then disparaging it when he finds what has been done. They are very important results which reflect great credit on the industry.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Would the right hon. Gentleman be so good as to say what is the allocation of steel for this industry?
§ Mr. Wilmot
I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will give those figures later in the Debate. They have not made the scientific instruments out of nothing at all; they have made them out of steel and other material. I wish there was more for them, but there could only be more by taking it away from something else and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the priorities are those which will go to help the production of more watches and clocks and scientific instruments.
May I say something about the shedding of tasks. It is important that the Ministry of Supply should not go on accumulating duties, otherwise it will grow too big. I would like to give an example of this shedding once the special need for the Ministry's responsibility has gone. I think that a very good example is the aluminium house. In 1945, the Ministry of Aircraft Production undertook the production of 54,500 aluminium houses. I venture to suggest that it was a very logical and proper decision that this task should be allotted to the Ministry of Aircraft Production, although the production was one of houses. What were the reasons why M.A.P., and later the Ministry of Supply, did it? First, it was to provide immediate employment for the light alloy industry which had been very greatly expanded to meet the needs of aircraft production during the war. Secondly, it was to ease the transition of 1635 the great bomber factories from their wartime level of production down to their peacetime level. Thirdly, it was a valuable contribution to the housing shortage, calling on materials and capacity right outside the range of ordinary building labour and technique, thus making an addition to the total quantity of houses that could be obtained. This house was designed and made by aircraft builders. It is the outstanding example of prefabrication. It is completely factory built on a continuous band process. The doors, the windows, the cookers and the baths, are supplied to the contractors and incorporated in the houses in the course of their building on their progress through the factory. They come out at the end of the factory completely equipped with their windows and baths in position and everything ready—
§ Mr. Wilmot
The telephone is an item not yet added to the specification. They are then loaded on to four trailers and transported in four sections, each one completely assembled, to a previously prepared site.
§ Mr. Wilmot
No one is more ready to pay tribute to the aircraft industry than the successor to the Ministry of Aircraft Production. These sections can be coupled together by a party of 20 men 10 an hour, and there are a number of examples where the tenants have moved in next day. This is a remarkable example of prefabrication. Of the total order for 54,500 houses, over 30,000 have been produced and delivered. I am very hopeful that we shall be able to complete the order in the spring of next year.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Will the Minister mention the price, and will he tell the Committee what the Ministry is now charging for the light metal alloy which is used in the manufacture of these houses?
§ Mr. Wilmot
I will ask the Parliamentary Secretary to supply those figures later. I must not go on for much longer. I am sorry I have taken up so much time already. I think this house is a notable contribution. It is liked by those who live in it. It is completely prefabricated and it is a great advance in this field. I think everybody concerned with it, the designers, the industry, the manufacturers and all who have contributed—and there are a great many, official and unofficial—can be very proud of it. I started this story by saying that it was an example of shedding responsibility, and, when this order of 54,500 has been completed, the Ministry of Supply will fade out of the picture. The first and second objects of the scheme have been achieved. We have made the transition in the light alloy and fabricating industries from wartime to peacetime jobs, and we have done the same with a job for the big basic factories, and if there are any further orders, its justification will be solely to ease the housing shortage and the responsibility will be taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Is the right hon. Gentleman holding out hope that the shedding of the load will be as much in the next 12 months as it was in the last, when he shed 600 civil servants out of 41,000?
§ Mr. Wilmot
I think that, for once, the right hon. Gentleman's arithmetic has slipped badly, but the Parliamentary Secretary will give him the correct figure when he replies. If another example of the shedding of responsibility is needed, it is the question of medical stores. Because of the primary interest of the Armed Forces in the bulk production of medical requirements during the war, it was a Ministry of Supply responsibility, but, with the setting up of a National Health Service, the Services would be taking only a very small proportion of the total Government and public need of medical requirements. Here again, the responsibility will be transferred from the Ministry of Supply to the Ministry of Health. So I think I have shown that, when the purpose for which the Ministry of Supply came into these particular tasks has been accomplished, the responsibility is passed on to the proper permanent place in the Government organisation where it resides. But, just 1637 as changing circumstances require giving up certain responsibilities, they equally require new responsibilities to be undertaken.
I have given the instance of atomic energy. Another is a task which I have taken on in the spring of this year, when I became responsible for the planning and organisation of the production of power station plant and mining machinery. There was a reason for it. We have in the Ministry of Supply—and I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman paid a tribute to the very skilled people who work in this Ministry—a, staff of men with practical experience and knowledge of wartime progress with urgent orders in the engineuring Held. We have, therefore, set up in the Ministry a staff of experienced engineers who know about wartime production methods, with the object of giving manufacturers the benefit of their assistance in overcoming labour and material difficulties and in organising production.
At the beginning of the year, the commissioning of new generating plant was heavily in arrears, and inevitably in arrears. It was, as in the case of civil aircraft, one of the inevitable legacies of the war, and the task we have undertaken is to help the industry to overcome these arrears in the shortest possible time. The Committee will appreciate that the normal period between ordering power station plant and securing delivery is upwards of two years, and, therefore, it is inevitable that, in 1947, after five years of war that finished only two years ago, we are heavily in arrears with power station plant, which, in the normal course. would have been made during the war and would now be in commission. It is extremely difficult to make a forward estimate, of what production can be achieved. Output was restricted by short- ages of materials and labour, but the industry now has the highest possible priority, both for labour and materials.
There was also, and this is very important, a very great lack of co-ordination in the placing of orders and in the general planning of the orders when placed, and this has inevitably contributed to the delay in overcoming the heavy backlog which was left by the war. Every separate electrical undertaking ordered a plant of its own fancy and design, most of them made specially and to measure, without any regard 1638 for the loading of the industry or the effects which these specialities would create. A great advance has been made. The most immediate relief can, of course, he secured by the repair and maintenance of the existing plants—
§ Mr. Wilmot
Because they are made to measure, it is particularly difficult to get 'pares, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows this to be the fact. The most urgent thing to do, after repair and maintenance of existing plant, was to secure a wide measure of standardisation in the production of power station plant, and here I am able to report a very substantial improvement. It was a completely unstandard situation which we inherited; we tried to eliminate all those minor differences, many of them quit insignificant, which played havoc with any planned production. We have now secured agreement, with the help of the Central Electricity Board, that there shall be two standard types, one of 30,000 and one of 60,000 kilowatts, and each type will be of standard steam pressures and temperatures.
§ Mr. Wilmot
It might have been, but it was not done, and the Central Electricity Board had apparently no power to insist upon it. I can assure the House that it is not until now that it has been possible to get a standardisation of design of power station equipment.
The same is true, to a very large extent, of coal face machinery. Here again, until the National Coal Board was able to exercise a central authority over the mining industry, it was impossible to get any plan in the production of mining machinery. The Reid Report presented in 1945 called for the technical reorganisation of the mining industry, and it is very clear, from the machinery side of the problem, that nothing effective could be done until there was some central authority planning the production of this machinery on a national scale. The difficulty of assessing requirements of over 1,000 pits can well be appreciated 1639 when, in almost every pit, there were differences in technique, standards, sizes, historical traditions and even terminology. It was very clear that, unless some standardisation was introduced, no progress could be made in accelerating the rate of production. What is true of coal face machinery is equally true of all mining gear. There were, and there are to-day, over 3,000 different types of pit tubs in use in our mines. If we were starting from scratch, we could introduce one, or, perhaps, two standard types, but we are not starting from scratch. All these types are associated with gear with which they are worked. They have different gauges, they fit into different cages, and all of them are specially made for the particular mine. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that this problem can only be tackled by some central planning in the industry, that it can only be undertaken when there is central' authority in the mining industry, such as the Ministry of Supply, planning production as a war operation.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
This is my very last interruption. I had an awful fear that the right hon. Gentleman was going to stop. So far, he has asked himself a number of questions, to which apparently, he has given himself satisfactory replies, but he has, so far, failed to answer a single question which I have asked. I hope that, in the course of the next half hour or so, he will answer them.
§ Mr. Wilmot
It is indeed very difficult to please the right hon. Gentleman. Every time I answer his question, he thinks of new ones to ask. I can assure him that if he will give me an opportunity of proceeding without interruption, it will considerably reduce the time necessary to answer him and to make the few remarks I have still to make.
I will now turn to non-ferrous metals, about which the right hon. Gentleman has said so much. I would like to pay him a tribute for the work he started in the Ministry of Supply, when he was, in fact, the Controller of Non-Ferrous metals in that Ministry. I can tell him at once that we had hoped before this to revert to normal trading. Indeed, I fear he made the mistake, which was made by all the other experts in the non-ferrous metal field, of thinking that the end of 1640 the war would bring an embarrassing surplus of non-ferrous metals. If he did not make that mistake, then he is unique among those who claim to have knowledge of non-ferrous metals. The fact is that all those forecasts proved to be absolutely wrong. Instead of an embarrassing surplus of non-ferrous metals at the end of the war, we have run into a very severe shortage.
I suggest that the continuance of centralised purchasing and distribution has enabled us to maintain a reasonable supply of non-ferrous metals to industry in a time of acute shortage. This applies to all the metals, except, recently, to lead. I regret to say that, in the case of lead, there has been such a stringent world shortage that no efforts have availed to offset it. We had to operate in non-ferrous metals in the most abnormal conditions. The removal of controls in the United States of America brought the United States in full force as an enormous buyer in the world's markets. All these metals, with the exception of a very small proportion of aluminium, are produced abroad, and world prices are entirely outside our control.
Last year's strikes in the United States, Canada, Chile and Rhodesia have resulted in the loss of 400,000 tons of copper. The production in Rhodesia and the Congo is still very uncertain, owing to the difficulties of getting supplies of coal moved by rail, and, in Australia and Canada, the production of lead and zinc has not fully recovered from the war. In Malaya, the rehabilitation of the tin industry, is not proceeding as rapidly as we expected. Those who protest at every export of mining machinery and other things must realise that, unless we are prepared to export certain lines in capital goods, we cannot increase the production of these metals, in places like Malaya.
The general practice of the Ministry is to buy direct from the producer or his agent and to sell direct to the consumer. A year ago, foreseeing the continuance of the copper shortage, we arranged for the refinement in the United States, Canada and Belgium of large quantities of Ministry owned rough copper and scrap brass. We did that because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is quite impossible to get that work done here. While the. present world shortage of copper, lead and zinc continues—although it appears to be 1641 getting easier—it is very difficult to make any certain forecasts. These purchases also involve a very large expenditure in dollars and other hard currencies. I submit to the right hon. Gentleman that, until the overseas financial position is much clearer, we must continue with bulk buying, and that there would be no purpose at all in reverting to private trade, and reopening the London Metal Exchange, if dealings were not possible, owing to the stringency of supplies or to currency restrictions. We are watching this position very carefully, and we will decide what to do, and when to do it, in the light of developments, but, in the present state of the non-ferrous metal market, it is not possible to go further than that.
I am sorry for keeping the Committee so long, but I have had a very large number of points to cover, and a large number of questions to answer. With a few words about another heavy task—that of disposals—which has fallen to this Ministry, I will close. This a very big job indeed, and it has come to the Ministry of Supply for the perfectly normal and logical reason that the Ministry, having procured most of the stores during the war, was best able to arrange for their orderly and proper disposal, keeping in mind the twin objectives—the taxpayer's interest in getting the goods sold at the best price for the surplus stores, and the interest of industry in not being completely and suddenly demoralised by floods of goods upon the market, which would smash its production prospects, and, ultimately, its capacity.
I would like to give some figures about this matter, because it is a major operation. For some time past we have been making sales at home to the value of £10 million to £12 million a month. Allowing for stores which have been reallocated to Government purposes, the total value of disposals to date in the United Kingdom exceeds £250 million. New surpluses are still frequently being declared, and it is not possible to make an exact estimate of what still remains to be done. But I think there is reason to hope that some two-thirds of the job has been accomplished. In addition to the surplus stores of the British Forces, we have had to deal with all the American stores, which were left behind in this country. I suggest that the Committee may agree 1642 with me that this job has been not too badly done when I say that the cost 0:: the regional and headquarters staff devoted to this vast and complicated task has been less than one per cent. of the revenue gained. Priority has been given to the disposal of consumer goods in short supply, and I think that most of these have been accounted for. Vehicles will continue to come forward for auction. Some 340,000 vehicles have already been, sold. We have sold 130,000 machine tools, and over half a million clocks and watches. There are very many interesting items in this miscellaneous collection with which I will not burden the Committee.
There is an enormous range. We have tried to find flexible methods which would be suitable for the disposal of all the many different kinds of stores, the emphasis always being on bringing the goods quickly into use, because they are wanted particularly at this time. We started with the normal methods of sale by tender. We supplemented that, and we are increasingly doing so, by sales by auction because those proved the quickest method of getting the goods into the hands of the consumers. In the first six months of 1947, we held nearly 100 auctions, most of them for more than one day; there were 358 auction days of sale in the first six months of this year. We are breaking down stores which have no further useful value, and we are using the materials in industry again. Not only is this work being done here in England, but it is taking place in 60 overseas countries.
§ Mr. Wilmot
Including Scotland, of course. I should have said "Britain," but England is such a nice word, that one uses it. By March this year, the overseas sales amounted to about £125 million. But before selling these articles overseas, we have combed through them to find items which are badly wanted at home, and a million tons of material have been returned from overseas to the United Kingdom in order that the home consumer might have the benefit of them.
I apologise again for the length of this speech. I had intended that it should be short, but I fear that I have been encouraged by these varied responsibilities to open out into new fields. I hope the Committee will feel that this Ministry is 1643 necessary, and that it is rendering a service to its customers and to the nation. If I have been successful in establishing that, then the credit is due to the administrative, technical and clerical officers, scientists and service people and work people of all grades, who do their work for the nation in the service of the Ministry of Supply.
§ 5.43 P.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
There are one or two points arising out of the extremely interesting 'speech of the right hon. Gentleman to which I should like to draw attention. First, it is rather unfortunate that while a number of hon. Members who are 'members of the Estimates Committee have been sitting since last April, engaged in the task of producing a report on research and development, on which the Ministry of Supply consume an enormous amount of the taxpayers' money, that report is not available now owing to the congestion in the Stationery Office. I am afraid that report will not be available until the end of the week. Had it been available it might have enabled the right hon. Gentleman to refer to certain points in it and thus acquaint the Committee with the vast capacity of this octopus Ministry.
One of the points which I think it is very important to raise at the present moment is the question of the set-up of the Ministry of Supply, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) referred. I happened to be a member of the Expenditure Committee which sat throughout the last war, and in a report to Parliament we recommended that each Service Department should be independent, as the Admiralty is to some extent, and that the Ministry of Supply was really redundant. But, as a result of the inquiry recently made, I think it is abundantly clear that, in the existing circumstances, the present set-up is the only one which reflects the feeling of the country, I think for economy, and, more important, enables the Service Departments which have to state their requirements to be sure that prototypes and all the rest of it are produced through a central authority. I think it is unfortunate, in a way, that the Admiralty cannot find it possible to give a little greater scope to the Ministry of Supply in regard to certain requirements for the Fleet, but, no doubt, they have good 1644 reasons for the line which they have taken.
I do not know if the Committee realises that at present research and development are of far greater importance than the holding of stores. I am always afraid that if financial stringency comes, one of the first things which will be cut into may be the very last thing which should be cut—namely, research and development. In all the speeches which have been made by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff here and abroad, he has drawn attention to the immense importance of research. The taxpayer is now spending £70 million a year on research, and although we are not very rich, I believe that £70 million a year is the best expenditure on which we are engaged, if we can be sure that it is properly supervised.
There is one other matter in connection with this set-up which I think ought to be mentioned, and which has not been mentioned in this Debate so far, and that is the establishment of the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Supply have a very direct relationship with the three Service Departments, because it is undoubtedly a task of the Ministry of Defence to try to decide as between the three Services what is redundant and what can be amalgamated, and, through the Ministry of Supply, ensure that a great many of these requirements are made common to the three Services. Hon. Members who were on the Expenditure Committee in the last war will remember that we had extraordinary cases put up to us by manufacturers who were very hard pressed at that time. For instance, as regards knives, forks and spoons for the three Services, it was represented to us by the Sheffield manufacturers that the Admiralty had one pattern, the War Office had another, and the Air Ministry another. The men in the Services have the same sized mouth, more or less, and, therefore, they need only knives, forks and spoons of one size. It took quite a long time to get that done. Equally, the Leicester manufacturers pointed out that different. types of underclothing were ordered by each of the Services, and that did not apply only to the males. The requirements of the female members of the Services were extremely extensive, and it was pointed out that if the clothing could be standardised a very good article could 1645 be obtained and produced probably at a cheaper price.
Another fact which I think is rather important is that the Ministry of Supply has no fewer than 22 establishments engaged in research, under the supervision of the right hon. Gentleman, and of those 22 establishments, some, to a layman, might be thought to be inclined to overlap. But the Estimates Committee have recently taken a great deal of evidence on this matter, and I am absolutely satisfied that the arrangements made are such that if there is an inclination to overlap, it is not a bad thing, because we want research to go in parallel lines, and we cannot be certain that one line of research is the only answer; in any case, a little competition does no harm. But there is one point which I think the right hon. Gentleman might have mentioned in his speech. From the evidence we have had, I do not think we can accuse the Ministry of Supply of being self-centred. The Ministry has been very useful in co-operating with industry, and I believe it is essential for the war potential that industry should be encouraged and its research organisations assisted, and that the link between the Ministry of Supply and private enterprise in research and development should be as close as possible.
There is one thing which causes everybody a great deal of anxiety, and to which the right hon. Gentleman made a passing reference. In this postwar period, everything is changing very quickly. We are told that today there is probably no type of aircraft which will be flying in 10 years' time. I believe that to be absolutely true. If that is the sort of rate of change that is going on, how frightfully important it is that we should ensure that there is coming on from the schools and into the universities an adequate number of people who will be able to handle these matters later on; otherwise all the expenditure we are engaged in now will—I shall not say, be lost —but, at any rate, will not have been adequately employed, unless we can get a full quota of men and women competent for the work.
There are enormous fields of research for women which they do not seem to recognise at the moment. Another thing is—and the right hon. Gentleman knows it very well—many of his colleagues in the Government have set up regional headquarters, and they seem to take an abso- 1646 lute delight and passion in establishing those places in university towns. The result is that the more accommodation that officials of those Departments find in the university towns, means so much the less accommodation for undergraduates, and that is a thing to be looked at with very considerable care and attention, because, undoubtedly, landladies in the university towns prefer to have steady civil servants to somewhat boisterous undergraduates; and also, of course, undergraduates are there only for a part of the year, whereas civil servants are there all the time.
Another thing which the right hon. Gentleman did not mention, though assume he is aware of it, is the establishment of the new committee, known as the Defence Research Policy Committee. That committee, which sits under that very remarkable and great public servant, Sir Henry Tizard, is doing an enormous amount to act as a clearing house, and to stop and prevent waste and extravagance of every kind. The fact that he is also chairman of the sister committee, I think, produces a feeling—at any rate in my mind—of complete confidence that we are set on the right path in regard to these matters.
One mention, if I may make it, of atomic energy. I speak as the Member representing the constituency where Harwell is situated, and it has been my task to watch the growth of Harwell. Under Professor Cockcroft a really enormous amount of progress is being made, but I do think it is right to say, and to say publicly, that although the highest priority is being given to the work of Harwell, the progress of work has been lamentably slow. At the present moment they are eight months behind schedule. There is a large number of men there. I do not think the supervision is right. I believe it is one of those cases where, possibly, the lowest tender was accepted. But I think the firm who got the tender have, perhaps through no fault of their- own, not been provided with a sufficient number of men of experience as supervisors. At any rate, the local reports, which I do not think can be without foundation, make it known locally as the "Home of Rest." Well, we do not wan: our great centre of atomic energy experiments known as a home of rest. When ever one goes there there are certainly too many men resting on spades.
§ Mr. Wilmot
I am sure the hon. Gentleman is referring to the contractors' staff, and not to the staff of the Ministry at Harwell?
§ Sir R. Glyn
I want to make that very clear. I am referring to the contractors' staff and the sub-contractors', and certainly not to the scientists and engineers. But I would point out that the balance of the progress plan drawn up has been deranged, and because progress has been slow, scientists from Canada are now established there but unable to get on with their work; I do ask the Minister whether it is not possible to inquire into this. It is no use having a Departmental inquiry. There must be an independent inquiry outside his Department, outside the Treasury, nominated, perhaps, by the Surveyors' Institute or the Institute of Civil Engineers, because it is not right to waste the taxpayers' money through inefficient organisation. I know how difficult it is for the Minister to supervise everything, but this I believe to be a matter which may one day strike us as rather a scandal. There is double priority for steel for Harwell. Some of the work on the piles has been held up for five months for lack of steel. What is the use of talking about double priority if it does not produce the goods? I think all these phrases about priorities have really come to mean very little. I can conceive of nothing which is more important than to set up an outside inquiry, to help us to get on with this job, and to get on with it before the winter, because it is absolutely vital.
Let me turn now to the Royal Ordnance factories. I find myself in a somewhat difficult and embarrassing position on this question. The Expenditure Committee made recommendations, and one of their reports recommended, from our experience of war, that it was absolutely necessary to have a certain number of Ordnance factories ready in case of possible trouble. Owing to the necessity of dispersal a great many of these factories are in isolated places, and a lot of the people who work in them and who are established there find it very difficult, owing to the housing shortage, to get work elsewhere. Therefore, while I recognise the feeling about the type of work being done in Ordnance factories, I believe it is absolutely vital that we should get 1648 operatives engaged in that type of work which is as near as possible to the sort of work they would have to do in a war period. All the evidence we had during the last war showed how lamentably slow we were in getting off the mark, because we had not got highly trained operatives. I assume that people now engaged in making clocks and watches would be engaged in the production of fuses and work of that kind; but it is of no use having the appalling scramble we had before, to get off the mark, and not pay attention to the recommendations of those appointed by this House to advise, and consisting of men of every party.
There are only two more matters I should like to mention. I shall be slightly critical, but critical in a constructive spirit. The investigation of the production of these aluminium houses by aircraft factories, showed an enormous cost of delivery, out of all proportion to the cost of the housing. Why was that? Because the units were designed four inches too high and six inches too broad. Too high and too broad for what, hon. Members will ask? For the gauge of British railways. The consequence is that none of these units can be loaded on to a truck to go to its destination by rail; they have to go by road. If a little thought had been taken it would really not have made much difference to the houses, and I think it would have been found that the cost to the State would have been considerably reduced, because the Cornmittee will realise that if a man goes a long distance by road and takes his unit with him he has to use a truck or trailer, known as a Queen Mary, which cannot carry anything else. Surely it is possible, without altering the jigs and tools, to see that a lot of these units could be more suitable for conveyance by rail.
My last point is about disposal. I think disposal has gone, on the whole, extremely well, but I think it has led to a good many undesirable vehicles being let loose on the roads, that consume an enormous amount of petrol. I do not know what the consumption of petrol will amount to at that rate. But I do know this, that many people in various Colonies have told me that if only steps could be taken to have sales of these vehicles in the Colonies, it would help their development enormously. I am 1649 told the reason why it cannot be done is shortage of shipping. If the Minister would consult with the Secretary of State for the Colonies, I believe ways and means could be found so that a great many of these vehicles and stores left over from the war would be disposed of not only in this country, but at centres suitable for Colonial development.
The work that is, being done by the scientists and engineers under the Ministry of Supply is excellent, and I think that we are on the road to being ahead of other countries. But it does mean that in future this House will have to pay more attention to questions of research and development. This report to which I referred earlier and which, I hope, will appear in a day or two, is the first comprehensive report ever made by Parliament for the information of Parliament in a comprehensive form of what is spent on research. I was astonished to find that that should be so. I hope this means that every five years or so, similar reports will be made by the Estimates Committee, because I am certain that the more people appreciate the great work that is being done, both by Government Departments and by people outside, the more will it encourage boys and girls to take up that sort of life, without which our country cannot hold its position in the future.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Anderson (Whitehaven)
I have the honour to represent the Division which will house another stage of the development of atomic energy. It is rather strange that the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) should represent a Division which is to have the first phase of atomic energy, and that Sellafield, which is in my Division, should have what I think is understood to be the second phase in the production of atomic energy. I do not desire to take exception to the announcement made yesterday, but I desire to secure more information than was supplied in that announcement.
From that announcement I understood that, arising out of the decision of the Government to establish the atomic energy plant at Sellafield, Messrs. Courtauld's factory would not be established in the West Cumberland area. I think I have understood the position correctly. Messrs. Courtaulds' were coming to the West Cumberland Development Area in order to 1650 relieve unemployment. The intention, according to what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade in a Debate on the Adjournment at Easter, was that that factory should employ approximately 2,000 people as a first unit—1,500 men and 500 women. Now, how are these people to be usefully employed, following upon the abandonment of the scheme to establish that factory there? Does it mean that our people will have to suffer unemployment for a much longer time than would have been the case had Messrs. Courtaulds come to the West Cumberland area? Our people are at least entitled to know the position. They are entitled to know if this newly suggested development at Sellafield will absorb the unemployed who would have been absorbed by Messrs. Courtaulds. I assume that this decision has been taken not departmentally, but at the highest level. If that be so, then I take it that the whole aspect of the situation has been taken into account. Is it intended that the atomic energy project will absorb, in the same way as Messrs. Courtaulds' factory would have absorbed, those unemployed who are signing on today? At present, those working temporarily and the unemployed in the area in question total 2,000 to 2,500 men, and 200 to 300 women. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies he will face up to this question and tell the people in the area what they are to expect from the taking away of Messrs. Courtaulds' factory and the introduction of this new project.
There is another side of the question which I should like cleared up. There are all kinds of rumours abroad about what this atomic energy project will do to the countryside. Rightly or wrongly, people are very much afraid of its effect. They are wondering what effect it will have upon, say, milk production, wl-ich is a very important factor in the Sellafield and South Cumberland area. In that area there are large milk-producing districts, and people are wondering whether this will have any effect upon the farming districts, and the residential and other districts. The local people are anxious to know what is likely to happen. Will this be the cause of some other kind of industrial disease which will spring up in that area? If so, the people of West Cumberland have not made a very good bargain in exchanging Messrs. Courtaluds' 1651 factory for the atomic energy plant project.
§ Mr. Wilmot
Perhaps I might be permitted to answer that very important question right away. I can give my hon. Friend an assurance on the highest possible level that the General Medical Research Council's special committee, under Sir Henry Dale, who investigated this whole question of the effect of atomic energy upon the health of the local people, consider that it will have no bad effect upon the health of the people of the locality. With regard to the other point he made about unemployment in the area, and the substitution of this project for the other, the unemployment situation—which is becoming very satisfactory as a result of the policy of the Government—will remain satisfactory, and will be continually under review. I am authorised by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to say that the position will always be kept under review to see that it does not deteriorate
§ Mr. Bracken
The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. F. Anderson) told us, in the course of his interesting speech, that it will probably take a very long time to get this plant going at Sellafield. If that is the case, I do not see how a large amount of employment can be afforded in the near future to his constituents.
§ Mr. Anderson
I am obliged to the Minister for the first part of his statement, but the second part of his statement is, I am afraid, a little unsatisfactory for those who have been looking forward for the last two years to regular employment of a very good type. These people are now finding this delay taking place in providing them with useful employment. On the other hand, it is quite clear that Courtaulds would not be in production until 1949, and from the point of view of construction alone, the work will be done more swiftly in this case.
The local authorities in the area, which consist of two rural councils and one small borough council, have taken a very active part in doing all they could to encourage Courtaulds to come to the Sellafield district. As a result, they have accepted certain substantial commitments, and I want to know how these local authorities stand in regard to these commitments, For instance, the supplying of water and other services was supposed to 1652 cost about £410,000. There has been a big local inquiry, and Questions have been asked in this House about Ennerdale Lake. Whitehaven borough is committed to £146,000, Ennerdale rural district council to £434,000 and Millom rural district council to £13,000, making a total of £193,000 in respect of water supplies and services. A grant of 50 per cent. was to come from the Government in respect of Whitehaven, and a 60 per cent. grant was to be given to the other two local authorities. The pipes alone cost £163,000, and they have been ordered. The people in my area want to know what is to happen about these commitments, and how they will be affected. Do not forget that prior to the war this area was one of the most difficult derelict areas in the country, having the highest percentage of unemployment. I am not criticising the decision which has been made on a high level, but I am asking for information.
The local authorities are naturally asking what is the position in regard to their commitments as a result of the efforts they made to encourage industry to come to their area in order to clear up the unemployment in the district. I am informed that one local authority has been pressing the Ministry of Health for the water supplies to be provided at an early date. The local authorities inform me that there has been no prior consultation with them on the question of Courtaulds not taking up the factory site at Sellafield. There is also some doubt as to the position of the factories at Drigg and Bootle. I want to know why the site at Bootle, which I understand has been handed over to the Board of Trade, could not replace the site at Sellafield. Why cannot Courtaulds continue with their factory at Sellafield and the Ordnance factory site at Bootle be used? There are 900 people employed at Drigg and Bootle, but only 90 per cent. of the people working at Bootle come from Millom. The workers at Drigg and Bootle feel very strongly about this position because they do not know when their work will end. I know that they have been doing good work in breaking down ammunition, and I want to see that good work continued.
On the other hand, these people are placed in a serious position. They are uncertain whether they will be there for three, or six months or longer. There was a feeling, prior to the withdrawal of Courtaulds from Sellafield, that labour 1653 was being frozen to provide a substantial number of people for Courtaulds. What is being done about the carbon black position at Drigg? I understand that carbon black is very scarce, and that up to a short time ago we were importing the greater proportion of our carbon black from dollar areas. If that be the case, why was production of carbon black at Drigg stopped a short time ago? So far as employment at the Ordnance factory is concerned, why have we not used the unemployed to increase the work of breaking down ammunition?
I want the Minister to satisfy our people on these various points which I have mentioned. My Division is in one of the Development Areas, and it has looked forward to this Courtaulds' project as a backbone project for the whole of the West Cumberland area. In fact, the Board of Trade have said, and every one with any knowledge of the matter has also said, that it was the main project for the area, and now the announcement is made, without any previous notice, of the withdrawal of Courtaulds. The unemployed now, and those looking forward to employment in the future, feel that they are losing hope, as I said on the Adjournment Debate at Easter. They are losing hope in the direction that once again this notice has been given: "No further employment; no further work for you here; you have to look forward to something else in the great future." The coming of this atomic project may mean full employment—I do not know—but I would like the Minister to give as much information as he possibly can, especially from an employment point of view. No one knows, because it is an uncharted project at the present time; nevertheless, we can live in the hope of full employment in the near future. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can assure us that so far as West Cumberland is concerned, it will not suffer because of the withdrawal of Courtaulds' factory.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
The great Supply Departments have grown so much that we cannot now have a debate on a specific topic. I should have liked to follow the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. F. Anderson) in the interesting case he made. From the silence and appreciation of the 1654 Committee, I should have thought that his speech would have gone right into the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply, as it is obviously a question that he should take up at o ace. We listened to what I think was a long, proud and self-satisfied speech from the Minister. I have listened to the Minster of Supply on many occasions and he makes this impression upon me: It seems to me that he would be quite capable of walking with a self-satisfied air and with a complete idea of mastery of his position and subject right into the heart of his own atomic piles; and when he got there, and he and the apparatus exploded and the whole thing went up, and the clouds had cleared away, there would be left hanging upon the clouds for us to see that charming and ingratiating smile.
I do not feel that the Minister really understands what is going on in his own Department. He said that it was tragic that British people, who need things so badly, should have to wait so long for them. Under his own administration there is a great branch of the Ministry in charge of disposal. I want to try to give reasons to the Committee for saying that that branch could have disposed of goods very much more effectively than it has done, and that so far from having dole a good job, as the Minister thought they had, to tell the Committee that that job could have been very much better done. I do not know whether the Minister has had his attention drawn to the First Report from the Select Committee on Estimates for this year. It is not very comfortable reading for the Minister of Supply. The Controller of Storage Premises of the Board of Trade was before us. We talked about machine tools. He said in Question 47:I am very critical of the present speed of disposal of machine tools; they—The Ministry of Supply—have 6.1 million square feet there at least; I do not say that they hold it all under requisition, but it is all good space, cowered accommodation, now used for machine tool storage and for disposal depots.He went on to refer to the auction that has taken place, and he says:It seems to me they do not like holding auctions.Then sensing perhaps that he is giving one Department away, he says:I hope I am not going to get into trouble with my colleagues,1655 That, I think, was a very revealing thing and it appeared in the evidence on page 12. It enormously impressed the Committee. It impressed the Committee so much that the hon. Member for Spen Valley (Mr. G. Sharp), who was chairman of that Committee, put a number of questions to the Ministry of Supply Controller of Disposals when he came before us. He put that issue to him directly in the following form. He said:The witness we had in front of us was the Controller of Storage Premises at the Board of Trade, and he said that you were asking for more space?—We are acquiring a certain amount of new space, for example, on airfields, and have acquired a few airfields, in December. We have got a problem of the storage of machine tools.Again:Is it correct to say that part of your problem is due to the fact that receipts into your store are greater than your disposals?—Yes, that is true; the receipts of machine tools are at a slightly higher rate than the disposals.Then again:But can you not speed up the rate of disposal?—I think I can only say that we are constantly searching for means of speeding up the rate of disposal, but it is about as high as it could be made.Why? Is that because the industry cannot absorb more of the machine tools?—I think I ought to say that the Ministry of Supply has always recognised a special duty towards British industry in disposing of surplus machine tools, the aim being to devote these machine tools to the fullest possible extent to the re-equipment of British industry. For that reason, the principle that has been adopted has been to get the tools straight into the hands of the user and at reasonable prices which are fixed by the Ministry, and not to attempt other unrestricted methods of sale which, although they might get rid of them more quickly, might have damaging effects on the public interest.I will not weary the House with the issue on public interest. I will only say as Dr. Samuel Johnson said:Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.We are now getting to a stage where public interest has become the last refuge of an incompetent and unimaginative, Ministry. I know that this official is working in a Government Department, and that policy has been laid down, but I would like to suggest that it is just about as misplaced and inept a policy as the Government are pursuing on other things. Why do I say that? After the first world war, we had auctions and quick disposal 1656 merchants on a considerable scale. They made large profits, but, in return, they rendered very good service. I remember myself very well going to a shop in the Euston Road, which was flooded with Government electrical stores, and I was able to acquire the apparatus for a wireless set and to take it back to school. I interested myself and all my fellows in it, and we advanced our knowledge in a way which we could not have done had it not been for those facilities that were available. That was after the first world war. Thousands of people all over the country were doing the same thing. Of course, people were able to make profits, but the point was that the machinery got into the factories and workshops quickly.
After the first world war I admit that there were undesirable results. The economy of this country then was rather like the economy of the United States today, and if the United States wants quick disposal of war stores on a big auction sales basis, no doubt they would be in the same trouble as we were in after the last war, but this time the Government have gone to the opposite extreme. They have slowed down completely the whole process, and the result is that industry everywhere, great and small, is crying out for the machine tools and the whole variety of other things with which I shall deal presently. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply is assisting the Chancellor of the Exchequer at all in this matter. If he disposed more quickly of these stores there would be early budgetary reliefs, because the Treasury would be able to take into the Budget the proceeds of these sales. Such sales, too, would act as a counter to inflation, and indeed would have helped frequently in the export drive.
There is general dissatisfaction with the arrangements for disposal. I have got a "Board of Trade Journal" here, and even in this semi-official document we can find some veiled criticism at the way the Ministry of Supply are carrying on. It may be that large firms do not mind very much. They are tied in with the Government machine and perhaps they are getting priority, but can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us in all good faith and honesty tonight that firms, medium and small, and private persons all over the country are satisfied at the rate at 1657 which they are able to acquire ex-Government stores? Of course they are not, Small workshops, small builders, ironmongers and such people are not able to get the stores in anything like the way that they want. I see that the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. William Paling) put a question to the Minister in March of this year asking why practically all surplus Government stocks went to the large multiple shops and none to the small trader. He was headed off, but he had the impression that I had in regard to that question.
I make three charges against the Government in this matter. I say that they are favourable to the large firms and are not defending the small firms; there is much slowness in the disposal of this equipment; and a vast waste of effort and of material Let me briefly give one or two examples of this slowness in disposal. A rubber dump went on fire at Mitcham some two months ago and large stocks of rubber which were in the Ministry of Supply's hands were destroyed. It could have been that it was sold and it was somebody else's responsibility to take it away, but it should have been taken away two years after the war was over.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. Arthur Woodburn)
They were tyres in a dump when it went on fire.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Exactly, and suggest they should not have been in a dump at all, because the tyres should have been disposed of by now. There is a very serious delay in the disposal or all these items of stores. The hon. Member for East Willesden (Mr. Orbach) was very much upset earlier in this year, and quite rightly so, about surplus generators. During the fuel crisis, surplus generators which were going to be auctioned were suddenly brought into the market and sold at very short notice. The generators in question were 250 trailer mounted sets which were included with some 5,000 vehicles, and in view of the fuel situation it was decided to sell them straight away. Why were these motor generators not already in private hands before the fuel crisis? They were on Ministry of Supply dumps for years past and could have been collected and sold.
I should like to ask a question about the auction sales which go on all over the country. One or two hon. Members are 1658 dissatisfied that auction sales are not being held in their constituencies. The Inn and gallant Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low) not long ago put down a Question about them. How many urban, rural district and local government areas are there in which none of these auction sales have been held? I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can give us an answer on that. The situation in paint is as bad as it can be. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) put a Question on that. There was a case in the Press the other day and it was reported that every day for three weeks 100 5-gallon drums of paint, varnish and distemper were put into a pit by a bull dozer, altogether amounting to £12,500 worth, which could not be sold except through a large contractor. Mr. Kemp, an expert from Chichester, said "This is criminal waste." This is the kind of thing that one finds on all sides. Then there is the question of the disposal of surplus lathes. The Board of Trade says bat there is keen competition for screw-cutting lathes that come into the Government pool from time to time, but why has no one had an opportunity of getting them before, and why are they cluttering up Ministry of Supply dumps up and down the country?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I hope we shall get a constructive policy from the Minister. So far we have had nothing but delay. I do not understand why the Parliamentary Secretary, when tie gees round the country, does not observe these large car dumps where on the tarmacadam the tyres are sagging, rotting away, unguarded and with no signs of disposal taking place. There is one at Comberry Park, Oxford, and another one at Graf-on Underwood in the constituency of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). There are various other kinds of materials held up from disposal to the public. It is reported that thousands of radio sets were found dumped in a disused pitshaft in Staffordshire without guard and unsold, while the other day my hon. Friend the Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bére) was much annoyed about hospital stores amounting to £1 million including complete operating theatres, X-ray apparatus, drugs and all kinds of surgical supplies, all of which were going 1659 to waste. These are individual cases and there may be explanations in each case but when they are taken together, I suggest that they amount to, a formidable indictment of the Government.
I should like to ask one question on a curious disposal organisation called the Iron and Steel Disposals, Ltd., one of those new Government companies, which I suppose is having a lovely time, at any rate, for a short while. I should like to ask, is the available material being disposed of as rapidly as possible by the company, or is the Treasury preventing the rapid disposal in the hope that higher prices can be obtained for the stores?
Secondly, is the slowness in getting rid of Government material leading to the import of scrap steel and iron which stock here might have replaced and, if so, at what range of prices? Finally, I should like to ask, is this department of the Ministry of Supply spending £990,000 a year, and is it full of director-generals, deputy director-generals, directors, deputy directors, assistant directors, temporary assistant directors and all the rest of it to the tune of the amount which I have stated? I think, by now, the work of that Department should be concluded.
I accuse the Government of muddle, waste and delay. I accuse the Minister of weakness and of not facing his civil servants and demanding a clear-up of this disposal business in a very quick time so that the public can be saved the cost of their salaries. I also accuse the Government of prosecuting a policy which has resulted in depriving the public of goods which are urgently needed, and which has contributed to internal inflation and to the maintenance of high taxation, and which has denied us the source of export purchasing power.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham)
I do, not propose to attempt to follow the noble Lord, for reasons which will be sufficiently obvious to anyone who listened to his speech. The practice of throwing paper pellets across the Chamber at the Minister at a time like this is not a particularly happy one, and the two Parliamentary Secretaries now sitting on the Front Bench are always so charming, genial, courteous and helpful that I, personally, would like to flatter them very much. With great reluctance, I find today that I cannot 1660 be wholly adulatory. [Interruption.] If hon. Members opposite listened to each sentence I spoke and then tried to gather what I meant, they would probably find that the interjections they make half way through a sentence are pointless, when they have considered what I have said a few seconds later.
I want to express a great measure of agreement with many things that were said this afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton). I always do that with hesitation and with a feeling that probably I must be wrong because I am in agreement with him, but I think that we cannot consider this report today in vacuo. We must consider it in the light of the circumstances that prevail today. The first test, in considering this report and the Estimates, is to regard them in relation to the White Paper on the Economic Survey published a few months ago, and to see what has happened with this reduction of staff: Let me take a$ my first point the fact that the right hon. Gentleman said that the accounts were not very informative. They are not really very informative. We have a whole list of offices into which one would like to look if one had time to be frivolous or to make a few inquiries. I should like to know, for instance, what temporary production offices are, and what it is that they temporarily produce, and what are the functions of a paper inspector, a general paper inspector and a senior chief paper inspector nowadays when there is no paper.
I should also like to follow up some of the observations that arise on the figures. So far as the accounts are concerned, the staff which is shown on the accounting side is stupendous. One really would have thought that this great staff would have found it possible to provide a full and comprehensive account of their operations to submit to this Committee, especially in view of the fact that this is virtually the first account we have had of the operations of the Ministry of Supply, because of the war years. According to my notes, the office of the Accountant-General has a staff of 2,625 people, 22 chief accountants, 94 senior accountants, 130 accountants without any note or asterisk, and 60 temporary accountant assistants. I have been trying for some time to obtain a little clerical assistance in performing my very 1661 modest duties, but it has been a vain and fruitless search. The shorthand typist in the city of London is a rara avis which has almost ceased to exist and which ought to be placed on the list of preserved birds.
§ Mr. Hale
I should have said the list of protected birds. If one looks at the figures, one finds a very substantial reason why that is so. The typing strength of the Minister's Department is six, but in addition the Department of the Controller of Supplies has 15, the Iron and Steel Board, just constituted, 24, the Directorate-General of Artillery, 44; the Chief Inspector of Stores, 47; the Chief Inspector of Clothing, 52; the Chief Chemical Inspector, 74; the Department of the Controller of Supplies, 80; the Directorates of Metals, 92; the Directorate of Storage, 100; the Directorate of Equipment and Stores, 127; the Directorate of Aircraft Storage and Breakdown, 134; the Directorates of Scientific Research (Defence), 158; the Chief Inspector, Electrical and Mechanical Equipment, 251; the Directorate of Aeronautical Inspection, 323. In addition there are 361 with the Directorate of Storage, 380 with the Directorate-General of Aircraft Supplies, 382 with the Directorates of Scientific Research and Technical Development (Air), 443 with the Directorate-General of Fighting Vehicles, 489 with the Chief Inspector of Armaments, 511 with the Directorate-General of Disposal, 540 with the Contracts Division, 723 with the Regional Organisation, 1,100 with the Directorate-General of Disposals, 1,380 with the Administratior and Finance, 1,720 with the Accountant-General. After all that, we have a Department for Typists with 958—and one of them would make all the difference to my life.
I tried during the more boring part of the noble Lord's speech—if he will forgive me for saying so—to add up that little total mentally. It was almost beyond me, but so far as I can see it comes to approximately 10,000, and if we take the average output of words of the average shorthand-typist at 50,000 a week, that comes to 500 million words a week. There are not so many words to start with, and in any case you cannot say all that. The Committee will remember that Mr. Aldous Huxley has pointed 1662 out that six monkeys tapping away at six typewriters for eternity would produce by accident the whole of Shakespeare's works. Ten thousand typists typing regularly would produce by accident schemes that would put this country on its feet and reform industry, if only we could extend the operations of the Department to sifting their output, instead of doing this copying of routine stuff.
But is this really carrying out the proposals of the Economic White Paper? Let us look at the figures on the Royal Ordnance factories. There is a staff which I compute at between 35,000 and 40,000. That is industrial staff, and the figures are not given, but the wages are given at a little over £11 million. The head quarters staff is 6,000. I say that this is utterly out of proportion to any other industrial organisation going. I have not risen today for the purpose of making factious attacks, but because I feel very seriously that we have reached a position when some of these things need a certain amount of attention. The functions of the Minister of Supply, as set out in the White Paper, are:That he is authorised to purchase or otherwise acquire, manufacture, store and transport any articles required for the public service and to dispose of any articles not requiredIn other words, he has the widest statutory powers, and in these accounts we find items for fertilisers, for rare metals, for abundant metals, and so on.
As I said a few moments ago, we have to look at these estimates in the circumstances that now prevail. In the months before the war, when a former Prime Minister, who has been subject to attacks from myself and others, was engaged in negotiating foreign affairs, he said one sentence that I have always quoted in my political mentions of him as the one sentence which would almost excuse the mistakes he made. He said, "I was the only living man who could ever look into the abyss in advance and see the holocaust, and the reality of it that might come." I could understand, and I could defend, any Prime Minister who said, whether rightly or wrongly, "I will do anything to avert this thing coming," and as we look at the financial position today I think the time has come when we ought to try to look it fairly and squarely in the face and ask the Government to do the same. I do not think we have the right to talk about the House rising in 1663 ten days' time and leave our people in complete ignorance as to whether or not there is really going to be a crash. I heard a voice in this Committee say today, "Do not frighten the workers; do not be an alarmist." The question for us on this side is whether, "Let Us Face The Future" follows "Homes for Heroes" into the wastepaper basket, and whether all we have struggled for and built up is to go. All that may be dependent on the sense of urgency which the Government are able to show and the sense of leadership that they are developing.
There are many matters which arise on a consideration of these Estimates at the moment. The first question is the most important one of coal. The right hon. Gentleman has been engaged in making some coalmining machinery. Every report I get from the coalfields is that the supply of coal cutters is wholly inadequate or is practically non-existent; but there is no evidence whatever of urgent measures being taken to deal with this very vital matter. I am told—and perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that a great industrialist, whose name I shall mention if the Minister likes, a man of great reputation, himself offered to take over a Ministry of Supply factory or any other factory with the necessary permits, and to start the production of the Meco-More coal cutter. It is a machine which would revolutionise our coal output and it would make all the difference between the success or failure of industrial production and the maintaining of our coal supply.
I want to ask the Minister to address himself frankly and without reserve to these questions. When there does arise a question of this kind, which I think every Member on every side would regard as one of vital priority and one of the most important productive items that we are going to be called upon to make, what are the arrangements that can be made for the cutting out of red tape, interdepartmental consultation, sending down to district valuers to look at land, and waiting for them to report? What are the arrangements which will permit things to be done with the same sense of urgency as an individual business man—I will accept the challenge—with tons of money in the bank and any amount of capital, 1664 could do it, if he wanted to, in times of normal peace? I want that question answered.
I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn), whom I regard as a sterling Member—I hope he will forgive me—will allow me to quote one reference. I had a negotiation with him and with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade which affected a vital matter of employment. I received from them the utmost possible assistance that they individually could give, the greatest possible consideration, promptness in answering letters and in interviewing me and putting me in touch with people whom I wanted to meet. The main fact is that not much happened and that months went by as the necessary channels were explored and the necessary avenues were waltzed down, until we came to opening the factory on terms infinitely worse than if it had been done months before.
I want to see this kind of thing cut out. I want the Minister to say to the Committee that the situation is so urgent that he will cut it out, and that he is going to see that in vital matters at any rate—in little matters there must be routine, I suppose—these things are cut out. There is the question of capital goods. A number of them are made by the Ministry, a substantial quantity in some classes of goods. The question of the rationalisation of industry is nevertheless a vital and urgent one. That question comes down ultimately to production per man-hour, which we on this side never like, or to overall production per plant. There is no question, when we come to consider foreign trade, that the production that we are able to get lags behind that of our principal industrial competitors because of lack of organisation, of up-to-date machinery and modern equipment. I am not making a party point about this. We have had seven years of war, which have prevented the modernising of equipment.
In the last few days we have had a good many opinions on the subject of Methods. It is right that the Minister of Supply, who is virtually the employer of 40,000 industrial and clerical workers, should be addressed on this subject. We had a reference to the direction of labour recently. It is the last possible resort to which 1665 we would submit, and it is one which we could consider and submit to only in cases of absolute urgency. There is, of course, the negative side to it, the much more important question of the priority of raw materials. The hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) talked about that priority. The case he put was that although priorities were allocated, they never seemed quite to work out in practice. I have not sufficient industrial experience to speak about that. I think we should be grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary if he would tell us how the priority system works and whether, when one gets a priority, it is for 100 per cent. of the requirements or for some other percentage, and how it is done. The distribution of raw materials may be an essential factor in the planning of industry in the period that is to come.
I come back to the economic situation. We arc told that the Marshall plan cannot produce any positive benefit until March of next year and that no money can come from America, if it is coming, until then. We know that there are the clearest indications that France may be in a state of collapse long before that, and we may be having those cuts in our import programme which may have a vital effect upon our standard of living. Still worse, it may affect our ability continuously to employ our people. Such matters are too grave to be made the subject of this type of comment "I let the Government go on on their own; I don't intervene." We have a right to know, so that we can go to cur constituents, take them into our confidence and say what the position really is. Not only have we that right but we have that duty.
I want to say to the Committee that if we look into that abyss, the abyss of the collapse of Western Europe—I ask all hon. Members to go with me in this matter because all the talk of victory for the Right or for the Left is so much moonshine in that connection—we look into an abyss not only of poverty but of moral horror and degradation such as the world may never have seen. We are face to face with possibilities which mark this period in our history as possibly a turning point in the history of the world. No one will say, when we have been discussing the atomic bomb, that we have advanced very far on our own. No one will say that the state of public ethics is as high today as it was in the days of our fathers.
1666 If that collapse comes, with the gradual extinguishment of the lights of liberty all over Europe, some being extinguish e I from what we call the Right and some from what we call the Left, there will be a tendency for extreme opinions to develop on either side, in all their ferocity, in the circumstances, of economic chaos aril disaster. The time has come for the House to say that this is still one of the great tribunals of democracy throughout t the world and one of the hopes of the world. We should not rise at all a week on Saturday, however tired we are, unless we know that the situation can be faced and that measures have been taken to face it. Those measures must be dramatic and they must be effective. We have been told in announcements from time to time that there will he cuts in amenities here and in expenditure here. I want to say to the Minister—and I hope that on this matter I am speaking not only to the Minister but through him to the Cabinet—let us not have death by thousand cuts. Let us have a major surgical operation, a period of convalescence, and, finally, a complete cure.
We have to face the fact that of promise to the people, the promise upon which we are here, is the maintenance of full employment. By that, and that alone, can our final success be judged. If we lose our policy of full employment, we start the vicious spiral down which we may go cascading to the horrors of economic disaster and the sufferings of the years before the war. No sacrifice is too great to prevent it. I say, not in any spirit of sarcasm, that this is a very great Government. On the few occasions when it has been wrong, the hack benchers have been right. On ore or two occasions when the hack benchers may possibly have been in error, the public have always been right. The heart of the people is sound. What they are waiting for at this moment is leadership prepared to face the situation, announce strong measures and take the public into its confidence by saying, "Come with us along this road, even though it be a hard road, because we believe it will lead eventually to economic salvation."
A few days ago I saw a speech by a great general and a great gentleman, Sir William Slim. He did not initiate this to refer to something said about him—he is far too modest to refer to himself. B e said that out there they had a motto, 1667 "The difficult we achieve at once; the impossible takes time," and he said they added, "For miracles we want a month's notice." He went on in that speech, making no reference to the influence of his own leadership, which was no doubt the determining factor, to say that the men who performed those miracles—the men of Burma Command, the sappers, the gunners, the common soldiers, even the few women they had out there—are the same people who are now back at the benches, down the mines and in the factories, ready again under inspired leadership to perform more miracles. No one on this side of the Committee dare face the Committee and say to it that our production is as high as it could be. Probably after seven years of war and effort, all of us are older and not quite so good as we were, but all of us are capable of an effort of some sort. I hope I am not immodest, but I had been in this building for virtually 30 consecutive hours before I rose, and that has been an effort. If hon. Members opposite could only hear their speeches instead of having to read them, they would realise the magnitude of the effort which I have survived.
We have to remember a few vital things. The Minister has referred to imports. One vital import—I know how uncharitable it is to talk about it—is feedingstuffs. We have to increase our food production and particularly our home food production. But if it be that we have to submit to some measure of cuts, announced as a comprehensive measure of cuts, I believe that my constituents, in common with others, will submit to them with good grace. I still believe that if it be really necessary the country that cradled Milton and Shakespeare could manage for three or four months without Frank Sinatra. If it were necessary, we could cut down our smokes. If it were necessary, we could do without a little of the extra tinned stuff we have. There are economies we can make in imports. Let me add—I have reason for saying this and I say it with great sincerity—that if we are to get any more help from America, we have not merely to get the British people behind us in this plan, but we have to convince the Americans that we mean it, and that we are doing it, and that we realise that we shall not get any more help until we have done so. I will conclude, Mr. Beaumont, 1668 as I gather that you are beginning to take the view that I may be a shade wide myself.
§ Mr. Hale
It is brief and important. Tom Paine said at a great moment in American history:These are the times that try men's souls.He said that not in any spirit of despair, but with courage and with the light of battle in his eyes, and he lived to see the victory of the forces he was supporting, and lived to survive the worst horrors of the French Revolution and persecution by his political enemies in Britain. Times that try men's souls are times that find leaders, and times that give an opportunity for leadership. I believe that the spirit of the people is as sound as a bell. I believe that if we make an appeal we will get a response. I believe that under comprehensive leadership there is no sacrifice that the people will not willingly endure, once they are given the facts and are assured that sacrifices will be imposed, not merely on the workers, but also on the wealthier section of the community up to the limit they can bear. I will not mention compulsory savings and economic unity in Europe because they would be wide of the subject, but the time has come when the most earnest, imaginative and sincere consideration should be taken of our economic position with a view to putting before the Grand Inquest of the nation the full facts of the full needs. If that is put in the right way, I am sure we shall have the right response,
§ 7.5 P.m.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
We have listened over the last few minutes—I would not put it in too petty a form—to one of the most damning attacks on His Majesty's Government to which this House has listened for many months. I do not imagine for one moment that the hon. Gentleman meant all his remarks to be taken in that sense. I believe that when those of us inside this House 1669 and people outside read his words tomorrow in the OFFICIAL REPORT and in the Press, it will be found in general that he has proved to his own satisfaction, and I think to the satisfaction of the majority of the people in the Committee at this moment, that there is little hope for leadership and drive in this country as long as those who sit on the Front Government Benches are those who occupy them today.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
It is not a petty point. I am interpreting the speech of the hon. Gentleman in the only sense in which it can be interpreted.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
It is always valuable in this House to have hon. Members who are not afraid to speak sincerely on matters of such gravity as those touched upon without fear by the hon. Gentleman. I have not the skill of the hon. Gentleman to follow him into those little side paths around the great theme on which he was talking. He always managed to emerge on to the main theme just in time to avoid your displeasure, Mr. Beaumont. Not having that skill, I must stick more closely to the main path.
I do not believe it would be out of place to pull the Minister mind back to one of his remarks. He spoke with a sense of complacency which shocked all of us on this side. He was speaking of research, one of the most vital elements of the work of his Ministry. Unless not only the leaders of industry but the workers in industry have confidence that research is being carried on as efficiently as it can be carried on they will begin to doubt the future of their employment and their industries which make for that employment. I wonder if the Minister was really justified in claiming that the research branches of his Department were "in the van of progress." I am very far from believing that. I believe the van of progress they are in is a sort of Black Maria. They are working in far too narrow a circle. I believe that the Minister is taking no steps whatever to translate the results of that research into practical results.
§ Mr. Wilmot
I am sure the hon. Member would not wish to misrepresent me 1670 I used those phrases in connection with the achievements of British science and British engineering in gas turbine engines. I see no reason why we should decry out achievements, although they have beer difficult to attain in these postwar conditions.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I certainly do not want to misrepresent what the Minister said, but I made a note of it at the time and I think he will find that he said that in research we were in the van of progress. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes, we are."] In wartime, when the most brilliant minds in the country are directed into a particular line of research, one can see the results of that research translated at once into productive industry. In wartime that is a comparatively simple problem; in peacetime it is an immense, intricate and delicate problem. The work of the research worker will be hampered if it is cut down to too narrow a sphere. On the other hand, if he were to spread his efforts over a wide field, they will be of little practical benefit to industry for a long time. Is the Minister doing any special work to translate the result of that research into practical effort in industry because, as far as my knowledge and experience goes, no steps at all are being taken in that direction.
§ Mr. Wilmot
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that in that particular field I used these words: "Orders are flowing in from various parts of the world, including America, for British engines made by British science and British research to put in planes made abroad."
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I am sure the Minister would not wish to interrupt unnecessarily, but that does not cover the point. Of course in that narrow field, which is the result of wartime research and the translation of research into wartime industry that is true, but I am talking on a much bigger issue. Is the result of research being guided into the industry of this country at all? It is not. Nothing whatever is being done to build up any link, any spread of contact as a result of research into the modern engineering industry of this country today. It is not being done. Perhaps the Parliamentary-Secretary can contradict that when he comes to reply. I only hope he can.
The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) talked about the terrible dangers 1671 we were facing in the future and the cuts that would have to be made in the imports of raw materials. I wonder if the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary can say anything to us about what is being done to save raw materials by way of salvage? It seems most extraordinary that the organisation of salvage at the moment, is, technically speaking, in the hands of the Board of Trade. Surely the Minister, responsible as he is in so many fields of industrial activity in this country, takes some interest in the matter? What is he doing in that regard? Is it not the case that even some of the Royal Ordnance Factories working for civil needs are short of those raw materials which may be manufactured from salvage collected in this country? Has he put any pressure on his colleague the President of the Board of Trade to see that he is conserving those materials and to ensure that a more active salvage campaign is carried out? It is quite a simple question to answer. How much interest is his Department taking in that matter. It is very important, and is growing more important, because every pound's worth of salvage we collect, translated into manufactures, to turn out British goods will obviously save us other raw materials or dollars.
The Minister made great play with the aluminium house—I thought, again, with an enlarged sense of satisfaction—and I intervened to ask what was the cost of that house. I also asked what was the cost of the light metal alloy now, which goes to the building of it. It happens that some of those houses are built within my constituency by a firm with one of the finest war records, and one of the first postwar records for getting on with the job of building these houses. They have worked it out magnificently.
I would like to know how it is it that the cost of this house has risen to the figure which I am told it has reached now, a very high one indeed, though I will not mention it. Is it, or is it not, the case that when the Ministry of Supply took over the direct responsibility of building the aluminium prefabricated house, the light metal alloy was valued at so much but that alloy, which is largely scrap, is now valued at a very much higher figure. Why 1672 has that value been raised in the way it has been? At what figure did his Ministry take over the raw material for this job, and at what figure does that raw material stand now? Is it the case that its value has been raised to a fictitiously high level in order to please somebody at the Treasury who said, "We have to make a profit somewhere"? If that is the case, it is rather a scandal that the people of this country are being saddled with inordinate costs as regards the building of and the rents they will have to pay to live in that house. I would like an answer to that because it is a matter of grave concern, not to me locally—though obviously it is of great interest to me—but to the nation.
The Minister has made it clear that he feels responsible, and rightly so, for being able to frame some picture to meet any eventuality which may befall this country as regards what industries can produce, how rapidly they can produce, how they can be organised and pooled. It is quite true, as the hon. Member for Oldham said, that we may be faced with cutting down, with unemployment, which will put an end to all the great schemes that have been so largely publicised by hon. Members opposite. That may be so, but there are equally grave eventualities for which the Minister must be prepared. I believe that he has, in an attempt to fulfil his duty in that respect, attempted to collect information as to what firms could do under all sorts of difficult circumstances, but the replies he has received from firms and groups of industries must obviously depend on whether the teams of skilled key men are kept together in those industries or not. It is no use giving an undertaking to supply this, that or the other, or making estimates of what you can supply based on having in your employment teams of specialists and skilled men, if, when the time comes those specialists are not there.
What did the Minister do lately to help to maintain those teams of specialists when his colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer attacked the manufacture of highly specialised and most efficient motor cars by firms which had been encouraged by his Department so to do specifically in order that those teams of highly skilled men should be kept on? What part did he play in the attack made by the Chancellor on these teams of 1673 specialists, for that in effect was the result of the double Purchase Tax put on the high precision motor car costing more than £1,000? It seems to me that his Department put up a very poor show; seeing that he and his Department are responsible for making preparation for all sorts of eventualities, it seems rather odd that the attack made by the Chancellor was allowed to go by without the Minister of Supply or his Parliamentary Secretary being present during that Debate. I sat throughout it and I do not think they showed their faces there at all. I do not think that gives industry in this country the sense of confidence in the Minister and his Department that they should have if they are to do the job properly. That is not leadership. That is not what the hon. Member for Oldham was asking for. I do not think that will be seen so long the Front Bench is occupied by the right hon. Gentlemen who sit there now.
On the whole, I have been horrified by the words used by the Minister this afternoon. He gave a courteous and long explanation and met our questions as far as he could, which was not very far. But there was that sense of a lack of urgency which seems to travel and whole way through His Majesty's Government, no drive, no sense of initiative, no sense of emergency, or urgency. As long as that feeling exists, this country will continue to be in a very difficult position.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Hobson (Wembley, North)
I fully appreciated the length of the Minister's speech, and I am sure we were all very interested in his description of the various ramifications of his Department. But, like other hon. Members who have spoken, I was appalled and shocked at the complacency contained therein. There was a certain degree of pride which was quite rightly expressed in regard to research work in the realm of aviation, and a reasonable case was stated in regard to the change over in the Royal Ordnance Factories. But, when it came to certain crying necessities, he glossed over them very smoothly. I refer particularly to the shortage of electrical power plant and allocations of steel. The shortage of power in my submission is far graver than the shortage of fuel. I believe the shortage of fuel will be solved in a couple of years' time, but that will not be so in the case of the shortage of power. The power needs in Britain today are at least 1674 1,725,000 kilowatts, or the equivalent of 15 medium power stations.
That is a tremendous task. But it is no new position; it has not been sprung on us overnight. The right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) was well aware of the position as far back as 1943, but obviously in the height of hostilities he could not give power equipment top priority. There were other things that had to come first, and I would be the last to make debating points in attacking him on that score. But the making of generating plants is in the hands of private enterprise. It is true that under the new Bill the Government seek to take power to make generating sets. What I am particularly concerned about—and here is a direct responsibility of the Minister of Supply—is the allocation of steel, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, to the industries and firms engaged in the making of generating plant. There I think we can quite rightly attack him.
A question was asked in the House last week about the total number of generating sets erected in Britain during the last 12 months. The answer given was eight, which is a lamentable performance. It means less than one set for each firm capable of making generating sets in Britain. Is anyone satisfied with that situation? If there is no improvement in eight years' time, we shall still be shedding the load. I am convinced that while the Government and the Cabinet have given a directive that generating plant must have top priority, that directive has not been carried down sufficiently low. Engineering firms concerned in making generating sets are experiencing great difficulty in getting steel, and this is causing a tremendous number of bottlenecks. We do not know what the right hon. Gentleman's Department is doing. We were certainly not told in his long speech, and I shall be very interested to hear the reply by the Parliamentary Secretary. The fact is that firms making this essential plant who are dependent upon the Ministry of Supply for raw materials are held up at the moment, and that situation is not good enough.
Reference has been made by previous speakers to red-tape. I want to know if it is necessary for a large firm—after all, these are reputable firms who make these large generating sets—to have a permit for floor space allocation? I was told 1675 there was to be a certain degree of standardisation, and that it is not so much in standardisation of pressures, but of design. If that is so, we should get a certain degree of increased production. I hope everything is being done to ensure that they get the supplies of steel.
We were told that in order to economise on fuel there were to be large-scale conversions of boilers burning solid fuel to oil fuel consumption. What is the position, how many boilers have been converted in generating stations? Up to April there had not been a single boiler converted to oil fuel in any station of the Central Electricity Board. There has been a tremendous waste of time because boilers which have been steaming and providing the energy could not steam up because they were waiting for parts for conversion. If the Ministry of Supply, or firms who supply the parts, have not metals, I say the whole of that policy should be reversed. I never liked it, and I thought it a foolish decision. But the decision having been taken, it is the prime duty of the Ministry of Supply to ensure that they get the necessary equipment.
We hear a lot of talk about plans for exports and imports, but we shall not be able to increase exports if we have to continue shedding the load, and the only persons who can avoid that are those responsible for getting the supplies. The steel position is not too bad. A few moments ago I looked up the Statistical Digest. I expect that we shall be told that the reason for shortage of steam turbines particularly is the shortage of steel castings. I took the trouble to look up the figures and found that production last year was 3.7 millions, which was an improvement on the previous year. I am convinced that there is something wrong, in the machinery of that Department which is not giving these firms the priority they desire.
I wish to say a word about other sections of heavy industry. Wagons have been mentioned, and they are a prime need. In point of fact it would be interesting to know, and worth while spending some time in finding out, to what extent last February's fuel crisis was due primarily to the shortage of wagons, because many pits, even last summer, were lying idle because of shortage of wagons. Not only were they short of 1676 timber, but they were short of axles and tyres for the wheels. I do not think everything possible has been done there. That also applies to shipbuilding, which is enjoying prosperity at present, but is not going full blast. It is having to go fairly easily because of the shortage of the allocation of steel plate. I know that it is difficult for the Ministry, and I appreciate all the difficulties, and I would not like to be the person who has to make decisions, but something must be done about this question of the allocation of steel plate. The export of motor cars at the present level will not be permanent, but we have always been able to make ships, and for many years ahead there will always be a market for ships. Therefore, I plead that everything shall be done by this Ministry to ensure that the heavy engineering industry of Britain gets a better and fairer allocation of steel.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
I am glad that this Supply Day has proved to be a useful debating day, for criticism has flowed freely from both sides of the Committee. I do not wish to be entirely critical in what I have to say. I was interested in what my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) told us about the copper situation. I understand that owing to the bulk purchasing of copper by the Government, the price has been run up to the almost fantastic figure of £137 a ton. My right hon. Friend asked how much copper the Government have got on their hands at the present time. That may be a slightly unfair question. They may not want to give their hand away completely. Now that the price of copper has settled down a little, and the market is finding its own feet, there is quite a big loss on the copper transactions of the Government. That loss will presumably be paid for by the consumer, who will have to pay a price equivalent to that which was paid by the Government. I want to make sure about what happens when the Government makes a profit. Is it handed on to the consumer, or do the Government pocket the profit themselves? Is it a case of "Heads I win, tails you lose"? I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply, will give us some assurance on that point.
It is right to have a Ministry of Supply in wartime, when matters are urgent and serious, but we are beginning to wonder 1677 if it is wise to have one in peacetime conditions. The Government stand to be shot at from all sides. They buy these minerals at peak prices—the Government buyer is seen coming from a long way off—but they fail to buy the feedingstuffs to keep our livestock going, they fail to buy the timber to build the houses, and yet they have a big surplus of cars rotting away in the Ministry of Supply car dumps. That leads the people to believe that the Government are not doing the job efficiently, and the people also think that the Government do not get a good bargain, because if the Government lose over a bargain, then the taxpayer has to foot the bill, but if a private person buys he does it for himself, and he has to take the consequences, so one may be sure that he does his utmost to get a good bargain.
I was horrified to hear the Minister say that out of the total number of Royal Ordnance factories, six were producing such ordinary and everyday things as railway sleepers, electrical components of every kind and sort, mining apparatus, wagons for railways, concrete in various forms, and even laundry machines. I would like to make sure that those laundry machines are not being exported, because I am told that at the same time we are importing laundry machinery from America, and using up valuable dollars, and are exporting our own machinery, and getting only francs in return. If that is not true, I am sure that the Committee will be pleased to hear it stated.
It strikes me that the whole of the speech we heard from the Minister was one vast backdoor nationalisation plan; all these industries, which should be run by private enterprise, are, in fact, being run by the Government. If the Ministry is doing this with six Ordnance factories, cannot those factories be disposed of, cannot they be put up for auction, or some arrangement made to get them into the hands of private people, who will run them efficiently, rather than let the public see them run by the Government without our even getting the accounts for which we are crying out? Even Socialists at the present time are complaining about the delay of Government Departments. Sometimes it is days, weeks and even months before we can get anything out of them. Every Government Department we have will make those delays even a little longer than they are already. If we cannot 1678 abolish the Ministry of Supply, surely we can reduce it by getting rid of some of these factories and letting private enterprise run them, and run them efficiently. The Services should be able to look after themselves; at least the Admiralty are doing so perfectly capably, and I suggest that the other two Services should have a great deal handed back to them, instead of it being done by the Ministry of Supply. I am afraid that we shall never get a Ministry of Supply and Demand, so the sooner we return to the law of supply and demand, the sooner this country will benefit.
§ 7.37 P.m.
§ Mr. Bramall (Bexley)
I am surprised that it is necessary, in a Debate of this kind, in this year of grace, 1947, only eight years after 1939, to have to join issue with an hon. Member, even on the other side of the Committee, on the subject of whether we need a Ministry of Supply. I did a certain amount of research, immediately before the war, into this subject of the need for a Ministry of Supply. I do not want to go into details today, but I remember very vividly the urgent pressure brought to bear by people of every sort of political opinion and of every sort of economic and industrial experience upon the Government of the t day, to which they eventually succumbed, and instituted this Ministry, because it was impossible to prepare ourselves for war if we did not have a Ministry of this type. I desire, in general, to take up the matter raised by one of the original questions of the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), in opening this Debate, namely, the participation in civilian production of Ordnance factories run by the Ministry of Supply. I think that the need to answer any point which he made in that direction was completely disposed of by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), when he pointed I out that, from the point of view of the main function of the Ministry of Supply, which is to be prepared to equip our Services for war, it is absolutely vital to have an organisation functioning efficiently in peacetime, keeping itself up to date, keeping its supply of manpower, keeping its services generally working. I think the argument of the hon. Member for Abingdon was a conclusive answer.
I wish to add another point of view to that, a point of view not of those people 1679 who are interested in disposing of the competition which the Ordnance factories may provide to private industry, but the point of view of the workers who work in those factories, a very large number of whom, who work in Woolwich Arsenal, are my constituents. They are, naturally, glad to see that the Government are following out a policy of using these factories for civilian supply purposes, but what frightens them is the half-hearted way in which the Ministry of Supply are doing the job. What appals them is the fact that while they are continually faced with the slogan "Work or Want." and while they are called upon in eloquent speeches, such as that which we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale), to have a sense of urgency, they know that it is not possible to have a sense of urgency inside a Royal Ordnance factory, because there is no apparent desire to get work going in these factories. The whole atmosphere inside an Ordnance factory, such as Woolwich Arsenal, is that it must just be kept "ticking over," that it must just have a sufficient amount of work for operations to be carried on, but not sufficient work to arouse any discontent in industry outside, which might think that the Ordnance factory was operating in competition.
The hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams) surprised me by reciting a catalogue of commodities which he called "ordinary things." Apparently, he did not think that Ordnance factories should produce anything but extraordinary things. In his catalogue he quoted mining machinery. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, since his Department is responsible for finding the productive capacity for the manufacture of mining machinery, will make it clear that the problem today is not whether "A" or "B" should manufacture this machinery, but of finding every bit of productive capacity that can be found to manufacture it. Workers in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich have been continually pressing, through their joint production machinery, against a very unwilling Ministry, to be allowed to bring their establishment into full production. I am not urging for one minute—because I think it would be against the national interest—that any factory like that, in 1680 the London area, should have an unnecessarily large labour force. In the London area there is a great shortage of labour, and there are other areas where there is a surplus. The bulk of the work put into Ordnance factories should go to areas where there is a surplus of labour, but as we should keep operational staff going in peacetime, and factories working efficiently, our object should be to see that the staff and machinery in these factories are kept fully occupied.
That position cannot be said to apply in the Royal Arsenal today. The men there see wonderful productive apparatus being wasted; they see their own labour being wasted, and that causes cynicism when they are told to give their best in the country's production effort. They have pressed to be allowed to manufacture mining machinery, but they have been told that that cannot be done because the production of this machinery is a highly specialised job, that it has to be "tailor-made" to fit the coal seams in which it has to operate, and that it can be manufactured only by certain firms. Those in leading positions among the workers in that establishment have gone to the trouble of visiting mines, and interviewing mine managers, to find out whether the Royal Arsenal can do anything to assist the national production effort. They have established that a large quantity of this mining machinery, except for contact points which are in contact with the coal seams, can be produced by standard engineering equipment, such as is found in the Royal Arsenal. Further, they have established that what is needed in the manufacture of mining machinery today is standardisation, that we should not remain content with the unnecessary specialisation which is encouraged by firms who have manufactured certain types of this machinery in the past.
I urge on the Ministry to press on with that standardisation, and to be courageous in seeing that the manufacture of as much of this machinery as possible is carried out in Royal Ordnance factories. On this there should be no difference between the two sides of the Committee. It is not a question of manufacturing something which could otherwise be carried out by private firms. We cannot have enough of this machinery or the productive capacity for it. The 1681 crying need is to bring every part of our labour force which is capable of this work into production in factories which can play an important part in the manufacture of this machinery. Among those factories is the Royal Arsenal. What disturbs the workers in these Ordnance factories, and what indicates to them that the Government are half-hearted in taking work to those factories, is that they appear to be doing sub-contracting jobs. Instead of getting the big jobs, and keeping the productive capacity fully occupied, they are having to take on the bits and pieces left over by private enterprise. Often these small jobs are uneconomical. In the Royal Arsenal, where they are carrying out one type of process on machinery, most of the work takes place beforehand in Motherwell. It is then brought to Woolwich to be further processed, and is then transported away at great extra cost. Instead of doing that it would be better if the Royal Arsenal were given contracts which could he followed through.
If the Ministry accept this point of view, they must be prepared to stand up to the criticism which is coming from the other side of the Committee and to defend the principle that we should use this great productive capacity for producing things which the country needs today. These factories were set up to produce the machines which were vital to us in the winning of the war. Why should we now be ashamed, as if it were in a hole and corner fashion, of producing machinery, instruments, and consumer goods that are every bit as vital today in the winning of the peace?
§ 7.49 P.m.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
I wish to apologise for not having been here for the whole of the speech of the Minister of Supply. I think this Debate is much more satisfactory than many of those which we have had for a long time. At last there is a feeling of urgency in this House. The people of the country have been expecting it for some time. They have said, "When are you Members of Parliament going to get down to the jobs and deal with them as we expect them to be dealt with?" Without scoring party points, it is true to say that that feeling of urgency is here and that hon. Members are making con- 1682 tributions which will be appreciated by the people.
When the war came to a close, I felt that there was a necessity for the Ministry of Supply to continue for a limited period and to carry on its functions in the transition stage from war to peace. However, I expected that there would be a gradual slowing down of the recruitment of personnel and that within two years it would be a much smaller Ministry. That has not happened. Instead, the Ministry has grown steadily. It is the duty of any Ministry in these days to set an example to industry and to show them where real economies can be effected. Much of the work of the Ministry of Supply, if not all of it, could be carried out by other Ministries. One of my hon. and gallant Friends has already said that the Navy carries out orders and follows through contracts without any assistance from this Ministry. If the Navy can do that, why cannot the Air Force and the Army do it, at least to some extent? Eight or nine years before the war the Air Force brought out a specification for the eight-gun fighter. That was in 1931. They were looking ahead in the development section at the Air Ministry. Admittedly, the machines were not produced in great numbers. At that time the country apparently did not want aeroplanes in great numbers. Nevertheless, the experts employed by the Government looked ahead and when the Battle of Britain came, the right aeroplanes were there to win the victory. If the Air Ministry was capable of doing the job then, surely it is capable of doing it today. That would mean a saving of a considerable sum of the taxpayers' money.
Then there is the question of die three air corporations, British Overseas Airways, British European Airways and British South American Airways. They are faced with endless difficulties. I realise the difficulty of getting the right equipment to operate the routes. They have not got the right equipment and the result is that they are making huge losses. I do not know the exact figures, but I am told we shall be informed in November. The Ministry of Supply could release some of their personnel who deal with technical matters so that they could be placed in these corporations. These 1683 experts could go direct to the factories, work out their specifications, and follow the contracts through instead of the matter having to go through an intermediate body at the Ministry of Supply. I have been told time after time by manufacturers that the men at the Ministry want to be helpful but they need to justify themselves. They sit round the conference table working out specifications and the result is that there are continuous delays. In the last 18 months, we have heard on at least four occasions that the delivery of several types of aircraft have been delayed. I appreciate that there are many factors which have contributed to the delay. There always are delays because designers never keep their word on a delivery date. Nevertheless, I think much of the delay can be attributed to the Ministry of Supply. I beg of the Minister to hand over some of his control to the corporations, to transfer some of his staff and allow them to deal directly with the manufacturers. More efficiency would be brought about in that way, and we should get better aeroplanes on the world's airways.
I heard not long ago that the Ministry of Supply was even working out a specification for charter aircraft. Surely, the few of us who are trying to make a living out of charter aeroplanes should be allowed to work out our own specifications. I think we know better than the Ministry what we require. I note that the Parliamentary Secretary dissents. I can only say that the British Air Charter Association published a "round robin" letter to all operators saying that this was being done. I do not suppose that they made up this story. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will check up on it. I am told that in breaking down ex-bombers like the Halifax and others, men take a chopper and the thing is broken to bits, though probably it may only have flown once. A considerable waste takes place. We know that many Halifaxes are flying freight, fruit and other goods, throughout Africa and between here and Australia. If aircraft of this type are being broken down, valuable spare parts will not be available when they are required in perhaps one or two years time, because the type is not being built now. This is a case of throwing money away. I implore the Minister to look into this matter most carefully and to see that these 1684 aircraft are carefully dismantled and stored so that the spares can be sold to the operators at a reasonable price.
The Ministry of Supply covers a most enormous field from jet turbines, right across the electronic field, atomic bombs, housing components and mining machinery to oil-burning plants. I do not think that any one Ministry is capable of dealing with these various subjects. With all the brains that one can get under one roof—I suppose, in this case, it would be several roofs—it will not work. It is far better to disperse and decentralise. An hon. Gentleman opposite does not appear to agree but, for what it is worth, that is my opinion. Much has been said about the disposal of surplus equipment.
I do not altogether agree with one or two of my hon. Friends who have been critical on that point. I think that the work is being done fairly but that more could have been done for ex-Service men. My criticism is that the whole procedure is slow. The way in which the equipment is sold is quite fair, but the procedure should be speeded up. That would bring in revenue and help to get the wheels turning. This applies particularly in Germany where we have 14 or 15 miles of parked motor vehicles. When the time comes for them to be moved, they will be useless to anybody. We are paying some £100 million a year to prop up Germany. We can ill afford that money, much of which is in dollars. Why not release these vehicles to the Germans and Austrians in great numbers if they have the fuel to use them. That would help the economy of Germany and save money for the British taxpayer.
I also wish to refer to jet turbines. I asked a Question in the House recently regarding Sir Roy Fedden's factory in Gloucestershire. I wanted to know why the contract for low power turbines had been dropped. I was told that it was for economy reasons and because it was not thought that there was any real reason for going on with the work. The one market in which we have scored a tremendous success since the end of the war is that in jet turbines. They are bringing in dollars from America, Swiss francs and currency from Sweden. When a sum of, I believe, nearly £500,000 has been spent on this project, why should it be cancelled when, in a matter of only a few 1685 months, this particular type of turbine would be running? The organisation is on the spot. There is a marvellous team of 60 or 70 men unequalled in the country. The result of this action is that the team will he broken up and dispersed. It is regrettable that the contract should have been cancelled at this stage. I imagine that it is too late to carry on with the plan but I hope that the work of Sir Roy Fedden can be taken on by another organisation.
We all agree that the country is in for a most difficult time. This afternoon, I was present at a meeting of a company in which I am interested. With the heads of departments and the junior members of the staff we discussed how we could bring about economies in the next 12 months. We did that because we can see the red light in our small company. It was agreed by all that economies should be made. As a result, I think we shall be more efficient. In my view, the time is coining when Government Departments must consider this matter. Unless Le is prepared to set an example and tackle this problem in the way in which it should be tackled, I think that the Minister of Supply ought to resign. There are corn-potent back benchers on the opposite side of the Committee who could do the job better. We have heard a speech today from the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale). It was a most effective contribution. I do not think that he was scoring points from a party angle. I admired the courage of that speech which showed that the hon. Member sensed the situation. I know that it would be out of Order to go into it and I do not propose to follow that particular line. I will content myself by saying that there are men with brains who would be prepared to take the risk of being criticised by their own party and who would bring about real economy. The country expects it, and, if the Ministers do not do it willingly now, it will he forced on them in a matter of a few months. I therefore beg of them to see that they put their own house in order.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Burslem)
The Minister said this afternoon that there were, during the war, some 40 Royal Ordnance factories in this country, and he went on to say that the problem which confronted the Government was what was 1686 to become of these factories and how many were to be closed? He told us that there were some 20 Royal Ordnance factories remaining, and he said that the main function and prime duty of his Ministry was that of furnishing supplies of equipment and doing development work for the fighting Services. I want to ask whether he is quite satisfied that this decision to retain 20 Ordnance factories is the right policy, having regard to the duties which they are supposed to perform and in regard to the contribution which they can make to his Ministry. I rather doubt it myself, because, as the Minister went on to say, the idea is to keep a nucleus of staff engaged in research work, watching scientific development in all these factories, and, at the same time, using the factories as best he could in the production of the commodity goods we want. My right hon. Friend outlined a long list of civilian commodities which we are producing today, and went on to say that, judged on a purely commercial basis, of course, the production could not be justified. since the main function of the Ordnance factories was to keep abreast of developments in Services requirements and so on
I think that we need to ask ourselves whether it would not he better to concentrate the experimental work in a smaller area, rather than having it spread over 20 factories in this way. If that policy is to be maintained, we need to have all kinds of people on the establishment—policemen, caretakers and so on—and we have to maintain a certain number of staff, who, I think, in these days, are more of a luxury. I fear that we may be thinking too much of what happened in the organisation of the last war, but we have to recognise that the whole setup, should there, unfortunately, be a conflagration in the future, will be or may be of a totally different character.
I think that, with the technological developments, and the progress, if it is progress, of atomic energy, we may require something very different, and the simple question that I want to ask is whether we could not concentrate our resources and study the requirements of the Services in an area more concentrated than we have at the moment, when we have these 20 huge factories in different parts of tae country? I know that there are strategic reasons in this matter, and that prodsc- 1687 tion is spread right throughout the country on the grounds of security, and I agree that there is much to be said for it, but I am wondering whether we can afford this luxury, and whether we should go on for an indefinite period preparing against an undefined enemy, whoever it is going to be, in maintaining this great war potential. [Interruption.] Well, what are the countries which we have in mind in maintaining that war potential? There is no difference between the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) and myself. We are both concerned that there should be, at this time in our history, any prospect or danger of war, and I am sure that my hon. Friend regards it as just as abhorrent as most hon. Members in all parts of the Committee.
If I might be allowed to mention it, what I would like to see is the removal of the suspicion and the kind of fear which requires us to keep in being these Ordnance factories and other military or semi-military establishments, because of that danger. I am sure that the ordinary people in the country have no desire to squander their hard-earned money on these places all over the country. I am not saying that the Government have made a mistake; all I am asking is that they should make quite sure that this is the right kind of policy to pursue. I would not myself go so far as to say that we could keep these 20 Ordnance factories going indefinitely. The right hon. Gentleman has been at some pains today to tell us something about the building of new factories for the development of atomic energy and so on. I should have thought that that is the best kind of development, because we shall have to discard some of our old ideas, and, certainly, if that is so, we should review from time to time the set-up as we now find it.
I am glad that we are devoting our energies to the production of civilian commodities from some of these Ordnance factories, but I think we ought to be assured that there are sufficient checks exercised by the Ministry to ensure that there is efficient and economic production of these goods. It is clearly a difficult position if, in one part of a factory, there is research going on in respect of war potential, and, in another part, some embryonic scheme which, at some distant 1688 date, is going to produce more civilian commodity goods. If there is anything in my proposal that we should shut down some of these factories and concentrate our interests, we might, as has been suggested, be able to release some of the factories to be used by private firms or by the Government itself for the production of purely civilian commodities, without maintaining all these overhead people. I think it would be better to consider whether we could not put out some of these premises for civilian goods production, or we might agree to loan or lease them over a period of years on terms which will enable us to get hold of them again in a condition of emergency. I do not think that this condition of emergency is likely to arise in a measureable period of time, and I should be prepared to chance my hand and turn over now almost completely to civilian production. I hope the Government will take account of that view.
It has been brought to my notice that in some of the factories, there are machines which have for too long been idle, and that there is too much equipment which is wanted by manufacturers. I have been told by employees in one of these factories, and they are well-wishers of the Government, that they are alarmed at the slow way in which some of the stuff is disposed of. So far as equipment is concerned, and the surplus from the Services, I gather that the Ministry of Supply is responsible. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) said that, on the whole, this job had been well handled, and that there had been fairness and equity in the disposal of Service equipment, and so on; but he went on to say that he was not satisfied with the rate at which some of this equipment had been disposed of.
It is very easy to be critical, but, as we travel about the country, we realise that the public get anxious when they see huge dumps of machinery here and there which appear not to have turned a wheel for months. I have one particular dump in mind where there are thousands of apparently good vehicles, motorcars, lorries, and so on, which, to the ordinary observer, do not appear to have been moved for long periods of time. It may be, of course, that there is a constant incoming and outflow of equipment, and that what seems to be the same equipment 1689 is quite different equipment. If that is the position, I hope that whoever is going to reply tonight will make it quite clear.
On the whole, I think that the Ministry of Supply are to be congratulated on the work they are doing. However, it would not do if the Government received only congratulation from this side of the House. Therefore, I think that some of the points which have exercised our minds for so long should be brought to the notice of the Ministers in a critical, though friendly and constructive way today, and I hope that our position in the matter will he clearly understood. We recognise that the Minister has a very difficult job to perform, and that he is doing it well, but we would like a little more expedition in regard to some of the matters to which I have referred, and to have the question of the Ordnance factories examined from time to time.
With regard to staff relations in the Ordnance factories, is the Minister quite satisfied that the employees have access to the management, so that they can make their suggestions and complaints direct? Are we quite satisfied that this consultative, machinery exists, which makes all the difference between having a satisfied staff, who feel that they have an interest in the undertaking, and a dissatisfied staff who feel that they are being frustrated. I have heard that it is sometimes difficult for the employees to put forward a point of view in the proper quarter. I hope that the Minister will take account of that point tonight, because we feel that it would be a grand thing if, in the interests of peace, we could get the same spirit engendered as that which existed during the war, when the country was up against it.
I congratulate the Government on entering fields which had previously been the sole interest of private undertakings, and on producing civilian commodities to make life more pleasant instead of producing weapons with which to destroy life. We want our people to display the same enthusiasm in producing peacetime goods as they displayed when building implements of war. If the Government give that kind of encouragement in the factories, and if the people see that equipment is being fully employed, or, where if- is not wanted, is being disposed of, and that the factories are being sensibly utilised as part of a coherent policy, and not merely being held in reserve as a very expensive luxury, costing the country 1690 £100 million, as a war potential, they will have done a good job, and the people will back them up.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)
I do not intend to follow the speeches which have been made largely on the subject of the Royal Ordnance factories except to make one remark. There is one of these Ordnance factories quite near the constituency which I represent, and a good many of the workers live in my constituency. One of the reasons why we are not getting the best out of those factories is because those who work in them feel that they have no security of tenure. They do not know what the future holds for them. That arises from the simple fact that the Government, as yet, have no policy regarding the final use of those factories. They have not yet made up their minds whether to retain them for purposes of scientific development, or for producing a mass of goods in competition with private enterprise; and, so long is there is no such policy, the Ordnance factories will not attract people to work in them who are looking for their life careers. At present they are very largely being manned and worked by people who are taking a short-term view of industry, and trying to earn the maximum wage, which is quite natural and correct, but who have not got in them the spirit, which the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) was so eloquently trying to evoke, of recreating industry on a new basis. I ask the Minister in no contentious spirit, to try to make up his mind sooner or later what is the final destination of the Ordnance factories, and, if necessary, to allocate some of them for atomic energy purposes, return some to private industry, and use others for Government industrial purposes. Until the mind of the Government is solidified on this point, we shall not get the best out of these factories.
I shall break the tradition of this Debate and return to the matter of tie Ministry of Supply and its expenditure. It seems to me that our discussion has erred and strayed over a very wide field. Before I do so I am going to make a plea to the Minister. One of the new phrases which has come into being in recent years —and most of them are not very grammatical or attractive—is "the Ministerial level." That is a sort of stratosphere to 1691 which people are elevated, are shot up in a lift to the £5,000 a year floor from the £1,000 floor, and where they have a very great tendency to lose the common touch. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) pointed out, the Minister in his previous, and possibly his most useful incarnation, was the watchdog of the expenditure of public money in private companies. Now he has been lifted to this new level, and it seems to me that there is reason to fear that he is losing the very valuable point of view that he had before. I was a member of the Committee which worked on the Companies Bill, and everybody there paid a considerable tribute to the work that he had done, a good deal of which was the basis for what we did upstairs. I am going to ask him to step down from the Ministerial level, and to examine with me some of the activities of his Department.
I would like, first, to examine the question of bulk purchases. I wish the Minister of Food, who was present some time ago, had remained here to hear some of my observations, because in the food Debate the other day he "got away with murder." He produced arguments which, unfortunately, were never refuted during that Debate. On this question of bulk purchases, I would like to turn to the Civil Estimates and to refer to page 27 where all the bulk purchase items, with which the Minister has to deal, are enumerated. This note appears:The above figures represent mainly the difference between the selling price of materials and the cost to the Ministry. They also reflect changes in the level of stocks.I could paraphrase that note by saying;These figures are neatly camouflaged so that one cannot tell whether there is a trading loss or whether there is a change in amount because we have got rid of some of the stock.In his previous incarnation, if a board of directors had dared to put a note like that at the bottom of their balance sheet, the Minister would have been rubicund with indignation. His voice would have been heard through the land pointing out the wickedness of directors in not telling their shareholders plainly in language they could comprehend what they had done with their affairs during the year. I regard this as a disgraceful thing because the public, the shareholders in this instance, 1692 cannot possibly tell how their Government have administered or maladministered their affairs during the year. I think committees that have to deal with public accounts should take note of it, and ask Ministers how they have managed the public's affairs, in presenting the accounts to the shareholders.
A little while ago the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry was responsible for rubber. There is a cracking loss on the Government's stocks of rubber at the present moment. By, stroke of good fortune the right hon. Gentleman has transferred an extremely unfortunate amount of rubber, on which there was a loss of £30 to £40 a ton, to his right hon. and learned Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, so I cannot within the Rules of Order discuss it here. But I should like to point out this to him, and to reinforce the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot. Bulk purchase is in itself a wrong, and I think, a rather offensive phrase, for it should be called a government-to-government purchase. When the right hon. Gentleman is undertaking it, I think he should bear the following points in mind—that almost the same rules with regard to purchases between ordinary individuals or companies should apply to these; that there is risk in bulk purchases in many instances—and I am not going to be doctrinaire and say they have always been wrong and are always bad—but in this field the level of morality in dealing is not the same between the parties.
In the British Empire, in dealing in non-ferrous metals or anything else, we are on a safe wicket, because the other party has the same level of morality as we have, but that is not so in dealing with countries mostly not within the Empire. It has resulted in big losses in dealings with countries outside the Empire. One of the great dangers in making these contracts—and we have had instances in connection with the Argentine, Ceylon, Siam, with many other countries—is that they do not intend to keep the contracts longer during currency stringency. They are always seeking the whole time—and there have been questions in the House in the last few days—for some "smart Alec" method of getting out of it.
But the Government are so naive that they think that everyone is going to carry out their contracts as fairly as the British would. I can show them a good many 1693 instances of that. The Government know themselves in this matter that during periods of scarcity in any commodity the Government must retain control and use it in a greater or less degree, having advisers inside the Ministry, or firms outside or companies as agents, during periods of scarcity to act as buyers and distributors. The danger is the end period of scarcity. When the period of scarcity is over, there comes a period of surplus, and that always comes in spite of the Canute-like attitude of the present Government in this matter, and their belief that what they say will reverse the tides. They go on with their bulk purchases, which are admittedly necessary during shortages, and they go on too long until a range of stocks is left on their hands on which there is a loss as the market declines; and then they have to go cap in hand to the headmaster's office in the Treasury, and they know what is going to happen when they get there, and, like everyone else who has been in that unfortunate position, they put off the visit as long as they can.
I believe that if these accounts were carefully examined it would be found that most of the losses which will have to be written off next year, and which are now being written off, arise from the tendency, which all Government Departments have, to go on too long because one routine is established, and it is known that when the committee meets on Tuesday morning Mr. A, Mr. B, Mr. C and Mr. D will be there. The routine is there practically in perpetuity, and the Minister must make a little note and go over all his bulk purchasing activities. I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman getting his pen out to look into it.
The next point is that of scientific research. I listened very carefully to the Minister on this aspect, and I can see a really grave danger. The danger lies in regarding scientific research as something in the nature of a higher civil servant who may one day perform a remarkable conjuring trick to get us out of a difficulty, by producing some new weapons, or some remarkable practical result out of a hat at any given moment. Scientific research must not be looked at from the point of view of the practical results at any given time. That is the unscientific way of regarding its use. There is no better example which I can quote than 1694 one from America, of the great firm of General Motors who, throughout the whole of their worst periods of slump, maintained a scientific research department, with 650 scientific research employees under one roof when the firm was doing extremely badly.
What was the result? The result of taking that correct view of scientific research was to produce some of the greatest inventions, which were not directly connected with motors. Ethyl petrol vas discovered in those laboratories; knee-action springing, and all sorts of other remarkable things resulted. That was only because that great firm knew that scientific research must not be regarded as a maker of hats out of which rabbits might come at any moment, but as a purely research institution out of which, in the ordinary course of time, much may result, if there are enough people carrying on the hard grind of day-to-day research and experiment, and not just the flash of Hollywood inspiration, which people imagine it to be. If that is done, if research is carried out correctly, and if the Minister resists the pressure of those who want to get quick dividends out of it, he will get bigger and more dividends in the end, and will help to direct this country and the world through some of the dangers which surround us.
I now turn to something with which I think the Minister will agree. This is the Ministry of the seven veils, and I am drawing them aside one by one. Whether we shall like what we see underneath I would not like to say. It is also a "Topsy" Ministry, which grows on a sort of political form of artificial insemination. In any case, it is a difficult Ministry to explain. Only this week I asked the Minister a Question, namely, what was the average wage of the pool drivers—the male drivers, not the female drivers—in London. They are the drivers who are in charge of the motor cars which have the high honour of transporting Minister high officials, and various other people round London. I do not wish the Committee to think that I am trying to score a silly point, by suggesting that Ministers should ride about on bicycles in these hard times—although possibly the film rights of that might get us a few dollars. I am looking at it mach more from a really important point of view. The answer the Minister gave me was that the average wage was 1695 £9 13s. per week, taking overtime into account.
That is a really appalling figure, and I say to the Minister that he must put on his shareholder protection spectacles and look at this, which must be one of the cushiest of jobs. The Minister appears to be doubtful, so perhaps I ought to explain why it is cushy. It is one of the cushiest jobs which any ordinary driver would take on for £6 or £7 a week. Yet the pool drivers receive £9 13s. per week; that is very largely overtime at about 3s. 9d. an hour. I assure the Minister that if he looks into this thoroughly, he will find out surprising things about it. I have been to two of the new garages in which these cars are housed. and I advise all hon. Members to go there too. The Minister will undoubtedly give them a permit, because he does not want to hide anything. If the Minister looks into this, he will, I think, find out for himself the things that are going on; the little pools of drivers who pay for an empty garage out of their own pockets, and push these officials' cars into these garages when they have to wait three or four hours for a Minister or official, and charge overtime. The Minister will find that this figure of £9 13s. is a very dangerous one.
We have been debating, in the rather indeterminate period when night and day merged into each other, the question of transport. It is obvious that a very large number of drivers will be needed for the movement of goods in industry. What is to be the result when they know their average wage, and learn that the other chap who is transporting officials and Ministers in London is receiving £9 13s.? I think that I am doing the Minister a service in pointing this out to him at the present moment, and I feel that Members on all sides of the Committee are justified in asking about this very large figure in connection with transport, which appears in this disregarded document no one has referred to, namely, "Transport Charges by road, £4,421,000." The reply to my question does really call for a good deal of investigation, for it is most inflationary. If we are to set the remuneration of the driver at something like a tenner a week, the Minister would be entitled to queue up and ask that his own salary be raised from £5,000 to £10,000 a year.
1696 I wish to mention something to the Minister, which I believe he knows about. It concerns his allocations. He talked a lot about allocations today, and there was a mention of steel. I want to put in a short plea for those manufacturers of extremely large machinery, like paper-making machinery, which manufacture only five or six machines a year, mostly for overseas, at a cost of £200,000 or £300,000 each. If they do not know what their steel allocation is to be several quarters ahead, they are not in the same position as the man who is making repetition articles, who can cut down his production. They find that their work is more or less brought to a complete standstill. It means that the most highly skilled specialists are put on such ridiculous jobs as cleaning up. We had a bad dose of that in the recent fuel crisis. Not only when there are small steel allocations, but when there is uncertainty of steel allocations, which is even more serious, is this wastage brought about of some of the best and most skilled labour in the country. It means that a great disservice is being done, and that a considerable loss in hard currency results.
I ask the Minister to look over the men in his Ministry, like the 16 men whom the Minister of Food has to advise him—"Sixteen men on the dead man's chest." Incidentally, one of them told me the reason he was there was not the reason given by the Minister of Food, but to see that the Minister did not make too many mistakes, and that the civil servants did not do what they like doing best, which is nothing. I am going to ask the Minister most seriously to review the whole of the activities of his Ministry. I do not believe that by nature he is an expansionist whose secret ambition is to absorb the Board of Trade and a few other Ministries as well. I believe that the modest disappearance of his Ministry, on a progressive scale, which might result from certain examinations, would be the greatest feather in his cap. I do not say that political hara-kiri is a very palatable dish for all Ministers. Finally—and this is a question on which he must automatically agree with me—let him see that the presentation of the accounts of his Ministry are better, and that the public, which is a shareholder, has an adequate explanation of every item and that those items do truly represent the activities of 1697 the Ministry. If he will do that, we will let him off with a caution this time, in the hope that next year we may be able to reinstate him one degree higher.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Granville Sharp (Spen Valley)
I should not have taken part in this Debate but for the speech of the hon. Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). He was extremely critical about the Ministry of Supply and, in particular, about the way in which they were handling the disposal of machine tools. He quoted a number of questions which were made by me to a witness in the Select Committee on Estimates. He tried to make it appear that, as a result of those questions, the Committee came to the conclusion that the methods which were being used by the Ministry of Supply for disposing of machine tools was a bad method, and that it would have been far better if similar methods to those which had been used after the first world war had been used—methods which would have resulted in machine tools getting back quickly to industry, even if, in the process, large profits were made by the speculators who bought the machine tools at a low price and then sold them to industry at a high one.
I suggest that the inference made by the noble Lord was misleading. It was not the job of the Select Committee to go into the principle of the disposal of machine tools. They were really dealing with the question of the release of requisitioned accommodation, and we were concerned that the Ministry of Supply did not hold more accommodation than was required. We were also particularly concerned in seeing that the accommodation which was required for machine tools was being effectively used, and that machine tools were being got out as quickly as possible to industry. We did not go into the details of that, but we came to the general conclusion that the methods were sound and that machine tools were getting out to industry; and we also saw the many announcements made in the "Board of Trade Journal" and elsewhere, which brought the method of disposal quite clearly to the attention of industry.
I think it would be relevant if I quoted the conclusion of the Select Committee on this matter, so as to disprove entirely the view which might have been 1698 put over by the noble Lord that the Committee were critical of the Ministry in this respect. On page 19 the first Report fro -n the Select Committee on Estimates, states:It must also be recognised that the Ministry of Supply have special difficulties, in that they have to handle the surpluses of other Departments and to decide whether to scrap them or to sell them in their present state and, if so, how best to do it. Considerable space is, therefore, still required for storage.… Your Committee are able to report that, on the whole, the method and speed of release have been satisfactory.There is one other matter to which I wish to refer. It is not often that I agree with the views expressed in this House by the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), but he said in the opening speech in this Debate that it appeared to him that some of the functions which were rightly concerned with the Board of Trade somehow had got linked up with the Ministry of Supply, and that it was wrong that this function should be operated by the Ministry of Supply. I know of one case where the question of the allocation of card clothing arose. For the benefit of hon. Members who do not know the process involved in card clothing, I should say it is a type of wire brush. It may be a small or a big one which is used for making fine yarn out of a tangled mass. The allocation of that card clothing, as well as the card clothing machinery is made by the Ministry of Supply. That is the Department, therefore, which is really deciding what the textile industry and the carding tracks really require. So far as I can see, the only reason why they carry out that function is that they are in charge of the wire trade.
My criticism of the Ministry of Supply is based on the allocation of card clothing. It does not seem in the past to have been made in accordance with the need which our textile industrialists have for card clothing. The allocation appears to have been made on the basis of previous trade during a certain year or over a certain period of years. The President of the Board of Trade has said very clearly that he wishes to help the textile industry, and I hope my right hon. Friend will go into this question immediately with the President of the Board of Trade, as I believe he is doing at the 1699 present time, with a view to getting out a better basis of allocation and in particular seeing that the carpet trades, which use yarn for their requirements, are considered by a larger amount of card clothing being given than at the present time. Only 40 per cent. of our card clothing stops at home, and our textile manufacturers, who are short of card clothing, see it going abroad to help manufacturers in other countries. It may be said that we have got to have exports, but it is essential that we should see that those exports are as valuable as possible.
I can give an instance where the carpet trades are short of yarn with which to make carpets, which could be sent abroad, but that it is not possible for the simple reason that they cannot get the yarn from their carpet yarn manufacturer, and the trouble with the carpet yarn manufacturer is that he cannot get card clothing. I have a dossier of one manufacturer who has appealed year after year for increased allocations from the Ministry of Supply and has been told time and time again that he is getting his fair share. Unfortunately, even if it does mean that production will be less nothing can be done. I urge the Ministry of Supply to get on with the revision of the system of allocations of card clothing as quickly as possible and see that a larger share of card clothing is made available for the textile industries of this country.
§ 8.45 P.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Bucklow)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) posed the question whether the Ministry of Supply was really necessary. I must say that the reply given by the Minister was not very convincing and that subsequent speeches have indicated that there is general dissatisfaction with the Ministry. I feel certain that the Ministry of Supply cannot be satisfied with what has taken place here today. The Ministry was a wartime creation, and there was even some question as to its complete suitability for the tasks which it undertook. Certainly, in peace, no case has been made out for it. If the Minister can prove that the Royal Navy suffers serious disadvantage because it has not as many thousand officers as has the Ministry of Supply, or the same with the Royal Air Force, he might feel 1700 some justification for his Ministry, but he has not attempted to do so.
The greatest contribution which the Government can make at the present time to the welfare of the country is to cut out excessive expenditure. In no Ministry is that more possible than in this. In none, would the cutting out of expenditure bring more benefits. It would free for production purposes huge numbers of skilled people and technicians who are at present being held up in the Ministry. Take the present headquarters staffs. In 1944 there was a Ministry vote of £474 million. In 1947, it has a vote of £135 million. What is the difference between the headquarters staff now and then? The salaries of the headquarters staff are almost the same as they were in 1946. Why should that be? We know that it is peculiar to all great organisations that when the field work is over the old soldiers at headquarters still remain and only slowly fade away. There is no justification for this great staff at Shell Mex House, which might be described as a swollen bulwark of the Thames Embankment. What do these staffs do? They certainly telephone. The last item on the expenditure side shows that the Ministry spent £100,000 upon telephone calls.
I want to turn to the question of the Royal Ordnance factories. The Minister gave no indication, and I would like to know why there is an increase of £6 million-odd in the Vote for these factories? Why is there an increase of £13 million in the charge for transport? In this House and elsewhere we have no idea of what goes on in the Royal Ordnance factories. They are like concentration camps. They are guarded by huge wire fences. The people of this country have no more idea what goes on inside them than the people of Germany claimed they had of what went on inside their concentration camps. It is certain that the Royal Ordnance factories are working below capacity and that the skill, ingenuity and energy of men and women of ability are being wasted in their operation.
The only newspaper which has any information about these factories is the "Daily Worker." Possibly its experience behind the Eastern iron curtain has enabled it to evade the Wilmot variety successfully It is the only paper that has been inside these factories. We have 1701 had a statement made by the Minister that they produced only.£20 million worth of goods in 1946, and that of the total production, half was for civilian purposes. If only half of it was for military purposes surely the proper thing to do is to get rid of factories which are devoted to civilian purposes because they are not being run economically. They are making bits and pieces. They are adapting machinery. They are not working on a full and economic basis. Therefore, what ought to be done with those factories is to transfer them to some form of private enterprise.
What of the production at those factories at the present time? Have we heard anything from the Minister as to the economics of it? We are told that they are producing. Will the Parliamentary Secretary tell use how the costings are arrived at? Will he circulate for the benefit of hon. Members a sample costing of a civilian production in the Royal Ordnance factories? Will he tell us how much overheads is included in the cost and whether the overheads represented by the huge central organisation at Shell flex House are included? Will he tell us what the total make-up of a costing is so that we may have the opportunity of finding out whether the work is being conducted on an economic basis or otherwise? If we were to transfer a certain proportion, which might be half, of the existing Royal Ordnance factories to private hands, we should do a great deal of good for the country. We should avoid additional building. It is ridiculous that we are engaged in building additional factories when those Royal Ordnance factories are under-employed. It is undesirable that we should put upon this country any more inflationary pressure than we can avoid. Building of new premises, whether they be houses or factories at the present time, will put pressure upon our resources. By vacating those factories which the Ministry is unable to operate economically and successfully, the Government would do well and would assist the country.
Finally, I should like to deal rapidly with a few odd points. What has happened to the "Royal Ordnance Factory News"? I understood that it was about to he launched. Are the Government going to launch this new Government paper, in spite of all the difficulties of newsprint supply? It may be that this 1702 journal will not be required. I want to know what is to be done about it? There is the question of cars for disabled men. The Ministry are responsible for supplying these cars to the Ministry of Transport. All hon. Members have been disappoint-A at the results so far achieved. I made an inquiry the other day at the Ministry of Supply. I found that reconditioned cars were not being supplied exclusively to disabled men but were being supplying to Government Departments and to Government sponsored corporations. There should be a reversal of that policy. More than 2,500 cars suitable for disabled men have been supplied to other recipients in the past 12 months. That number is two and a half times what would be required to wipe out all the arrears of disabled men seeking cars. People travelling for the Government may have urgent need, but I am certain that their need is not so urgent as that of the disabled man who needs a car in order to take up his livelihood. Hundreds of such men are sitting in their homes unable to do any useful job because they are denied a car. It is about time that the Minister turned round and said, "We are going to stop these official cars for Government Departments and corporations until we have cleared up this matter of Government cars for disabled men."
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth]
The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bucklow (Mr. W. Shepherd), who had to telescope—and I must follow his example—a great part of it in view of the hour at which we are debating the Estimates of this important Ministry, gave a powerful reinforcement to the criticisms of the Ministry of Supply which have come from these benches and indeed from other parts of the House. I have a complaint against my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) because his remarkable speech leaves me with very little to do. The Minister in his copious and complacent speech answered none of the points raised by ay right hon. Friend.
The affairs of this magpie Ministry long deserved the scrutiny of the Committer. The Minister told us today that for the first time for two years we have had an opportunity of discussing the Estimates of his Ministry. I agree with the Minister in thinking that long since we should have 1703 had the advantage of debating the doings of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. I have called this Ministry a magpie Ministry because it pecks in the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Ministry of Works and many other Ministries. The hon. Gentleman who will reply can probably add to the list of the Departments in which the magpie pecks. It is a bulk buyer, a bulk seller and the bulkiest of spenders. We all listened with the greatest possible interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale). He delivered a remarkable indictment of the waste in the Ministry of Supply, and I greatly hope that the Minister will heed his remarks. They are of the highest possible consequence to this nation.
In addition to the functions I have just described, the Ministry manufactures all sorts of things from prefabricated houses to biscuits for gramophone discs. I have beside me a list of their manufactures which if I were to read it would occupy most of the night. Indeed we should have to sit almost to the time we sat this morning if it were read in full. I say to the hon. Gentleman who is to reply that if some Socialist critics of the Ministry are to be believed, in addition to the official list of manufactures of his Ministry, a large number of under-employed workers in the Royal Ordnance factories do a lively trade in making such essentials as cuff links. The Ministry is also the world's greatest auctioneer. As we heard from the noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), it is a singularly inept auctioneer. Muddle marks all its doings.
According to the Prime Minister, the main duty of the Ministry is to carry out research, design and development for the Services and to provide certain supplies in common use. I believe the most important function of the Ministry is the development of atomic energy. Later on I must say a good deal about this responsibility and whether it is rightly placed in the Ministry of Supply. Meanwhile, let me say something about the Ministry's manufacturing activities. My right hon. Friend's devastating speech about Royal Ordnance factories will, I hope, be fairly fully reported in the newspapers, even though through lack of paper they have been deprived of the opportunity of giving 1704 adequate space to one of the most remarkable speeches made in this House. I think that hon. Members opposite might be persuaded to agree with me if in a general summary of the Ministry of Supply I merely describe it as a miscellaneous manufacturer wallowing in public money and with self-sealed lips about costs. Having made that comparatively uncontroversial remark, I will now go on to repeat the question put by my right hon. Friend and by the hon. Member for Bucklow to the Minister: Is your Ministry really necessary? Ought the Government, in fact, to set themselves up as manufacturers of small supplies of all sorts of goods and gadgets? That is a reasonable question which ought to appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite.
Ought the Government really to try to run industries, whether they be large or small? Hon. Members opposite might accuse me with some justice of being an extremist or a die-hard, and I certainly would deserve that description were I to assert that the Government must not assume that it can run industry. It can run some like the Post Office, and public corporations can run industries. Private people have to run industries, and that is all to the good. That is an impeccable Tory statement. It is also, of course, a blast against the Ministry of Supply's assumption that it can run industries, but it was not made by me; it was made by none other than the Lord President. Now, of course, people may say, "You have been reading his past speeches and you have culled this little extract from something he said in his years of official irresponsibility." Let me say that such a charge would be completely inapt. The Lord President made that statement last week, and I feel that it should deter the Minister of Supply from pottering about in industry.
I need not add much to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot about how British producers are handicapped in export trade by having to pay the Ministry's prices for commodities which, of course, are much greater now than those obtaining in the United States and elsewhere; and I am not blaming the Ministry too much for having to impose such excessive prices, because we all know that the Treasury dictates the prices charged by the Minister for raw materials supplied to industry. The 1705 Treasury, not unnaturally, does not like Ministries to make losses, though I am bound to say that the Treasury has proved itself quite capable of making the most fantastic losses. Nevertheless, its authority still prevails over the Ministry of Supply and I have a feeling that the cost of the Ministry's bulk purchase operations will in the end be passed on to the unfortunate industrial consumers in Britain.
People who are skilled in commodities —and there are still some such people in this country—prophesy that markets need, and will soon get, a big shake-out. When the prices of commodities fall, the Ministry of Supply will obviously sustain great losses. It will be then a test of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply whether he will protest against the Treasury's orders that his Department should pass on its losses to industrial consumers. If the Minister is able to defy the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I shall think much better of him then than I did after I heard his speech today. I would ask a question of this Committee as we are not really involved in a party political discussion but are dealing with the Estimates of a very large spending Department. I ask hon. Members opposite: can anyone think of a worse way of handicapping British exporters at a time when we are told by the President of the Board of Trade that the sellers' market has reached its final day? If the British Government, who are the sole controllers of metals used in our export trade, raise the prices of those metals to compensate for past losses, disregard, the fact that prices in America and elsewhere are much below the prices ruling here, then surely our exporters will suffer greatly.
Now let me turn to the Minister's defence for using Ordnance factories for little manufacturing jobs. He spent a great deal of time in explaining the reason for this and, as I listened to him, I wondered: are skilled workers and weapon producers who are held in reserve in factories, in order that we may not be utterly unprepared for war, likely to be really competent weapon or munition producers at the end of the next five years? It is quite obvious that if you put a man on to the job of making gadgets—whether they are, as my right hon. Friend said, lavatory seats or biscuits for gramophone discs—he will obviously not be the 1706 finest precision engineer at the end of his five years' experience in civilian production in Ordnance factories. I want to ask a question which was put with great force from the benches opposite: do those who work in Royal Ordnance factories believe their jobs to be really necessary to what the President of the Board of Trade yesterday called "The battle for our economic survival"? Allegations have been made from various parts of the House to the effect that workers in Royal Ordnance factories are very dissatisfied with the sort of work they are asked to do. I very much hope the Parliamentary Secretary will either contradict that statement, or report to his right hon. Friend in order that he may do something to clean up a situation which is obviously bad from the point of view of public interest. My right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot touched on that point today, and I was hoping that the Minister would answer, but, is he is not here, we must rely on the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. Bracken
After my right hon. Friend's analysis of the Ministry's bulk purchasing operations, there is no need for me to say very much on this subject. But I have had the opportunity of obtaining impartial expert opinion on the British Government's bulk purchase of metals outside England. Surveying the "Heath Robinson" contraption for the bulk purchase of metals, they often say to me. "Why does your crazy Ministry insist on putting prices up against itself?" They go on to add, "Your bulk purchasers are estimable men, but they know little about markets." I think it is also right to say that the magical touch of the Ministry's bulk purchasers is transforming base metals into precious metals; I congratulate them on that strange achievement. The Ministry should learn a lot from the skilful policies adopted by American purchasers of raw materials in the British Empire. My American informants may be boastful about their skill in effecting purchases of such commodities as tin and rubber, and I am willing to discount their boasting, but when I see the bitter pr3- tests made by Empire producers of tin and rubber against the prices Americans have paid for their commodities I an quite certain that there is a tremendous case to be made in favour of abolishing 1707 British Government agencies, and handing over the purchase of metals and other commodities to people who really understand markets. I believe that the unfortunate producers of Malaya honestly wish above everything else in the world that America would set up a Ministry of Supply. The Ministry of Supply is much more popular in the United States of America and other places where it operates as a buyer than ever it is likely to be in this country.
Before I touch on what the Prime Minister called the primary purposes of the Ministry of Supply, let me say a few words on the other functions of the Ministry. As we all know, it has enormous responsibilities for aircraft production. I do not want to go into matters affecting aircraft production today—we should need a whole day to look into that—so I will just summarise a few of the. functions now discharged by the Ministry. It is the governing body of the engineering industry, the metal industries, including iron and steel, the motor industry, and, so far as I can discover from the Estimates, part of the machine tool industry. It operates the so-called Metal Control, which governs exports, imports, distribution and prices. It has so many functions that I really cannot weary the Committee by listing them all.
I ask this question; Does any sensible person believe that a Ministry engaged in such multifarious activities can give proper attention to the design and development of complicated new weapons required by the Services?—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I will repeat what I was saying because the Minister's entry has met with more applause from these benches than he received at any time during his speech. I was asking, does any sensible person believe that a Ministry engaged in such multifarious activities as the right hon. Gentleman's Department can give proper attention to the problems of designing and developing complicated new weapons required by the Services? I share the doubts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot who is greatly experienced in these matters, having been Minister of Production, having been President of the Board of Trade, and, what is more important than that, having himself fought most gallantly in a great war. I share his doubts as to whether any civilian 1708 Ministry can, in peacetime, fulfil the exacting task set by the Prime Minister. I am fortified in that opinion by the attitude of the Senior Service to the Ministry of Supply. The Royal Navy, as the Minister well knows, will never entrust the provision of all its vital supplies to a bloated civilian Ministry like the Ministry of Supply.
§ Mr. Bracken
I agree. It will never entrust its most important functions to any other Ministry. For generations their Lordships of the Admiralty have successfully resisted schemes to divorce them from their carefully chosen contractors. Theoretically, there is, I agree, a case for the production of items in common use by all the three Services to use the words of the Minister. I do not want to argue for or against that proposition beyond pointing out that the American Government, which is not backward in weapon production, or indeed any kind of production, follows the Admiralty system, and places orders with industry for most of its needs. They, unfortunately. will not have a Ministry of Supply.
If the Ministry of Supply is to remain responsible for important research and development work for the Army and Air Force, it ought to rid itself of its present ill-assorted functions. It is an appalling thought that this Ministry of miscellanies is now eager to run a nationalised steel industry. What splendid news for American and foreign competitors. When I was in the United States in January, the head of one of the biggest American steel companies said, "We cannot really pierce the mysteries of the future, but if only Britain would nationalise steel we should be absolutely certain of an abounding export market for years to come." It would be out of Order—
§ Mr. Bracken
I did not know that America was opposing the nationalisation of the steel industry in Britain. I am bound to say that if I were an American surveying our situation—
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
I am also bound to say that this is outside the scope of the Debate.
§ Mr. Bracken
May I point out, with great respect, Mr. Beaumont, that I said it would be out of Order? I must join with you in saying to the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) that she should not raise such a tempting question.
§ Mr. Bracken
The charm of the fair sex is notorious. I was tempted. Let me go on to say that the right hon. Gentleman, would indeed, be a brave Minister if, in addition to all the responsibilities he bears, if he accepted willingly any further functions at the Ministry of Supply. I will not anticipate the discussions on the demerits of any schemes for the nationalisation of the steel industry, but I will content myself by deviating into one small item in the Estimates before the Committee. I notice that the Ministry, in fashioning a strait waistcoat for the steel industry have appointed a gentleman with no practical knowledge of the industry to be chairman of the Steel Board. This gentleman, who is the financial director of a large business, producing flour and dog biscuits, receives a salary from the Ministry of £8,500 a year. The unfortunate Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Supply, a man who must make perspiring but hopeless attempts to keep up with all the demands of the Ministry, receives 3,500 a year. The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Sir Archibald Rowlands, is one of the finest of our civil servants. Those who know of his service during the war will for ever be grateful to him. A recent heavy addition to his load is the supervision of the doings of the Steel Board. Yet the financial reward of the Permanent Secretary is less than half that received by the gilded miller who is chairman of the board. A gilded miller who comes from the City—
§ Mr. Donovan
The right hon. Gentleman must know that that is not true, that if he takes the tax into account, the difference between the two sums is very negligible.
§ Mr. Bracken
I do not think that any of the higher civil servants would agree with that remark. We all know that lawyers have a great contempt for money. In view of the amount of business given 1710 them by nationalisation the hon. and learned Gentleman may be entitled to take a lordly view about money, but to a poor man like myself there is a great difference between £3,500 and £08,500.
§ Mr. Bracken
I am sorry I cannot give way; I am speaking against the dock. I should be occupying too much of a e Committee's time were I to attempt to delve more deeply into this Ministry of excresences. But I must say something about the most important of all its varied functions, atomic energy and research. It is not an overstatement to assert that the life, and perhaps the livelihood, of every citizen depends on our ability to keep abreast of research and development into atomic energy.
§ Mr. Wilmot indicated assent.
§ Mr. Bracken
The Minister nods his agreement, but what did he say about this matter in his speech? He gave more time to dealing with the Ministry's auctions than to atomic energy. All he condescended to say about the vital subject of atomic research and development was that he hoped some time to set up a fine university of nuclear physics. He also gracefully thanked Courtaulds for the help they had given to his Ministry in the task of setting up a production plant at Sellafield. He confessed that he had n) idea when that plant would start production. He, of course, gave the usual excuse about the shortage A materials. I say that a more unsatisfactory Ministerial statement has rarely been made in this House.
Even if the Ministry of Supply was the best managed of all Departments, I doubt if Civil Service methods are suitable to the development of atomic energy. The Government may say that, apart from civil servants, there are other people engaged in atomic development. For instance, they may say that there is the Minister. Yes, indeed we heard him today. Then they say that there is Lord Portal of Hungerford and a number of eminent scientists. We on these benches have boundless admiration for Lord Portal and a great respect for his scientific colleagues. But the Minister surely must know that the resources avail able to these gentlemen are small by corn parison with those given to their opposite 1711 numbers in the United States of America. Atomic development in the United States is rated as priority No. i by the Government. It has not become a mere subsidiary activity of an American Cabinet Minister. President Truman scoured the whole of the United States to find the ablest men to control the research and development of atomic energy and Congress spent a great deal of time in investigating the record and accomplishments of these men.
Tremendous powers have been given to the members of the Atomic Commission in the United States. They are dedicated men. They must give up all their time to the discharge of their enormous responsibility. Let me tell the Committee something about the relationship between the Commission and the Congress of the United States of America. The Commission is not only bound to make full reports to the Government of the United States; it is also required to report to the joint Committee on Atomic Energy set up by Congress. American legislators, unlike ours, have some chance of judging the progress and duties of those responsible for atomic energy. The Parliament of Britain is kept completely in the dark. American legislators, who are no more discreet than Members of this House, are told this:As promptly as possible the Commission will report to the Joint Committee of Congress the present status of the work of the Commission, the status of properties, facilities, contracts, personnel, financial condition and other similar facts, and plans for future developments.In tact, the Congress of the United States gets the fullest possible report about atomic energy from the Commission. Of course, security rules are observed, but there is no doubt that American legislators have an opportunity of checking up on all the doings of the Commission. Moreover we know exactly how much money is spent by the Americans on atomic energy. Is there any reason why the Minister should not tell us now what exactly the Ministry of Supply is spending on atomic energy? The Americans have the information of their Government's expenditure. It has no security value and, surely. we are entitled to have the information.
I beg the Committee to remember that we have had a speech from the Minister 1712 which shows that he obviously is giving up very little time to the vital question of atomic research which affects the lives of everybody in this country. I say that the Ministry of Supply cannot be charged with this tremendous responsibility. Parliament really must seek an early opportunity of discussing atomic energy and receiving a full statement from the Government. Parliament must follow the good example of the American Congress which insists on receiving proper reports about what their Government are doing by way of developing atomic energy. I must not take up any more time because the Parliamentary Secretary must have time to reply. I think I can say that this Debate clearly proves the wisdom of my right hon. Friend in asking the question of the Minister of Supply, "Is your Ministry really necessary?" Obviously it is not, and the sooner the Minister admits it the better for the country and perhaps the better for his political career.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. Woodburn)
I expected today that there would be a rather subdued Debate, after the events of last night, but when I saw the people who were to take a leading part in it—the right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) and Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken)—and when my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) came in, I knew it would riot be dull, whatever its other defects. On the whole, I think it has been a very interesting Debate, and I am sure that hon. Members have enjoyed the very fine contributions that have been made, even though they were critical of the Ministry.
Let me say right away that it is quite impossible for an organisation of this size not to make mistakes. That would be a physical impossibility, and nobody here would pretend for a moment that everything was perfect and that we had not a great deal of striving to do to reach perfection. But we are dealing with a Ministry formed recently, which has been organised in the most efficient way possible, and it takes some time for even the best machinery to settle down and work smoothly. As the Minister explained, its final form is not fixed yet, because the force of circumstances has passed on to our Ministry duties which, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth pointed out, are not 1713 strictly part of our functions, and, therefore, it may be, as time goes on, that the organisation will be tidied up, we will lose some of the fringes and the Ministry will become a more homogeneous organisation.
The existence of the Ministry of Supply has been challenged. If it had been the existence of the Ministers that was challenged, it would be improper for myself or any of my colleagues to make any comment on that, but I think that we are in a position to judge whether the challenge to the existence of the Ministry is justified, and I will devote some time to dealing with that particular question. The Opposition seemed to me to be in a great state of contradiction. They said the Ministry was too big and that there were too many people under its roof, and that one of the solutions was to pass half of them over to the Board of Trade. That does not seem to me to be a particularly good idea. Shifting people from one Department to another without reducing the numbers does not seem to me to contribute to the solution of the problem. It seems to me to be futile to play "ha'penny nap" shuffling officials of one Ministry and another. We shall still have the same number, unless there is some reason to reduce it. The challenge has been made that there are too many of us. I had the honour of visiting the factory at Rugby with which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot is associated, and I was greatly impressed by its efficiency. It was claimed that there was something like 40,000 people employed in that particular industry. Nobody has suggested that, because there are 40,000 people employed in it, it is inefficient. The numbers employed have no relation to its efficiency. It is even a matter for boasting that they had so many people in the industry—
§ Mr. Woodburn
They are all part of the personnel. The composition of the staff changes from firm to firm. If we are dealing with a heavy engineering works, we require proportionately less clerical staff, because, in heavy engineering, jobs take a long time. Therefore, the amount of clerical work required is very small indeed, but, when we come to other industries, such as the electrical industry, we may have thousands of draftsmen and 1714 clerioal staff. If the Opposition had challenged us that the Ministry was inefficient, that would have been a pertinent point. The efficiency of a staff depends on whether they are doing their jobs with the minimum amount of labour and the maximum amount of efficiency, and if that is the question which is put to me, I am prepared to back the Ministry of Supply against any industrial organisation in this country. I have had some experience of private enterprise. I have spent 25 years in industrial administration, and I say that, man for man, the civil servants will hold their own with any I have met in private industry. I say flat without fear of contradiction. Therefore, on the question of efficiency, I am prepared to say that we are an efficient Ministry, which has tackled an enormous job in extremely difficult circumstances during the transition period.
I will, if I may, deal with one or two of the detailed criticisms before I cone to the general picture. There seems to be a suggestion from both sides of.the Committee that there is a sort of war going on in the Ministry between public and private enterprise. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no question of antagonism in our Ministry, between private enterprise and ourselves. Therefore, surveying he capacity of the country, there is no particular point in our closing a factory in, say, Motherwell, in order to make the machinery which that factory would normally produce, in a Royal Ordnance factory elsewhere. But there is a point in leaving that factory alone, if it is making the best machinery in the country, in order that it can make more such machinery. There is a difficulty in Royal Ordnance factories undertaking civilian production. In their own field nothing can beat them, but it is useless to expect that a factory which is turned over to another purpose can do the job equally well.
If we want more machinery, the best way of getting it is to extend the production of a factory where the people know how to make it, and have had experience of making it for generations. Therefore, for that reason, it is not proposed that the Royal Ordnance factories should make other people's machinery. If a fire breaks out, everybody has to help.
1715 In this emergency—we are in a serious national and international state—the Royal Ordnance factories have placed their whole energies at the disposal of industries which are making these vital things. Therefore, it should not be a criticism that we are making these odds and ends; we are only making them because industry cannot. We are relieving the bottleneck.
The hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Bramall) suggested that we should contract for the whole job. But this Government have no intention of developing production in the Royal Ordnance factories merely for the sake of having them there. As a Government, we insist, both for private and public enterprise, that production must be efficient Therefore, where we are dealing with the six priorities which have been laid down, we want production to be carried out in the most efficient way. For that reason, too, we do not propose to ask the Royal Ordnance factories to replace private enterprise. I realise, of course, that some of the workers in the Royal Ordnance factories are alarmed, as someone mentioned, that the work may come to an end. That is understandable. I can appreciate the feeling of apprehension among the workers that one of these days the factories will close down, and that apprehension would be felt more in an Ordnance factory, where employment has been more secure than in any other branch of the engineering trade. But we cannot guarantee that we shall keep the factories going merely for the sake of keeping them going. We do not necessarily want to retain anybody in an Ordnance factory who can help to produce under private enterprise the goods we need for export This is not a question of competing one against the other; we want to look at the whole picture, and see what is best to be done.
The matter of the relationship between staff and workers has been raised. My hon. Friend the, Joint Parliamentary-Secretary has paid particular attention to this question, and, if he had had the opportunity of addressing the Committee, he would have assured hon. Members that regular meetings are held, that these matters are dealt with by the people themselves, and that there is every opportunity for them to give expression to their views. I do not think that anybody ever gets 1716 everything he wants. That would not happen even in the best-run family.
The two right hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to be contradicting each other on the question of the price of metals. On the one hand, they object to the Government losing money, because they say it is inefficiency on the part of the State, and then they object to our raising prices in order to recover the money, because they say that is profiteering on the part of the State. They cannot have it both ways. In any case, this is a false point because it has nothing to do with the efficiency of the State in running an organisation, whether it makes a profit or not. It is a matter of policy. We are selling food to the people today, and we are deliberately making a definite loss. We have been subsidising industry and keeping prices down in certain instances, by avoiding fluctuations in prices which would throw the whole of the industrial machinery out of gear. In those cases we are making a loss. But that has nothing to do with efficiency or inefficiency.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Is the hen. Gentleman suggesting that the result of the Government's purchase of copper was to stabilise the price? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the price has more than doubled since the war?
§ Mr. Woodburn
The right hon. Gentleman did not make out his case that it was due to this factor. He alleged it, but he made out no case. Frequently the point is made that if the Government purchase commodities, the price goes up, and the inference is that it we -lid not do it the price would not go up. It is a non sequitur, and it has nothing to do with the point.
§ Mr. Bracken
The hon. Gentleman suggests that it is all right for the Government to lose money in subsidising various things. Does he not recognise that the only reason we can lose money at the moment is because we are borrowing from the United States of America and from our Dominions, but that will not last for ever?
§ Mr. Woodburn
No, we are obviously transferring it from one pocket to 1717 another. It is a question of whether we should reduce taxation and do it that way, or keep taxation a little higher and direct the money into the channels where it will be of most benefit to international trade. I am sure the industrial friends of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite would be extremely indignant if they thought that, as the result of this Debate, we were going to stop trying to help industry in these directions. Therefore, while I agree that, from the point of view of scoring points, it is not a bad argument, it has nothing to do with the commonsense running of this country's affairs.
With regard to atomic energy, I am sorry I cannot satisfy the light hon. Gentleman's curiosity, because there are a lot of people who are curious about what we are doing in regard to atomic energy. Parliament passed a Bill which told the scientists that they must not talk loosely on this subject, and it would be inadvisable for one of the Ministers concerned with that Bill to start talking loosely today. Therefore, any statement made about atomic energy and its development in this country must be made with due care, bearing in mind how the statement is made and when it is made, and I cannot possibly make such a statement in replying to a Debate of this kind.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The reason is that it is impossible, in present conditions of shortages of labour and material, to spend as much as we should like. Therefore, if it is any consolation to the right hon. Gentleman, he can take it from me that the Government are putting every effort into the development of atomic energy, because in a matter of 10 years' time it might make all the difference to the industrial life of this country.
§ Mr. Woodburn
We still hope that intelligence will prevail on this earth instead of passion, and we want to develop atomic 1718 power accordingly, because in a matter of 10 years it may become quite a practical proposition. All I would say is this. It is one of the six priorities given by this Government in the allocation of materiels, metals and labour. It could not have a higher priority. My hon. Friend the Member for White-haven (Mr. F. Anderson) asked what will happen to the Royal Ordnance factory at Drigg. I am sorry to say that the only information that I can give him today is that, as far as we know, the factory will continue its work. There is no quest on of closing it down. The question of new industries going to that area will be one for my right hon. and learned Friend he President of the Board of Trade. I (an only repeat the assurance given by my right hon. Friend in his opening speech, that the President of the Board of Tr2 de is satisfied that there will not be unemployment in that area. I am sure that if there is considerable apprehension, it is not, perhaps, quite well founded so Far as that point is concerned. There wire things said about Bootle and about technical questions.
§ Mr. F. Anderson
What is the position of the Bootle factory? Has it been handed over to the Board of Trade Mr. Woodburn: I understand that it is handed over to the Board of Trade, but that is a matter which we can settle by looking into the details. The Minister tells me that it has been definitely handed over to the Board of Trade. We were all interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham. We were all brightened and cheered and almost inspired by it. I am sorry to say that his arithmetic was a bit wrong on the subject of typists, but we note what he says. I think that he multiplied the typists by adding on to them clerks and others
§ Mr. Woodburn
Perhaps we were all so attracted by the typists that we did not notice the clerks come in as well. But the fact is that everyone in London is short of typists. The Government made a mistake, unfortunately, in lifting the restriction on typists and allowing them to leave the Civil Service; and that has put us in a predicament, although it 1719 is a predicament which many share. But I think that the hon. Gentleman's speech was of a very dangerous character. He wants a surgical operation. There are a lot of people lying in cemeteries who wanted surgical operations. Surgical operations are very dangerous practices.
§ Mr. Woodburn
It happens both ways, but it is a gamble. But we are not needing surgical operations now. We had six years of them to get rid of Hitler. It sometimes requires quiet perseverance and encouragement to bring the patient out of the chloroform. We need encouragement and building up today. If the doctor says, "Stop smoking, stop drinking, take to fresh air and exercise," it is a much more difficult thing to do. It is a slow process. There is nothing dramatic about it, as there is about a surgical operation. What we have to realise is that we want construction; we want faith in ourselves; we need to build up our health and wealth. There is nothing really wrong with us. We are as healthy as can be.
§ Mr. Hale
During the last 20 minutes my hon. Friend has made one of the most effective speeches we have heard from the Front Bench, and one of the best Socialist speeches I have heard. I should like to congratulate him. But will he tell the Committee—because this is important—what is the date by which something has got to be done to rebalance our imports and exports? Other Ministers have said it must be by October.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The whole root of the matter is that Europe was bled to death by the war, and we ourselves were barely able to stand when we came out of it. We have had a blood transfusion from America to get on our feet. But once we get on our feet, I do not think we need fear anybody in the world. I do not know what the pessimism is about. There has never been a time in this country when the population worked in better cooperation than today. I am sorry we have had the Opposition trying to sow poison between workers and management in this Debate.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
Would the hon. Gentleman say to which speech or what Friends he was referring in that last remark?
§ Mr. Woodburn
It is the making of contrasts between public enterprise and private enterprise. There is no conflict at all. So far as this Ministry is concerned, we aim at making full use of British capacity, whether it is private or public for the greatest maximum production of the goods we need in the country.
§ Mr. Woodburn
If I may show how this Ministry has been built up in a good and efficient way, that will answer many of the points that have been raised. There were some remarks which looked like real criticisms, but I am quite sure that many were based only on misunderstanding.
First, the policy of this Government is to establish and maintain peace. So far as the warlike side of our effort is concerned, we are not building up to fight anybody. We want to establish an international police force, an international organisation of society which will find some other way than war of settling international disputes. In the past we have tried disarmament, we have tried appeasement, and we have tried reason, but all those had no effect whatsoever on an aggressor, and we had to resort to force. I confess that I, as much as anybody else, took the line of trying to avoid war, and of being pacifist in my outlook. I must admit that that policy has failed in the world so far. We must realise that so far as aggression is concerned, the only way to deter it is by the establishment of some effective police force.
International conflagrations may break out at any time and any where. In the past we have been surprised to see where they could come from at any time. If there are to be atom bomb forces there will be no time to start training our forces after the event takes place. The "fire-brigade" must be there, ready when the event takes place. Therefore, the Government —and I am sure everybody in the Committee will agree—are determined that, so far as any future conflagration is concerned, the British "fire brigade" will be found ready with the pumps and other necessary appliances to put the fire out. We want to be part of an international "fire brigade," and when that is built up it must be effectively armed and prepared to meet the emergency.
1721 We have just come out of a war, and we have a shortage of labour and materials and a desperate need for civilian supplies. The Government have said to the Armed Forces: "You have got to live on your fat for a good many years." That is the reason why vehicles are lying in parks, because the Government have to draw on these vehicles for the next few years in order that motor car production and motor lorry production can be devoted to civilian purposes. I think that nobody would disagree with that. Of course, when the civilian purposes are fulfilled, it is to be hoped there will be the available capacity to fulfil the plans of the future, and to see that the Army is equipped in the proper way. Another reason why we do not want to carry on with the production of munitions today is that after this war we hope to improve on our performance after previous wars. After previous wars we seem to have prepared to fight the next war with the same methods. We have learned very many lessons, and it would be quite wrong to start producing obsolescent weapons and material with which to equip our Army.
We are starting at the proper end, which is the scientific end. We ask the scientists to get down to the job, and to make a scientific appreciation of what is necessary. After that, we will take time for development, and only then will we go into production. I suggest that is the effective and efficient way in which to equip our forces. Let me give an example from the Air Ministry, because the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) raised the question of the ordering of aircraft. The Government have said as regards Royal Ordnance factories, aircraft factories, and all other factories: "This is the capacity that we need and can afford, and we will maintain it in efficient production." There is in the country a certain aircraft capacity, and if we go back to the system of the Navy, the Air Force and the three civil corporations going to aircraft firms and bargaining with them for aircraft, we shall have Government Departments competing with each other, both in regard to capacity and in regard to work, with one firm having too much work and another firm having none.
What happens is that, first of all, the Navy, the Air Force and the three corporations get together round a table 1722 to discuss the future programme, and the capacity is allocated so that each gets the share of the that capacity necessary for its purposes. On the practical side, the civil corporations and the Ministry of Civil Aviation form a committee to decide on the types of civil aircraft which will be required. They consider what they should aim at, and their decisions are passed to the research and development side of the Ministry of Supply. By doing it in this way, we have one research and development organisation for the whole of the country. The British aircraft industry could not exist without the national aircraft establishments, which provide them with that fundamental scientific data and knowledge.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Cooper (Middlesbrough, West)
Can my hon. Friend say whether the corporations are represented adequately on that committee?
§ Mr. Woodburn
Yes, Sir. They have every opportunity right from the beginning, and they are on even terms with the Air Force and the Navy. They tell us what they want. The only difficulty is in knowing early enough what they want, because it takes five or six years to develop aircraft, as hon. Members know. That is the most efficient system which could be devised, and with good will it works. The Air Ministry do not wish to have back responsibility for aircraft research arid development, because they know that they would get involved in competition which would ruin proper development.
To those who are worried about civil aviation, I would point out that it will always be the case that the Navy and Air Force will place the largest orders for aircraft in this country. If they, went into the market in competition with the corporation, the corporations would have little chance of getting adequate capacity. The Ministry of Supply act as arbiters, and they see that everyone gets fair play. The Air Force and the Navy have never hesitated to do everything possible to help civil aviation. Civil aviation gets the benefit of all the research and development done, whereas if it was on its own, it would have to spend additional money, and even then would not get the job done. It is a great pity that so many stories get about belittling British aircraft. I wish British people would find 1723 out the facts before they help competitors in other countries, to depreciate the wonderful work done by our aircraft industry since the war ended.
The existence of the Ministry of Supply has been challenged. My reply to that is that the Ministry has done a good job. They have had extra jobs handed to them, such as progressing coal mining machinery and generating plant. That is a job which is not particularly one of their functions, but it comes under their responsibility for the engineering industry. Already they have been able to ensure that supplies of steel go where they should, and already the coalmines are beginning to feel the benefit of the wartime progressing machinery which has been re-introduced. I should have liked to say something about disposals, but that is a matter which requires more time to develop. I wish that the hon. Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), when he read out all those questions, had also read out the answers, which would have saved the Committee a lot of time.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The questions were all explained. The hon. Member spent his time in hashing up an old dish, instead of giving something fresh from his own experience. I have some special responsibility for disposal. With the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), I was also on the Select Committee which went into this question of disposals. We were critics of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who were Members of the Government, but we were satisfied that the machinery set up was the most effective in
§ preventing scandals such as happened after the last war. It was rather a rigid machine when I assumed some responsibility under my right hon. Friend for its operation, and naturally it has loosened up as experience has proved necessary, but there has been no job like this done in the history of the world with so little scandal. I am not saying that some small scandals are not bound to happen, but an organisation selling £12,000,000 every month for the Chancellor to recover for the nation is doing a great job—which, of course, he is passing on to us with his usual generosity. When we think of 250 million of goods being sold in this country, it will be understood that we require some staff, and even some typists to make inventories of the vast volume of goods.
§ If we are not selling more quickly, it is because we do not want to delay the production of civilian goods by unnecessarily breaking down munitions at a time when labour is scarce. When labour is more plentiful, we will do that. Looking back on the Debate, most of the points have been on minor points of administration. There may have been some mistakes, but there has been no serious evidence brought against this Ministry. While, possibly, from the point of view of prestige, the right hon. Gentleman will want to move a reduction in the Vote, in criticism of the Ministry of Supply, I must say there was nothing in the Debate to justify it, and I hope that my hon. Friends behind me will support the Ministry.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 78; Noes, 177.1725
|Division No. 338.||AYES.||[9.57 p.m.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Dower, E. L, G (Calthness)||Kerr, Sir J. Graham|
|Baldwin, A. E||Drewe, C||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W H|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H||Dugdale, Maj. Sir T (Richmond)||Lambert, Hon. G.|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Erroll, F. J.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Fleming Sqn.-Ldr E L||Linstead, H. N.|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Fletcher, W (Bury)||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Fraser, H. C P. (Stone)||Low, Brig A. R. W|
|Carson, E||Fraser, Sir I (Lonsdale)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.|
|Challen, C.||Gage, C.||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O|
|Clifton-Brown, Li.-Col. G||George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)||McCallum, Maj. D.|
|Conant, Maj. R J. E.||Grimston, R. V.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Hare, Hon. G. H. (Woodbridge)||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col, O. E.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C||Manningham-Buller, R. E|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Marptes, A. E.|
|Darling, Sir W. Y.||Hogg, Hon, Q.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Holies, M. C.||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)|
|Conner, Sqn-Ldr. P. W||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N j||Mott-Radclyffe, Maj. C. E.|
|Neill, W. F (Belfast, N.)||Ross Sir R D. (Londonderry)||Wheatley, Colonel M J.|
|Neven-Spence, Sir B.||Shepherd. W S. (Bucklow)||White, Sir D (Fareham)|
|Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||Smiles Lt-Col Sl W||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|urr-Ewing, I.L||Stoddarl-Seott, Col M||Williams, C (Torquay)|
|Peto, Brig, C H. M||Strauss, H. C (English universities)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Pickthorn, K||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Pitman, I. J||Thomas, J P. L. (Hereford)||York, C.|
|Ponsonby, Col. C E||Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A F|
|Raikes, H. V.||Walker-Smith, D.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Robertsop, Sir D (Streatham)||Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie||Commander Agnew and|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Guest, Dr. L. Hadet.||Peart, Thomas F.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Haire, John E (Wycombe)||Ptratin, P.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Hale, Leslie||Porter, E (Warrington)|
|Barton, C,||Hall, W G.||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Battley, J. R.||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col R||Pritt, D N|
|Rechervaise, A. G||Hannan, W (Maryhill)||Ranger, J|
|Belcher, J. W,||Hardy, E. A||Reeves, J.|
|Beswick, F.||Harrison, J||Reid, T (Swindon)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Rhodes, H|
|Binns, J.||Haworth, J||Richards, R.|
|Blackburn, A. R||Henderson, A (Kingswinford)||Robens, A.|
|Blyton, W R||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Segal, Dr. S.|
|Boardman, H.||Herbison, Miss M.||Sharp, Granville|
|Bowden. Flg. Offr. M W.||Hobson, C. R.||Shurmer, P.|
|Braddack, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)||Holman, P.||Silverman, S. S (Nelson)|
|Brook, D (Halifax)||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Simmons, C. J.|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N)||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Brown, T. J. (lnce)||Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Smith, S. H (Hull, S.W)|
|Burke, W A.||Irving. W J.||Stamford, W.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Chater, D.||Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Strachey, J.|
|Collins, V J.||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. C. (Shipley)||Swingler, S.|
|Colman, Miss G. M||Jones, D. T (Hartlepools)||Sylvester. G O.|
|Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G.||Keenan, W.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)||Kenyon, C.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Crawley, A.||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Kinley, J||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Kirby, B V.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Layers, S.||Timmons, J.|
|Davies, R. J (Westhoughton)||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J||Titterington, M F|
|Delargy, H. J.||Lee, F. (Hulme)||Tomlinson, Rt Hon. S.|
|Diamond, J.||Leonard, W.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Dobbie, W.||Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Donovan, T.||Lindgren, G. S||Viant, S. P.|
|Driberg, T. E. N,||Longden, F.||Walkden, E.|
|Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||McAllister, G.||Walker, G H.|
|Durbin, E. F, M||McEntee, V. La T.||Wallace, G. D (Chislehurst)|
|Edelman, M.||McGovern, J.||Wallace, H. W (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Edwards, John (Blackburn)||McKay, J (Wallsend)||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||McKinlay, A. S.||Wells, W T (Walsall)|
|Edwards, W. J (Whitechapel)||McLeavy, F||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Mann, Mrs. J.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon W|
|Ewart, R.||Manning, Mrs. L. (Eppin)||Wigg, Col. G. E.|
|Fairhurst, F.||Martin, J. H.||Wiloock, Group-Cant. C A. B|
|Farthing, W. J||Mathers, G||Wilkes, L.|
|Femyhough E.||Messer, F||Wilkins, W A.|
|Field, Captain W J||Middleton, Mrs. L||Willey, F T (Sunderland)|
|Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Morgan, Dr. H B||Williams, Rt. Hon. T (Don Valley)|
|Foot, M. M.||Murray, J D||Williams, W R. (Heston)|
|Foster, W (Wigan)||Naylor, T E||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Neal, H. (Claycross)||Wilmot, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Gaitskell, H T N||Nicholls, H R. (Stratford)||Wise, Major F J|
|Gallacher, W||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)||Woodburn, A|
|Glanville, J. E (Consett)||Noel-Buxton, Lady||Woods, G. S|
|Goodrich, H E||Oldfield, W. H||Wyatt, W|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)||Oliver, G. H.||yates, V. F.|
|Grey, C. F.||Orbaoh, M.||Young, Sir R (Newton)|
|Grierson, E.||Paget, R T.||Zilliaous, K|
|Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Palmer, A. M F.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J (Llanelly)||Pearson, A||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Snow and Mr. Popplewell.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ It being after ten o'clock, and objection being taken to further proceeding, The CHAIRMAN left the chair to make his report to the House.1726
§ committee repot progress; to sit again Tomorrow.