§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
Everyone will agree that the reason for this Debate is obvious. 417 It is felt on both sides of the House that the Government have not yet produced a satisfactory solution for the problems of the basic industries which are undermanned. Paragraph 128 of the Economic Survey shows that the Government are at the same time modest and ruthless about the distribution of manpower which is there given. They are modest in that they say it is neither an ideal solution nor a forecast of what will happen. They go on to say that it is an approximate distribution which is needed to carry out the objectives set out in paragraph 118. It is only too clear that these objectives do not produce a roseate picture, either as to payment for imports, capital equipment and maintenance, or as regards food and consumer goods. If that, therefore, is the distribution which is essential to maintain these modest results, it must be treated as a ruthless statement of our immediate needs, and must be examined from that point of view.
I want to consider five factors of this distribution, namely, coal, agriculture, textile and clothing, metals and engineering and the public services. With regard to the first three, I want to investigate whether there is any real hope of arriving at the distribution aimed at, and what is the supplemental action necessary in order to achieve it. I take first the question of coal. I start from the same point as the Minister of Labour, the present figure of 692,000 which he wishes to increase, according to the White Paper, to 730,000 by December, 1947. It is apparent from these figures, and from what the right hon. Gentleman said on providing for an annual wastage in the coal industry of over 60,000, that 100,000 are required to make a net increase of 38,000. I want to deal shortly with what the right hon. Gentleman said in regard to the long-term programme. The right hon. Gentleman did not indicate any specific results which would flow from not calling up men for the return of miners, and the other improvements he mentioned. The only long-term matter on which he suggested he would base some of his hopes was the question of the five-day week, which he did not wish to go into because of negotiations that were pending.
We want to know, and I am sure the whole House desires information on the point, whether the suggestion for a five-day week does or does not conflict with 418 the statements clearly made in the White Paper, that there is to be no diminution of working hours unless there is an increase of output per man-year thereby maintained. The right hon. Gentleman stated on 26th June that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power had agreed in principle to the question of a five-day week. We want to know what were the estimates, and what were the figures on which that agreement was come to, and what is the estimated increase per shift to compensate for the loss of a shift on the sixth day. We want to know the figures on which the Government proceeded in agreeing to this in principle, and how the situation compares with today.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)
Does the right hon. and learned Member mean the figures for men, or for tonnage?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I want the figures for output, because it depends on that whether the manpower allocation is right or not.
I want to pass now to what the right hon. Gentleman calls his short-term proposals. I separate this into two categories—into incentives in kind, and the question of foreign labour. May I draw attention to the words the right hon. Gentleman used on incentives in kind, because, in my view, they are tragic? He says:By various means, by publicity, by the giving of housing— promising of houses."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 1161.]A sorry statement of a sorry position. He proceeded to pass to the question of special facilities for food, with which I entirely agree—this is something for which I have been constantly pressing for months. I now come to his short-term. suggestion, namely, the question of foreign labour. He said that they had reached agreement with the industry with regard to Poles, and there "is under consideration"—I I stress the words "under consideration," because that is as far as it has gone—acceptance of the same arrangements for other foreign labour should Polish labour not be sufficient to meet the requirements."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 1161.]I suggest that it is an incredible position that this has received only conditional consideration, when it has been said again and again that coal is the basis of our chance for recovery.
419 Now I want to deal with the short-term suggestions which have been made. This is the kernel of our criticism: In every one of these, we see the months that the locusts have eaten away. There is Lot one of these proposals whose desirability was not clear 12 months ago. Take housing, and the improvement in the coalfields. We all knew that; it was in our minds 12 months ago, yet nothing has been done to gear up the housing programme with special reference to that position. The same applies to special supplies of food, and to foreign labour. For at least six months that has been quite obvious. I go back further, to the time when I was abroad, and I was considering this problem with a view to the first political speech that I had to make on my return. I took the figures for June, 1946, and they showed that the numbers in this industry were down by 100,000 on prewar, and by 20,000 from June, 1945. That position was apparent in the late summer of 1946. We say that in all these suggestions which have been put forward there has been a time lag which is quite inexcusable, in view of the gravity of the problem and the demonstrable means that might have been taken to provide a solution.
With regard to the general agricultural position, I agree with what was, said a short time ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler), who painted a sombre, but rather striking. picture. There is a desire to increase the number employed in the industry by 39,000 from the starting figure of 1,081,000. I note that there is not much cheer to be gained from the Monthly Digest of Statistics, because the figures from November to December, far from showing a rise, show a slight fall. We must face up to the aspects of this problem, because it is only by doing so that we shall be able to contribute towards its solution. There is, in agriculture, an enormous wastage, about 100,000 a year. It is complicated by the fact that when people go out of the industry they do not leave their cottages. No one would wish to turn them out in such circumstances, but it is a practicable problem with which we are faced. We have this wastage and the question of new entrants coming up imperatively on the departure of German prisoners-of-war.
420 What has been done about the employment of foreign labour in the industry? It has been suggested that about 20,000 Salts should be employed. How is that foreign labour to be used? Are they to wait until agricultural housing has advanced? If so, that washes them out. Agricultural housing is one of the most backward aspects of the many backward features of this Government's policy. If we are not going to do that, we are going to put them into camps? Let us be practical. If we employ foreign labour in agriculture we must consider that position. Perhaps we can be enlightened as to what is to be done about keeping foreign labour in the undermanned jobs. It is useless to bring them in if they are going to drift from those jobs into other activities. If they do that they will not pay for their keep. Sir Hubert Henderson has made this point broadly, and I will not elaborate on it today. In the undermanned industries they will pay for their keep, and perhaps one and a half times more. But if they drift to other jobs outside the undermanned jobs they will not assist towards a solution of this problem.
There is another point, on which there are many different opinions, and about which there is universal concern. Without putting this point one is failing to consider properly all the realities, an essential corner of the picture. I refer to the question of the school-leaving age, a problem I approach with the greatest concern. If the House will forgive a personal allusion, both my parents were school teachers in their time and I have, therefore, a particularly happy and family view about this matter. Unless we can be satisfied, on clear evidence, that the children—especially those in country districts—will benefit, that they will really get advantage of the extra year, that there will be schools and teachers for them, we must face up to the position that there is a possibility of 160,000 more entrants, many for agriculture. The most pressing problem is that our economy, our prosperity, our hopes should survive, on which we can then build, more clearly and hopefully, our social services and educational system. I am sure that millions of people of goodwill approach this problem in the same way, that they want to be quite certain that there will be real benefit from the extra year before they agree to it.
421 I now leave the Minister of Agriculture, and go back to the sphere of the Minister of Labour in regard to textiles. The right hon. Gentleman said that he wanted, immediately, 26,000 more women and girls in the cotton industry, and some 60,000, spread over five years, in the woollen industry. The essential problem today is the attraction of women and girls into industry. I have no bias against the five-day week if it satisfies the conditions that are outlined, namely, that according to the best of one's judgment, it will not result in a decrease of output per man or woman per annum. I believe that married women with home responsibilities would work better, that there would be better output and that you would get more into industry if there was a five-day week. I also think that the right hon. Gentleman should have considered, if he has not done so, the complementary question of day nurseries. That is essential if we are going to get the recruitment we want. There ought to be an adjustment of allowances of wives' earnings in at any rate a limited range of industrial income. All these points are substantially constructive points, which help in the immediate problem of the textile industry.
§ Mr. Fairhurst (Oldham)
Is the right hon. and learned Member not aware that at many mills day nurseries are already established?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I know that a number have been established, but at a number of other places they have been closed down. That is an aspect of one side of the problem to which attention should be given. It would greatly help in the female recruitment which we want.
In regard to metals, I would be very grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would square up two things. He is asking for an increase of 29,000, from 2,811,000 in the White Paper. We are not only worried, as my right hon. Friend the senior Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan) said, as to the question of whether we will have enough fuel and raw materials to give present manpower full employment, but also about what was said by the President of the Board of Trade in an interruption. It seemed to me he made it quite clear that for the first six months of next year there was going to be a difficulty in keeping man-power in this group fully employed, especially in the steel trade. How that 422 can be squared with the desired increase of 29,000 I have very great difficulty in seeing.
There are two other general questions into which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will look, even though we cannot discuss legislative proposals today. He emphasised the retention of older people in industry. I think he will agree that that is important, most certainly in agriculture, textiles and metals, and, perhaps, less important underground in the coal trade, although overground there may be some case for it. At all events, it covers three of the groups which I am discussing, and two of them are the most important undermanned groups. He mentioned the question of adjustment of pension. I put it to him that the proposals have not gone nearly far enough in that direction to be effective; and also that he is bound to reconsider—and that is all I can ask him to do today—the limit of the pound earnings, beyond which the pension is affected at the present time. I believe these two points would have a constructive and helpful effect in securing the retention of elderly people.
The other matter is the question of the development areas. I understand that the Government are budgeting for an unemployment figure of 400,000 in the development areas, which is equivalent to the loss of 120,000 over the year. If that is so, surely the time has come when we are considering the immediate problem of 1947, and the vital need for manning-up during 1947, that we should develop systems of transfer. I am not suggesting direction; I am approaching the whole problem on the postulate that we are generally agreed that direction as in war-time is ruled out. But, apart from direction, by voluntary encouragement, something should be done to improve the transfer from the development areas for this critical period in 1947. We should be prepared to give increased grants for that purpose.
Now I come to the other side of the picture. So far I have been dealing with manning up. Now I come to where I suggest there is an absolute and urgent need to man down. That is in the group of public services. The Government have already suggested that that should be manned down from 2,130,000 by 80,000 during the year which will end in December, 1947. I hope the House will 423 believe that I am trying to approach this objectively. I do not see how the Government can get that reduction of 80,000 with the present nationalisation proposals coming into effect. I see a number of hon. Members opposite with whom I have the pleasure of discussing transport for several periods in the week in Committee upstairs. There is also electricity, in addition to what has already been nationalised. It will be seen from the Digest that for November and December, 1946, there is an overall increase in industry from 18,015,000 to 18,033,000. In the Government services there is an increase from 1,007,000 to 1,016,000. That comes under the non-industrial Civil Service sub-heading and others. That is an increase of 9,000; so that in an increase of 18,000 in the total employed in industry, no less than half is an increase in the Government service. That shows a dangerous trend and, coupled with the other point, it is very difficult to see how even that meagre decrease of 80,000 can be obtained. I firmly and sincerely believe that that 80,000 is nothing like the decrease which is necessary to deal with the situation today. I believe we ought to aim at an immediate decrease of at least a quarter of a million, rising to half a million within a very short fixed period.
§ Mr. D. J. Williams (Neath)
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggesting that people coming out of the public service will go into heavy industry?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Not all to heavy industry, but they will come into industry. May I remind the hon. Member that the Minister of Labour said in the beginning of his speech that there was an overall shortage, and I am sure he will agree that at present an overall shortage means that we get people going to the wrong slots. One of the reasons why we do not get people into the right slots in undermanned industries is obviously the existence of an overall shortage. If the right hon. Gentleman is right in that, it must follow that, when dealing with that double difficulty which the right hon. Gentleman put to the House of an overall shortage, coupled with maldistribution, to leave Government servants top heavy to the extent of, I suggest, anything from 250,000 to 500,000, is something which the country cannot afford at this time.
424 That is a constructive suggestion. The Government ought to put to themselves a short programme of reductions month by month, and see that it is carried out. That will be doing something which would be tremendously helpful to this problem which worries us all at present, irrespective of our political approach.
§ Mr. Dumpleton (St. Albans)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman postulated the desirability of a decrease of 250,000. Does he not intend to give us some idea which of the public services he thinks should be decreased?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I have told the House that I am trying, for the moment, to give the overall picture, and I do not propose to go into details, but clearly, one of the major sections which must be dealt with, and in which a decrease must fall, is that of the non-industrial civil servants. That is obvious, to my mind. On every point I have raised, I have tried to suggest what I think should be done. When one comes to details, it is not quite fair to put on the Opposition responsibilities for the details as to where the Government's own machinery of government could most easily take the load. But it is not only fair, but essential, that it should be put forward, that where the Government say that there should be a decrease, we should indicate that in our view the maintenance—because the Government's figure means that—of employees in the public service at over two million is more than the country can afford at the present time.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Perhaps the hon. Member will forgive me if I do not give way. I have tried to answer every one. I would like to develop my point, and if it is too provocative, and if the hon. Member rises again, I will give way.
I turn to certain more general points which I think are in the minds of all hon. Members. The first is in connection with the introductory remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman on the re-alignment of industry after the war. Apart from whether we take the view which is held by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that it has been well done, or the more critical view put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for 425 Saffron Walden, one must remember that it was an opportunity as well as a difficulty. The fact that there were 4,500,000 people in the Forces and 3,500,000 people in war industries, was an opportunity to see that the distribution could be got right. These people were outside, they had to be brought back, and all these matters with which I have endeavoured to deal in various industries could at any rate have been suggested and put forward for consideration as that gradual throwback and re-alignment took place.
The second point is the question of restrictive practices. Again, I wish to show hon. Members that I am merely following the White Paper, and that I am not trying. at this point, to make any provocative point. In paragraph 136 it is stated:Action which serves to reduce output per man-year in any industry in directly endangering the attainment of these (national) objectives.In paragraph 141 it is stated:Against this background there is no justification for action by either side of industry which limits production.The right hon. Gentleman has said many times, in the case of many problems which we have discussed, that the strength of his position has been the reliance he has put upon, and the contribution he has made to, the smooth and co-operative solution of industrial problems. I will not recall the various occasions when he has said that, but I think he will agree that that is a fair statement of his point of view. I do not care which side of industry restrictive practices occur on. I have always, in my political speeches, and in my election addresses, stood for an inquiry into restrictive practices on the employers' side. It happens to be my view, though it was in the manifesto of my party at the last election.
I suggest that we ought to pull these things out of the darkness and have a look at them. Let us know what we are discussing. Only last week the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith), for whom I have intense respect, seemed to express the view that there were no restrictive practices. The White Paper makes quite clear that in the view of the Government they do exist. Let us get clear what they are, and what it is with which we are dealing. I do not mind if the right hon. Gentleman then pursues, for a time, his policy, and see how far it can go—if he 426 gets the people together to discuss those practices and see how they can best be done away with. But I feel that we in this House ought to know what the problem is. We have our own ideas which may or may not be correct, about what it is. Apart from knowing what the problem is, what we want to know, and what we are entitled to know, is what the Government intend to do to deal with that problem.
I make that as a constructive suggestion—that we might be told what are the restrictive practices on either side of industry of which there is fear, and what is to be done. I come to one point on which, again, considerable doubt has been expressed. I only mention it, because I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to dispel the doubt which has existed. We hope there will not be any question of dealing with maldistribution by putting what I would call "fuel pressure" on certain industries, that is, either a threat or an actual cut of fuel or of power. There is a tremendous danger that that might have the result of widespread short-time and part-time, and I cannot imagine any more wasteful and helpless method of using our manpower than having large sections of short-time, as might occur.
My final point is this: I do not want anyone to think that I ignore for a moment the general basis on which I think we are all agreed—that the greatest contribution, the most helpful contribution, is more and harder work from the individual. Although it may not be an exact figure, roughly one always ought to bear in mind that a 5 per cent. increase on the part of individual workers in the total force of industry, is the equivalent of 900,000 more people when one is working on the force of 18 million. That is a sterling piece of arithmetic which we must bear in mind. If the Government are to make an appeal to industry, especially at the present day, when they are dealing with a most intelligent body of people, they must show that they themselves are taking every possible step to create the conditions in which that work can be most advantageously given. We have passed the stage when we will get the best results by making appeals, I care not who makes them. We must show that this is the path on which we consider the advance is to be made. We must say, "Come and back us. Come 427 and follow us along the path. There are our reasons for saying that it is the right path. That is the path you should follow."
It is in that spirit that I have endeavoured, with regard to what I consider the most difficult problems of the day, to indicate what I consider to be the right paths to be followed in the various industries. I ask that the right hon. Gentleman will consider again this problem of maldistribution in the under manned industries and that he will show us quite clearly not only why hard work is necessary but why that hard work will produce the results we all want if it is directed along the lines which are suggested.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Bolton)
I welcome the opportunity of taking part in this Debate. I do not intend to indulge in reiteration about things that happened in the past or to scratch old sores. I hope the Debate will develop on lines which are constructive and that we will gain at least some advantages. I wish to speak as one who is critical of the Government's position, and I hope that will not be taken amiss. This is a serious position, which requires very careful consideration, and practical commonsense must be applied by people who understand the various industries. I speak in this Debate as one of the very few men in this House who never in his life has earned a penny piece except under an incentive system which paid on results. I come from an industry which has a specialised set-up in regard to payment. It is an industry which does not publicise itself sufficiently. Our men get on with their jobs. They get results. They are paid accordingly and they cause very little trouble. The industry I refer to is the steel industry, and we are proud of it.
We have made a contribution in the past and we want to make a contribution to the future prosperity of our nation. We have gone into this matter very carefully. I believe in all that is said in "Let us Face the Future," and I make no apology for that. But at the same time we must always remember that in addition to facing the future we must face the facts as they exist today. I want to put forward some constructive proposals. The question of the numerical 428 strength of manpower is one thing; the correct use of our manpower is another. I ask the Government whether they are satisfied that the manpower available to this country—be it ever so small—is being used correctly. I question that. I want to quote from my own personal experience of working for 32 years on a production basis, never receiving a like wage from one week to another. My wage always altered according to what was produced. No man in this House can tell me that it is impossible to devise a system inside Britain's industries which will give, first and foremost, a decent minimum standard of life and, in addition, the incentive which will create output and get things moving.
I will refer to one figure which goes to prove my point. On the 7th of last month we in our industry brought into being a new national agreement. They are not talk, not hot air, but actual agreements to deal with potential increases in production. Here is a figure which may stagger the House. Men working on a basic open hearth furnace producing 1,130 tons a week, and who now go on to the new method of the continuous working week, in the interest of the State—not a reduced number of hours: the plant is working all through the week for 168 hours—will be paid at the rate of one shilling and 4.2362 pence per ton. That makes hon. Members opposite smile, but it proves how very careful we have been to assess the value of a man producing a ton of steel. We have gone to the extent of two tenths of a thousand of a penny. That is a hint to those people, for instance, in the building industry who say that they cannot work on an incentive basis. The steel industry has had its troubles. We asked for more food. If there is an industry in this country where men slog, sweat, slave, and lose weight, just like the miner, it is the steel industry. We asked for more food, but we did not get it, but our men have not unduly cried out about this fact.
I suggest that the Government should have applied themselves in the last 12 months to what the Trades Union Congress and the leaders of the trade unions have been thinking. This is my personal opinion. I do not know the opinion of the Government. I am not satisfied that His Majesty's Government, 429 of whom we are proud, have done all that they might have done to find out what the leaders of the various trade unions have been up to during the last 12 or 18 months. They may have done that, but there appears to me to have been no real concerted action on the part of the various trade unions with the Government. We get all manner of lack of concerted action. Coal goes on to a five-day week, the engineers ask for a 44-hour week, and the textile industry are asked to work a two-shift system, or so the President of the Board of Trade says in my constituency, the biggest textile constituency in the country. He tells us that we should have a two-shift system, and the people in the industry tell him that they have not sufficient fuel to work a two and a half day week. We must face this position. There are too many contradictory statements. It would be a good thing, when the President of the Board of Trade goes into industrial areas, if he would acquaint the hon. Members who represent those areas with the fact that he intends to go. We can be helpful to him: if we cannot, we have no right to be in this House. We must put up with visits by people stating the Government's case on paper, but I want to state what the Government's case should be in fact. We get all sorts of anomalies, with trade unions making different agreements not in conformity with each other. They do not dovetail in the way in which they should into a proper industrial economy.
Let us take the position of the miners. I do not want to scratch old sores. In fact I want to compliment the miners on what they have achieved. They have achieved a five-day week. Whether that is in the best interests of the country in its present desperate position remains to be seen. They have achieved better wages. They were long overdue. They have achieved more food and more clothes. That was also long overdue. But I ought to say that that extra food and those extra clothes can only come out of the restricted minimum economy which this country now has. It can only come out of the common pool at the expense of those who have to do without them, and therefore some statesmanship should be shown by the miners' leaders and something should be given in return. The miners have achieved no conscription. I am all for that. I would it were possible to live in a world where there is not even 430 a policeman in uniform, let alone a soldier, but that is not yet. The miners are entitled to these things; they should have had them 40 years ago. I did not move about in the mining villages when a boy without seeing what was wrong. But when the miners are given these things, the nation has a perfect right to ask something in return.
I have a question for the miners—not the miners' leaders but the miner himself—the rank and file, the honest-to-God fellow who slogs and slaves nearly every day of his life: Are you satisfied that you will by working a five-day week bring this country to an economic state which you yourself would desire, and having got these advantages, are you not prepared to see that the rest of your brothers in other industries get that better of life you will now get? I do not say it is too good or good enough—it could be better—but at the moment every miner has a perfect right to do what he can to get for others all that he himself has gained.
§ Mr. D. J. Williams
Does the hon. Member realise that all these privileges for coalminers simply have to be accepted by the coalminers because they cannot enter another industry?
§ Mr. Jones
I agree. The Essential Work Order still applies to the miner. I am not trying to belittle the right of the miner to the things he is getting. I made that very clear to the House. I would that all industries were getting the same. It was suggested in a very able speech by the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan) last week that we should go ahead and purchase something like 10 million tons of coal from America this year. I have been going into the question of what that might cost, and I am assured that it would mean the expenditure out of a very restricted dollar purse of something between 150 million to 200 million dollars. I respectfully suggest that no thinking miner would want to see 200 million dollars' worth of coal coming from America if it could be got by our own miners. The question of shipping space is also concerned in that. The miner would prefer to see 200 million dollars' worth of goods other than coal coming into this country every year so that a better standard of life could be brought about.
I ask the Front Bench, the Cabinet, or even the Prime Minister himself to make 431 one last appeal and to ask those grand men in the mines to give us the extra tonnage we so desperately need, at all events for the remainder of this year. I believe it can be done, especially if the request is made to the younger miners, if not to the older miners. If we ask the young, lusty, able, efficient younger miners for some extra shifts for some weeks, we might get a reply to astonish this House. I believe we should make that effort, and at all events we should ask for the absolute maximum output because of this agreement which has been reached inside the steel industry. We say that on a seven-day continuous working week this country can be given 750,000 to one million tons more steel under the present plan, but that cannot possibly be achieved unless we get the coal to do it. That is the point. One million tons extra of steel means one million tons of steel going out partly into light engineering and partly to the Argentine and elsewhere where we can build up our dollar reserves and thereby get better food.
I make my appeal to the miners, even if it is only an individual appeal. It may meet with opposition, but I care not about that because I am speaking with a conscience that tells me that this can be done and ought to be done. All other workers are watching this position. Nothing has been said by other trade unions about this extra food and clothes, but do not let the House think that the position is not being carefully watched by every trade union in the country. Do not let the House make that mistake. The miners are fully entitled to have these advantages, but do not let us misunderstand the position. The other unions—the men in the foundries, on the railways, in agriculture and in the heavy industries—are saying, "If it can be given to them, why can it not be given to us, particularly to those of us who will increase our hours of production as against those who are decreasing them?"
It is no use this House burying its head in the sand and blinding itself to the facts. The Opposition are well versed in what is going on in various parts of the country. Of course, there are restrictive practices in certain pockets among certain people arising from lack of co-ordination and understanding. They will only be found 432 in the great masses of persons who believe it is right to try to get back some of the things they lost in the past. They should be swept away. There is no such thing as "something for nothing." This House should today concern itself with problems of this description. In this Debate we can make a very useful contribution, if every hon. Member of the House will search his soul and speak the truth. There has been talk from the other side of the House about restriction of this, that and the other. If there was time to discuss it there would be scope to speak of the need for restriction in profits. But the time has arrived for all concerned to get right down to brass tacks and to the survival of this nation as such—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If we do not get down to that we shall have lost this fine opportunity to make a contribution which history will say was worthy of this occasion.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Combined English Universities)
The House has just listened to a remarkable speech, and speaking for myself, at any rate, it was a speech which brought very great relief. After the Debate was started by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), full of sweet reason and questioning, it seemed to me that we were now set on the possibility of coming to grips with the problems which we failed to meet last week. I had quite a good speech ready last week, but it is now out of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I propose to scrap it.
I suggested in the midnight hours that many hon. Members and a large public outside are rather anxious at the moment that we should plan our own Parliamentary affairs rather better if we are to try to plan the economic resources of the country. Everyone knows that manpower is part of a very much larger problem involving defence, national service, mechanisation, management, training and education. The hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) in a very interesting speech last week may be right that the phrase "democratic planning" is a contradiction in terms. He said it is quite impossible unless there is a meeting in the middle; in other words, unless there is some common purpose. This Debate depends finally on foreign policy and commitments overseas. It depends on the 433 strength of our Armed Forces, and on that question there is very considerable disagreement, not only in the House generally but in the party opposite in particular. Therefore, without the Debate on defence which takes place tomorrow, it is very difficult to get this whole question in proportion.
I want to refer to one or two points which were mentioned just now. I think it is much better for example to illustrate, if we suggest cuts, where we can make cuts in the precise industries, as the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Jones) referred to the steel industry, which he knows so well. We heard last week that we have in the Army, Navy and Air Force now a shortage of instructors and teachers running into some 2,000 or 3,000. We are short in our own schools of every kind. There are scores of posts overseas and in the Colonial education service advertised and unfilled. What is the position in this country? We have 38,000 applicants accepted for teaching. This is to illustrate my point from the field I know. There are 10,000 men in training, and there are probably another 5,000 doing temporary duties. That means there are something like 25,000, mostly ex-Servicemen, hanging about frustrated or lost to the educational service, and the need for at least 5,000 in the Services at this very moment. At the same time there is growing up a chronic shortage of women teachers, because the ratio in these emergency training colleges is five to one men as compared with women, and there has been an increase in the birth-rate for six years.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that those 5,000 should be directed to teaching in the Services?
§ Mr. Lindsay
I did not mention the word "directed" at all. I suggest they should stay where they are and go into the emergency training colleges as soon as there is room. Again, owing to the increase in meticulous controls and paper plans, there is a large increase in the local authority staffs. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to pass this on to the Minister of Education. Nearly one adult 434 worker to nine children will be the position when the Education Act gets into operation. For every teacher there are doctors, nurses, administrative staff, organisers, welfare officers, school secretaries, librarians, laboratory assistants, caretakers, cleaners, groundsmen, cooks and meals supervisers, domestic staff, vehicle drivers, psychologists and psychiatrists. This is a formidable pay roll. It is one adult to every nine children and, finally, there will be involved some 600,000 persons, of whom less than half will be actually teachers.
The danger of mentioning these facts is that Government supporters and I have very lively memories of the May Committee, and much of the undercurrent in last week's Debate turned on memories of the pre-war years. I believe those memories are just as important as the facts which have been put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby. In making, therefore, a plea for reviewing an educational expenditure at the local authority end of the swollen manpower, I would make it perfectly clear that I have decided, on balance, that we ought to raise the school leaving age next April on economic and educational grounds, as well as political. But I think the Government ought to state the case. We shall lose the nimble fingers and the work of something like 130,000 boys and girls next September, and about 400,000 by the following December. Thereafter the outflow will return to normal, so we are taking away for about one and a half years 400,000 children. When I was more familiar with this question in East London, these boys between 14 and 15 were van boys, they carried messages, they did odd jobs, they probably had eight or 10 jobs between the ages of 14 and 18. That is not the position today. A good many blind alley jobs have gone, I hope for good. They are demanding quite considerable wages now. The boot is on the other foot. There is a premium on child labour between 14 and 17 at the present moment. There is a little unemployment at 17 before the call-up for the Services at 18. It is a sort of nervousness if they are out of work. They say, "Why go into another job for a few months?" The fact of the matter is that there is much more careful vocational guidance, much more careful selection for entry into industry at this day. We shall need even more in future.
435 After all, we have had six speeches from this side suggesting that we ought to look at this question again and I think it is time somebody said something. If you delay this, you will put teachers out of work because, owing to the speeding up of the training of teachers, there will be, as there are already some Welsh, English teachers unemployed. There are 70,000 building operatives working on educational building and on general educational work. Hon. Members on this side may ask, "Why are they not in the development areas?" We had a speech from one of the North Eastern Members the other night telling us how slow the construction is of the factories on the North East coast, but I warn the Government that if they did do any such thing, they would only be creating unemployment in another field, and that is in the teaching profession. However, I say this after careful deliberation: unless there is a major military operation between now and September, and there is a switch from all canteens to practical classrooms, children will not be sitting down in school next September. I appreciate that means a considerable switch and a considerable operation, but owing to the dislocation caused by the recent crisis, that is the position in my opinion. It would be out of place to say anything more about it, but I think we ought to have had one debate over two years on this question.
The other point I want to mention is the Barlow Report and the question of higher manpower and technical manpower for both the Services and civil life. This is becoming very serious. We are not dealing only with quantity, we are not dealing only with coal and textiles and agriculture; I give my opinion for what it is worth, that I do not believe it will be practical in this country to raise the school leaving age next April, to have a period of national service and a million people in the Services. I do not know whether the Minister of Labour and the Government quite realise what is happening in the field of secondary and university education due to the call-up. The universities now are swollen to 50 per cent. more than they were prewar, and this is a very remarkable achievement done by closing up and by getting staff, and much of it is bound to be not of the highest order. But the students are at least in the universities.
436 I will mention a few small points to show the position of a student who works in the vacation, which is current practice in many countries. Fifty per cent. of his earnings is taken away. I hope that stipulation will be abolished forthwith. I know the wife of a student who works as a doctor two days a week for £5. That is taken off—£100 off the student. This is again completely stupid. I will say one further thing which has come from Manchester and Leeds and the other universities that I represent; that there are now something like 30,000 students who are prepared, if the Ministry of Labour will show them where, to work in the vacation. This is being done in Czechoslovakia. I saw it last year. It is being done in Holland. Will my right hon. Friend say where they can be used? Could the Minister of Agriculture use them? I hear there is a very serious situation in agriculture. Could he organise them to work in groups, and will he also organise them as we organised in the war—I think we had 20,000 working with the help of the Foreign Secretary and Lord Citrine in forestry and harvest camps, young workers who combined a holiday and camp and useful paid National Service. They made a very great contribution.
I would ask the Minister of Labour to overhaul the Appointments Boards. It is a question I have asked him before. We now have 50,000 students, most of whom receive a Government grant. The Government have to be certain that the industries into which those students propose to go have sufficient absorptive capacity to enable them to enter. There are a number of ways in which the Government indirectly influenced manpower—by grants; extra and better training facilities here and there; and, of course, by the Burnham scales and by salaries. It is true to say that there are many ways in which the Government are influencing the direction of labour from the universities and elsewhere; but 80 per cent. of the metallurgical students and other scientific students are leaving Leeds and Manchester universities this Easter and going into the Services, instead of going into jobs of vital importance to the nation. The Barlow Committee said that we are lamentably short of scientific workers. That is the kind of question in which we are now involved.
We heard yesterday from the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander 437 Noble), who speaks with great knowledge on naval affairs, that the Admiralty have underspent £1,000,000 on scientific services. We do not want vast hoards of manpower in the Services. We have to face the facts of scientific use of manpower in the Services and in industry. Unless we have the right quality of man to teach the next generation we shall find ourselves sadly behind. I do not like to see my young friends going off to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There are science posts in London at £1,000 a year and there are not the scientists to fill them. There are secondary schools in Manchester and Leeds which have no scientists.
I speak of what I know. I believe that this is another important part of the whole question of manpower—yes, and womanpower. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, What about womanpower? What about the day-time nurseries? Are we certain that the number of people employed in looking after the children will not be greater than the women released for industry? I am not at all certain. I would rather see good improvised, prefabricated nursery schools for Children from two or three upwards, and the very small children looked after by their mothers. I am not so keen about little children left in creches up to 12 hours a day. There are still tendencies in that direction. If the right hon. Gentleman disagrees with what I say, and if he can prove that the scheme is economical, will he restore the grant which was given by the Ministry of Labour during the war and set up nurseries as part of a great national service?
§ Mr. Isaacs
Can the hon. Gentleman give me instances of creches where children are left for 12 hours?
§ Mr. Lindsay
Yes, Sir, I can give the right hon. Gentleman a number of instances where children are left at the creche early in the morning and the mothers do not come back until night. It is happening in the north of England and in parts of South Wales.
I do not believe in recalling what happened after the last war. We can all be very wise about it now. I remember the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) saying, when somebody during the war began to throw stones: I have never said 'I told you so.' "It is better that we do not start talking on those 438 lines. There is now a transference of power in this country. I regard that as the most important thing that happened at the last General Election. One reason why I voted for the Government last week is because I believe it is better during this transitional period that the Government should have behind them the solid backing of a strong trade union movement. I say so with a sense of responsibility. I believe that ultimately, when we have talked all the hot air and made all the paper plans, unless industry is happy, right down into the shops, as we heard yesterday from the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) with regard to a ship's company, it is no good talking about increased production and all the rest of it. Behind this Government, as behind all Governments, there are other powers. Behind the Conservative Government there were powers. At this moment we hope that there is a responsible trade union movement behind the Government. All that the country asks is that that responsibility shall be fully realised.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, Northern)
I want to turn to the wide problem of manpower in the agricultural industry. I would like to know whether there is a general, overall shortage of manpower in the country, or whether there is simply maldistribution. There is an old saying in the North of England that for every mouth there is a pair of hands. It is true in the sense that we all have to be housed and fed, but we are short of labour for producing many goods which we produced until recently. I am sure it is a good proposition to bring in foreign workers. It is common ground that we are not producing enough food, and not as much as we have produced before.
Since the Debate last week another White Paper dealing with this aspect of the question has been published. It appears to have been a White Paper written during the war and issued recently, I believe as a result of a request made in a Debate in another place. It is entitled "The Post-War Contribution of British Agriculture to the Saving of Foreign Exchange," and there are in it some very interesting suggestions, although I find them a little vague. It is suggested that we should be able to increase production above the wartime level by turning 439 to livestock, and that by 1950–51 we might increase the production of food in this country to an extent which, at present prices, might save anything up to £191 million of imports. It would save less than that, of course, if the levels of consumption of food were raised above those that existed during the war, which I think is essential, but nevertheless it is a very large figure. Even if the saving in foreign exchange were £100 million, it would be a very great contribution to our foreign trade situation. In the Economic Survey, on which a Debate took place last week, no increase of that sort in food production was suggested; all that was suggested was that we should maintain our present production.
The first point I want to put to the Minister is that, when in the Economic Survey it is suggested we must raise the labour force in agriculture by 39,000 workers by the end of this year, I take it that is based on an intention to produce as much food as we produced last year, but not to increase food production. As I read the other White Paper, the 39,000 workers will not, in fact, increase the labour force in agriculture. At present, there are 130,000 German prisoners of war, each of whom is counted as being equal to half a British worker, so that according to the Government's calculations, 130,000 German prisoners are considered to be worth about 60,000 regular British male workers. If half the total number of German prisoners are going back, we shall lose the equivalent of 30,000 British workers, and therefore, if we were to increase British manpower by only 39,000, we should be left with a net increase of 9,000, which, given the very large number of men employed in agriculture, is a negligible figure. Is the calculation right that, on the one hand, we do not really hope to increase British agricultural production this year, and, on the other hand, the increase in manpower which is hoped for will not raise the manpower in agriculture by the end of the year substantially above the level that exists today? If that is so, the other White Paper to which I have referred is merely of academic interest.
There are, I recognise, other factors which limit agricultural production at the present time, imported animal feeding-stuffs perhaps being the most important 440 of those factors. In the second White Paper, some other limiting conditions are mentioned. One of them is that there is no undue shortage of labour, a condition likely to be effected by relative wage rates in agriculture with competing occupations. Another condition is that a high priority is given to farm building work, including cottages, without which the programme could not be achieved as early as 1950–51. It seems that the condition that there should not be an undue shortage of labour is not to be fulfilled at the present time. There is not enough labour to produce the food we are now purchasing, let alone such a large increase as is contemplated in the White Paper.
I ask the Minister what steps he contemplates to get new labour into agriculture. The increased total labour force in agriculture which, according to the White is 38,000. There is a tremendous drive, as anyone can see, to get miners. One Paper, it is hoped to get is 39,000 by the end of the year, and for mining the figure has only to walk down Bond Street to see a picture of a miner on a poster, with a suitable slogan on it. What is being done to get more agricultural workers? There was a great campaign during the war, and as the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay) said at the end of his speech, there were many good ideas for voluntary camps, which might be repeated. I do not think there is recognition among the public, in spite of the bad harvest last year and the desperate weather from which we are now suffering, of the need to give help in voluntary camps.
Returning to the question of recruiting regular workers, the Government have a scheme which was intended to introduce, perhaps, 100,000 new workers into agriculture from the Forces or elsewhere. The figures which I have been given show that actually 5,200 men went into the training scheme for agriculture, that 1,600 of them did not finish the course, and that, so far, only 500 have completed the course of training. The figures for women, which are perhaps even worse, show that 500 took up the training, that 100 did not finish the course, and that 70 have completed their training. Obviously, there is something fatally wrong with that training scheme. I hope the Ministry will try to learn from past mistakes, that they will not give up the training scheme, but will 441 go ahead with it, and try to find out what really was wrong.
I think there are some general basic matters which prevent people from going into agriculture and which are still worth looking into. The hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Jones) made an interesting speech, and I put it to him that the conclusion of his speech was really that there must be a wages policy for the whole of the workers of this country; otherwise, some groups of workers will get advantages over other groups, and the groups which get the advantages will not necessarily be those whom one most wants to have advantages in wages, in consumers' goods and so on. I would put it to the hon. Member if he were here that that would be the real conclusion of his speech. We on this bench have advocated a wages policy for long enough.
§ Mr. K. Lindsay
The hon. Gentleman is constantly saying that we need a wages policy, but would he be more precise? Does he mean that we should supersede the agreements, or how in fact would it work out?
§ Mr. Roberts
I should have said that it would work out broadly like this. You decide which industries you wish to recruit workers into, and, if they are the agricultural, coalmining and the textile industries, you then see that the wages and conditions in those industries are such as to attract workers from other industries. That is a very simple and broad statement, but that is the basic policy, and I would ask the Minister of Agriculture whether he is satisfied with the industry with which I am dealing. Although we have had considerable increases in wages in the agricultural industry, still the wages of agricultural workers are below those of any other organised workers.
§ Mr. Robens (Wansbeck)
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me a moment, this is a most important matter. He used the word "you." Whom did he mean when he said "You must decide which are the essential industries," and when it has been decided, how does he propose to prevent the luxury industries which will always be able to pay more than the essential industries, from paying more? How is he going to do this job? Will it be by direction, or how is it to be done, and where do the trade unions come into this scheme?
§ Mr. Roberts
On the first question, I meant the Government; they produced the White Paper saying which industries need more workers, and giving the precise figures they want. But they gave no indication in the White Paper as to how those figures are to be achieved, and if it is not to be by some form of wages policy I do not know how it is. They have said quite definitely that they are not going to direct individuals, and I agree with them, but I throw it back to them, if they are not going to follow out the idea of a wages policy, how are they going to get the numbers they want recruited into the various industries? Are the figures quoted in the White Paper merely a pious hope? How are you going to achieve in the agricultural industry a labour force which will be 39,000 more by the end of the year?
§ Mr. Robens
In other words, the hon. Member's suggestion boils down to this: the Government should legislate for wages in all industries.
§ Mr. Roberts
I did not say legislate; there are other methods of doing things besides passing Acts of Parliament. I should say that this was certainly not a matter for legislation, but rather for administration. We have minimum wages by legislation in some industries at the present time, but I am not suggesting that wages should be fixed generally by legislation in this country.
Let me go back to the very interesting speech of a man who, I readily agree, knows more about this than I do, the hon. Member for Bolton, whose speech I think was generally approved by the House. What was he saying? He was pointing to the fact that the miner had won a very favourable position. He did not grudge it, but he pointed out that it was so. That is desirable if it is going to mean that he will get the coal, because it will be to the benefit of all other workers. All I am saying is that if you want to get a larger force of agricultural workers, and thereby get a larger quantity of food for all workers and consumers in this country, you have got to see to it that the agricultural worker is not so much worse off than other workers. Unless you have a policy about that, and a wages policy as well as a housing policy for agricultural workers, you will not in fact get agricultural workers. I will not enter into a longer 443 argument, taking up more time than I meant to do, on that subject. The only way to get more production for the same number of agricultural workers is to increase output per man; that has gone up during the war, but it will not continue to go up if another Government Department continues to export agricultural machinery. The only way to get a larger output per man is to mechanise agriculture even more.
I want to say a word about foreign labour. There are many displaced persons still on the Continent, and one analysis I have seen says that there are 60,000 agricultural workers in camps in Austria alone whom we are partly helping to pay and feed. I looked up the Debate on manpower a year ago, and one argument the Lord President of the Council used then about bringing foreign workers into this country was the housing problem. He said that camps were no good because they were not near industrial centres. It is true they are not, but they are near agricultural centres, and you could very well use both aerodromes and old Army camps, which are standing empty all over the country, to accommodate foreign agricultural workers. I hope the Minister of Agriculture intends to do that. I would say this, too. We depend so much these days on the Government having schemes to provide what we need, and I am quite sure that a considerable contribution to this problem would be made if there were a little more private enterprise on the part of individuals in getting foreigners into this country to work on farms. This applies equally to other essential purposes.
In my county we have an interesting scheme by which Austrian women are working in farm houses, and that would never have been achieved but for the individual enterprise of a few people in the country, especially one or two connected with the National Farmers' Union. It is a drop in the ocean; perhaps a dozen or a couple of dozen girls have been brought over. One or two people were determined to solve the problem of helping the farmers' wives and they have got a few people over. If they were allowed to carry it out I am sure they could get a lot more. In the last two years I have known the Home Office refuse to allow quite a number of foreigners to stay in this country, but I am confident that as a part-time job, as a Member of Par- 444 liament, I could fit in quite a number. Those people want to come to this country, but the whole thing is so surrounded by a mass organisation that nothing happens.
There is the case of the German and Italian prisoners of war here. I know cases of both who would like to stay and continue to work on the farms, but it is not possible because there is no scheme by which they can do so. Whether it is the Ministry of Labour or the War Office who would have to work out such a scheme I do not know, but I would say this to the Minister of Labour. So far as the West and North country farmers are concerned, the relationship between the worker and the employer is a very individual relationship, and if a farmer finds a German prisoner of war with whom he gets on well and who works well for him, that man is worth much more than just a prisoner of war or a deported person who may be brought into this country at some future date. I believe a little more private enterprise in fitting the individual into the right job would be valuable. In the old days when Irish labour used to come over, one Irishman would come in advance to arrange with the farms for the employment of a whole group. That is an arrangement which, perhaps, would help towards solving the problem quickly.
There are many British people who want to emigrate to the Dominions. I have seen figures amounting to 300,000 people who have indicated their desire to go to the Dominions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada. What is the Government's policy? Those people are some of our best workers in all fields, and the Dominions want only the best people. I have never been anxious to see large-scale emigration, because I have always believed that there would be full employment in this country, and we want the type of young person who is most enterprising and most likely to go to the Dominions. In the future, the figure may rise to hundreds of thousands, and it is a factor which must be taken into account. So far as this affects agriculture, there is no doubt that those who have already emigrated are the best farmers and farm workers.
The Agriculture Bill, which the Minister is piloting through the Committee upstairs, is a very good Bill, but the 445 fundamental difficulty in getting more and better workers and retaining those we have got is that there is no confidence in the future. In the North of England there is no confidence that there will not be general unemployment again. There is no confidence that the future of agriculture is assured. In my part of the world there is still widespread feeling against women working in industry because it is felt that they are taking the jobs from the men. There is nothing very precise that one can say about that, except that I am sure there is a future for workers and farmers in producing food in this country. We shall never put that over unless the Minister and the Government make it clear beyond doubt, not by words but by actions, that they have a long-term policy.
If the Ministry can fix a target for increased production, if the Government could restate the policy contained in the White Paper—incidentally, there is no statement as to how much manpower would be required—if the Government could work out the amount of manpower required and would set a high target for the sake of improving the nutrition in this country, and for staving off a food crisis similar to the coal crisis which we have experienced recently, perhaps the public would be persuaded that there is a future for this industry and the Minister would not find it difficult to recruit the necessary men.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
This Debate has roamed over a wide area from mining to textiles, agriculture and so forth, but since the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), who opened this Debate, made special mention of agriculture, it may be to the convenience of the House if I deal with that subject at the moment so that the wider aspects of manpower can be dealt with later on. I would like to say how much I appreciate the modest tones of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his effort at constructive suggestions in divers ways. The questions to which I have to reply are fairly short, and I hope to say something about each one of them in turn. I will come back to the points raised by the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) later on.
446 The right hon. and learned Gentleman who opened the Debate referred to the Economic Survey which emphasised the importance of agriculture in the Government's plans for putting the national economy on a sound basis. Recently I announced the cropping targets for 1948 and subsequent years—a thing hitherto unprecedented in this House. The hon. Member for North Cumberland, apparently, had not noticed that. I also made plain what our objective was in restoring the livestock population in this country. We realise, as do hon. Members in all parts of the House, that the attainment of those targets depends upon very many factors, perhaps the chief one being the question of labour. On several occasions, I have assured the House that the Government will do everything within their power, apart from direction, to secure additional labour as well as to encourage the development of machinery and other aids to economy in manpower.
I am very delighted to note this new found enthusiasm in some quarters for manpower in agriculture. There was a notable absence of enthusiasm between 1921 and 1939 when we lost something like a quarter of a million of our manpower which is causing so much excitement today. It is true that our long-term aim must be to recruit more British labour. That, in turn, depends upon the prosperity and efficiency of agriculture. As far as the Government are concerned, not only for today but, I hope, for tomorrow and for a long time to come, the Agriculture Bill now upstairs represents the Government's part in aiming at long-term prosperity. That is fundamental if we are to procure the necessary manpower, but I should like to turn to one or more of the other factors which are essential if we are ultimately to resolve the problem.
First, the Government are determined, in order to get the appropriate quantity of manpower, to create satisfactory living conditions in the countryside, especially by providing more houses, which in itself will be a vital factor in producing recruitment to agriculture. As hon. Members recognise, the Government are giving every encouragement they can to rural district councils. They have offered the largest subsidy for houses to be occupied by agricultural workers ever offered in this country. The county agricultural executive committees are co-operating 447 with rural district councils, indicating where the houses are most necessary. Wages and conditions in agriculture—
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with the proportion of houses being built for agricultural workers at the present time out of the total houses being built?
§ Mr. Williams
What I do know is, that a higher proportion of rural district councils have had tenders approved from the beginning of our housing campaign that have urban areas. But it depends upon the rural councils themselves to determine how many houses they are building, and how many of those houses they allocate for agricultural workers. The Minister can provide the subsidy he can do his best to provide the manpower; but it is the local authority which determines how many houses should be built, and how many houses are to be allocated for the agricultural workers. As far as the Minister of Health is concerned, he has fulfilled his share of the bargain.
I was about to refer to the question of wages. Hon. Members will recall that for the past few years wages and conditions for agricultural workers have improved considerably. Please remember that in 1939 the minimum wage for the agricultural worker was 35s. per week, for 50 hours or more. Today, the minimum wage is 80s. per week, for 48 hours. Therefore, we can now at all events afford to talk agricultural labour up instead of talking it down, as it has been talked down for very many years. The Government intends to see to it now, that these conditions are improved, that there will be no slipping back, as we slipped back after the 1914–18 war—for that is the period whence most of our present day troubles can be dated. More British labour is obviously a long-term problem. The immediate need is for more emergency measures. The Government have done a great deal in trying to keep agriculture going during the past 18 months or more, and I welcome this opportunity provided by the right hon. and learned Gentleman 448 to outline the assistance which the Government have given in various ways, which has not always been appreciated, either in this House or outside.
For instance, demobilisation and special Class "B" releases have resulted in valuable increases in the number of regular male workers, which now stands at 482,000 as against 448,000 a year ago. That is the highest figure for regular agricultural workers for the last 10 years. I do not think hon. Members opposite really appreciate that. Regular workers in agriculture continue to be protected by the suspension of calling up notices; and to that extent we have helped to maintain our British army of agricultural workers at a higher point than would otherwise have been the case. The Women's Land Army has been maintained in existence. Although at present it numbers only 27,000 compared with over mow at its wartime peak, it is at least an all the year round assistance to agriculture, and we hope the recruiting campaign this spring will increase the present strength of 27,000. We hope to keep the Women's Land Army in existence for at least one more year, and future arrangements are under consideration at this moment. I should like to take this opportunity of making a very strong appeal to women who have not yet made up their minds what occupation or profession they are likely to enter, to join the Women's Land Army.
The county committees are maintaining staffs of agricultural workers to provide mobile gangs needed to help all sorts of farmers, large and small, but particularly small farmers who have not the labour available to them. Unemployed workers from development areas are being recruited, and very useful results have so far been obtained. However, if more houses had been erected in rural areas in prewar days we should have been able to recruit many more potential agricultural workers from development areas. There are still considerable numbers of German prisoners available in this country, and in their allocation at the coming harvest the highest possible priority will be given to agriculture. It is true, that owing to repatriation the total number will be fewer than the peak figure of 1946. But the number will still be very large, and I am fairly satisfied about the forthcoming harvest. Apart from this—and here is one reply to the hon. Member for 449 North Cumberland—as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour announced on 13th March, the Government are prepared to consider an arrangement for farmers to retain prisoners of war on a civilian basis—that is, of course, where the farmers can provide accommodation, and where their employment is without detriment to British workers.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett (Ludlow)
Does that mean the prisoners will draw the civilian rate of wage, and keep it for themselves?
§ Mr. Williams
Once a person becomes a civilian he automatically receives a civilian wage, and would be assimilated into our own population.
§ Mr. Williams
Certainly. That was what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour announced in this House on 13th March.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
It is not so much a question of how many German prisoners we gel for the harvest, but how willingly they are prepared to work. Could the Minister bring some pressure to bear so that those who do a good job this harvest will be repatriated by next Christmas?
§ Mr. Williams
I am afraid my hon Friend is asking me to make a promise which I am not in a position to make. If he would like to address any such query to the War Office, perhaps he might get a more appropriate reply from that source. I ought to remind my hon. Friend that a definite improvement was made in the payment of prisoners during the latter months of last year. I hope even that may not be the end.
Prior to those interruptions, I was about to say that we contemplate recruiting a substantial number of men from the Polish Resettlement Corps. I hope that may yield a valuable addition to the standing labour force in this country. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me how we would keep either displaced persons or prisoners in this country, retaining them in certain unattractive or undermanned industries, and whether we should retain them in camps. He asked would we be able to get houses for them, 450 or what would we do? It is quite clear that the shortage of housing in the rural areas—a legacy of the evil past—compels us to utilise camps and hostels to the fullest possible extent I, no more than the dockers, want to see agriculture casualised, as we have been trying to decasualise dock labour for the past 20, 30 or 40 years. But in the circumstances, and in the absence of houses for agricultural workers, it is clear that we shall have to make the maximum use of both camps and hostels for this particular purpose. One other point I ought to mention with regard to foreigners is in regard to applications made for Italian ex-prisoners who were employed in agriculture in this country. The farmer with whom such a man was employed makes the application to the Ministry of Labour; and those persons will have it made easy for them so long as they come here to work in agriculture, and intend to remain in agriculture.
But I want to emphasise, after all 1 have said about this alien employment, that the employment of foreign labour must not operate to the detriment of the British workmen. Their wages and their working conditions must be safeguarded, or otherwise we shall lose more on the swings than we gain on the roundabout. Apart from regular workers, the Government are continuing their schemes for harvest help. School camps have already been arranged; volunteer agricultural camps have already been arranged; and if the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay) knows of university students, up to 5,000, 10,000 or 15,000, anxious to render a contribution during the harvest, I can assure him that they will receive a very hearty welcome in the countryside this summer.
I have the authority of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War for stating that full assistance can be assured from the Service Departments. Hon. Members ought to be aware that the severe weather conditions recently have not only delayed Spring cultivations, but have brought other misfortunes, too. So far as the Secretary of State for War is concerned, he is not only prepared to provide all the assistance he can for emergency flood prevention, but, also, for the getting in of the Spring crop, should that assistance be necessary. With this help, I feel confident that the industry can look forward with confidence, at least, to the 451 1947 harvest; and next year, which is going to be more difficult because the prisoners will largely have departed, I hope that the industry will be able to attract more British civilian labour to work on the land, as well as the foreign labour assimilated into the industry. The leaders of the industry have satisfied me, at all events, that they are doing all they can to help themselves by recruiting British labour. I am hoping—hon. Members opposite may smile once again, as they usually do at the mention of this subject, not that they built many houses between 1920 and 1940 themselves—but I am hoping that by 1948 there will be many new houses in the countryside.
§ Mr. Williams
When these houses are available, I am convinced that they will attract more labour to the countryside, now that wages and conditions are better than they ever were in the countryside under Conservative government of this country. The farmers are making steady efforts to recruit labour, and I can assure hon. Members that we are as anxious as they are to provide them with the proper labour to do the job, and so play their full part in the national economy. I would say, therefore, in conclusion, that if hon. Members opposite, from this day on, will start talking agriculture up, as persistently as they have let agriculture down, we shall get the houses, we shall get the men, we shall save the dollars, and, at long last, agriculture will be able to play its full part in the national economy.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
I invite the House to allow its mind to be diverted from the general question before us to a brief survey of the question whether we are making adequate use of our disabled people who could, in certain circumstances, make a notable contribution towards solving our problem of lack of manpower. Only the other day, an hon. Friend of mine in this House, who is a director of an old family business, said to me, "Can you provide me with one of your blinded soldiers from St. Dunstan's as a telephone operator for our business? We will look after him. He would be a lifelong member of this family business." It was the kind of job a man might like to have. I replied, "Certainly." But, on 452 inquiry, I found I could not provide him with one for six months, such is the demand for the services of a special category of highly disabled men, if suitably trained for a particular job. In spite of that, the examination which I have made has satisfied me that, in the wider field of the disabled generally, there is a considerable wastage of most valuable material.
I want to call the attention of the House to this matter, and ask the Minister of Labour to correct me if I am wrong, or, if I am right, to sympathise with some of the proposals I am going to make to bring this labour into use and to distribute it properly throughout the country. I want to take the House back to the days before this last war, before we had the Disabled Persons Act, when we relied, at least, upon voluntary machinery called the King's Roll National Council for securing employment for disabled soldiers, sailors and airmen. I happened to be vice-chairman of that body for 20 years. I recently looked up some of its figures, and I found that, during those 20 years, the unemployment amongst disabled men averaged about 9 per cent. During the most severe year of all, 1932, when the unemployment amongst male adults generally was 25 per cent., unemployment amongst the disabled was 10.5 per cent.—a notable achievement on the part of that voluntary body. During the years from 1936 to the outbreak of the recent war, the unemployment amongst disabled persons fell to between 7 per cent. and 8 per cent. In 1941 and 1942 it fell to 1 per cent. That was, no doubt, exceptional; but it is clear, I think, that between the war years, by voluntary methods, disabled soldiers, sailors and airmen, of whom there were over 400,000 on this voluntary register, were employed in proportions which were, on the whole, better than those applicable to the adult population as a whole.
May I bring the House to the present position? We passed the Disabled Persons Act with the good will of hon. Members in all parties. The existence of a register, a compulsory register, compelled firms to give 3 per cent. of their employment to disabled persons, and there are at this moment 720,000 persons, including ex-Servicemen and other disabled persons, on the register set up under that Act. Of those 720,000 persons roughly 453 72,000, or 10 per cent. are unemployed. But if we contrast the present figures with the figures which I have given for the years before the war, it will be seen that four-sevenths of the numbers on the register are the men of the great war. Only 300,000 have come on to the register since the Disabled Persons Act was passed.
The House will remember that, under the Act, all the men on the old register automatically came on to the new. Moreover, if the unemployment amongst men of the great war was down to 1 per cent. in 1941–42, and even if it rose to 2 or 3 per cent. now, it has not gone up to 10 per cent. It appears, therefore, that unemployment amongst disabled men during the second world war must far exceed 10 per cent., and may even be as much as 15 or 20 per cent. Under the voluntary system of the inter-war years, the unemployment amongst disabled men was less than half of what it was for the adult population, and it is now probably three times as great, and we do not know how many men who have come out of the recent war are not on the register at all.
For example, I am told that there are 120,000 unemployed cases of neurosis and tuberculosis who are not on the disabled persons register at all. Included in the 70,000 unemployed disabled persons at the present time are 6,000 who are disabled in the highest degree, and who are listed as requiring very special employment. What is meant by that is that they can only be employed in a factory in exceptional circumstances if a very particular and suitable job is chosen. Probably, they will have to be employed in special factories, and there is provision in the Act for the setting up of special sheltered factories, called "Remploy" factories, to take these men. There are 6,000 of them out of work, and the Government have started with four of these factories, providing places for 250 men.
Contrast that with what St. Dunstan's has been able to do. There are still some hundreds of blinded soldiers being trained by St. Dunstan's, but there are 351 who have been trained and settled in remunerative jobs, and over 90 per cent. of them are now out in the country earning their living in full competition with sighted workers, while the Government plan to provide work for 250 out of 454 6,000. It is surely time that this valuable labour, perhaps not capable, in the case of same of the most severely disabled men, of doing the greatest and hardest work, but certainly capable of making a valuable contribution, should be brought into active work by the proper use of this scheme by the Ministry of Labour.
May I revert to the question of these neurotic people? There are over 120,000 and they vary from extreme cases almost of psychosis to the mildest cases of neurosis. These men are not incapable of work. They are difficult subjects for the ordinary day-to-day bustle and life of a factory, but, if they are properly placed in congenial surroundings, where they will be sympathetically understood, they very soon recover from the anxiety state in which they find themselves, and become as faithful, as vigorous and as active workers as any. I have been wondering whether agriculture might not be greatly helped by some scheme which would give training to some scores of thousands of these men. The quiet agricultural life is one that is soothing to torn nerves and shattered temperaments, but it is by no means my suggestion that agriculture should have persons less than the fittest, because agriculture needs the fittest, but, in the time of great shortage, could we not ascertain whether or not a large proportion of these men would be capable of training to fit them for work in our fields? Of course, they will need housing, but I do not want to develop any argument with regard to that, because I have enough to say in the time at my disposal on this special matter, but I suggest that, in this field, there is a source from which fresh labour could be found.
The Government could get more help from psychiatrists if they set up more clinics where these men could be trained and if they set up big farms where they could also receive instruction. I am told by my friends in the British Legion that they are offering the Government help in the matter of psychiatrist treatment, and I earnestly hope that that offer will be accepted and used by the Government, because I believe there is a big field of additional labour to be found there. I am sure the whole House will feel that a man whose nerve has been shaken by arduous war service, as it has in many cases, deserves to be helped in order that 455 he may get back into a decent job, rather than be allowed to linger and languish as the result of his disability.
Yesterday, I asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury a Question, and he told me that the Government Departments were employing 5 per cent. of their number of disabled persons. That is a good figure. The Act says they must employ 3 per cent. and Government Departments are actually employing 5 per cent., and are therefore doing more than they are compelled to do. I think we must congratulate the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on being able to make that statement, and also the Minister of Labour and his officers on having made so many places. I would like to know, however, whether the local authorities have done as well. I hope so, but I must say I doubt it. I know a good many private employers, particularly among the big firms, who have schemes for carrying out their obligations under the Act, and they are employing their full 3 per cent., and, in many cases more, but I wonder how many firms throughout the country are not employing their full 3 per cent. I wonder if the Minister of Labour would cause some kind of check to be made to see whether the local authorities are carrying out their duties, and whether private firms generally are doing so. I am not suggesting that he should look at all firms, but he might investigate the situation in sample firms of different kinds, as well as different kinds of local authorities, rural and industrial.
I want to say a word now in criticism of the Appointments Board. The Ministry of Labour has, no doubt, tried very hard to set up an Appointments Board which would give aid in finding jobs for men who have come back from the war and who have administrative or executive qualifications, but it has not a good name amongst employers. I do not know why, but it does not seem to be getting jobs for many thousands of young men who did extremely well in the war and whose labour we most certainly need in our present shortage.
My last word is to call attention to the fact that, during the war, we had what was called the Tomlinson Committee, which did notable work in reviewing the whole position of the disabled, and upon whose report the Disabled Persons Act was passed. I am not sure whether that 456 committee is still in existence, whether it was disbanded or whether the Report was really an interim report. If the committee is still in existence, although it might have to have a new chairman, since the then chairman is now a Minister in this House, could it not be called together again and asked to review the position and to see how far we have succeeded in providing employment for disabled people and how far we have failed, and whether there is a substantial pool of unemployed disabled men and women of whom we could make use at the present time?
In times gone by, one had to appeal to employers and to Governments to find jobs for these people, because of the hardship involved in adding unemployment to severe disability. The situation has now changed a little for, as I told in my opening words about the telephone operator, there are some categories of disabled persons where the demand for labour is greater than the supply. But there remain, I believe, many thousands, not only among our ex-Servicemen, but also among the casualties from industry, and one of the bars which stand in the way is the bad old system of paying compensation for injury on a sliding scale, so that, if a man does any work, he loses some of his compensation money, and, if he were to get a full-time job, like my telephone operator, he would lose his compensation money altogether. Even if a man can earn a full wage as a telephone operator, he is still a blinded soldier, and ought to have his compensation as well as his salary. That old system is not only unjust, but it puts a premium on idleness.
I am glad to think, owing to representations which I had the honour to make in an earlier time, that that system has gone from our legislation, and that next year, or this year, when the appointed day comes, we shall no longer have it. But there must be scores of thousands of men, all over the country, sitting in idleness because of the fact that if they were to do a job they would lose their compensation money. Cannot the Government consider, not merely altering that for the future, but regulating this pool of unhappy unemployment which is a legacy of the past?
As my last word, I want to say that, within the Ministry of Labour, there is a body of expert civil servants skilled in 457 their work, and that, in the employment exchanges throughout the country, there is a body of experts who are growing to understand this job, and who are cooperating very well with the British Legion, and other voluntary agencies. The Minister himself, so far as I have had to do with him outside this House, is a sympathetic Minister, doing his best, but the fact remains that there is here a great wastage of manpower, and that, in the interests of the persons themselves and of the country, we should make use of it.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Williamson (Brigg)
I listened last week to the Debate on the economic survey, and I gained the impression that there was some criticism at any rate, and, in parts, some condemnation of the British worker. I want to say, at the outset, that I believe the broad field of British labour, in skill, resourcefulness, adaptability, and devotion to duty, to be as good as any in the world. If there is to be some criticism of parts of the British labour force, we must be careful not to condemn altogether the British worker as a British worker, because, if we are to make exhortations for greater effort, we must do it in the right spirit, and gain the confidence of labour. I am amazed that in the speeches made in last week's three-day Debate, and in this Debate, not one word has been said about mechanical processes—machines, equipment and all the rest of it. We are living in a machine age. I always thought that, with science and invention, we were trying to do away with drudgery and physical effort, and to bring in the machines to do all that. At any rate, the worker has been led to believe so, hence his claim for a shorter working week. But now we are arguing 'that the worker must put in a greater effort.
I should like to refer to the speech made last week by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson). He said that there were certain fallacies, one of which was that, somewhere, there was a fund from which the workers' reward could be increased. He went on to say that surpluses had to be used for maintaining equipment, capital replacement, and so on. May I quote from the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in April, 1946, when he referred to his decision to discontinue the Excess Profits Tax. He said: 458Last autumn I expressed the view that postwar development should come before increased dividends, and I invited industry to plough back increased profits rather than to distribute them to shareholders. The response to this invitation has been patchy… Therefore, it would be premature for me to decide now whether or not, next year, it would be in the general interest to introduce a new tax designed to check these, as I think, unfortunate practices."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1946; Vol. 421, C. 1834.]The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities also said that capital must have its reward. I hope that I might interpret to this House the mind of the worker on this question, because we must understand, if we are to get his confidence, what he is thinking and what are his views. Is capital having its due reward? Let we quote one or two recent public announcements of dividends. I do not think they are extravagant; I think they are indecent.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
Are we in Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in this Debate, in going into a report on dividends?
§ Mr. Williamson
I am trying to bring to this House the mind of the worker, because we are asking him for greater effort and greater output. If I may say so, with due modesty, I am one of those who are entitled to do that. The following are a few examples of the dividends 'being paid. Plastic dividends, 120 per cent. Two shilling shares have increased from £5 to £5 17s. 6d. One family owned 650,000 shares—I believe they were bought at 22s. 3d.—which are now worth £3,500,000. This is published in the London "Evening Standard." There is another example headed "Store Profit," and it comes from a Conservative newspaper. It asks, "Who makes money from the leap in the profits?" I will not mention the name of the store, unless hon. Members opposite want me to, but I will say that it is a London store. Three years ago, the ten shilling shares of that store stood at 15s. 6d. Today, the price is 70s. 6d. The profits have jumped from £164,000 last year to £500,000. I could go on but I will not take up the time of the House. I have got the evidence here.
I am not worried about profits if the profits are going to be ploughed back into industry, but if they are going to be used to increase dividends then the British workers are not going to be restrained from putting forward demands for increased wages. Let us not forget how the 459 profits are made. Plastics are a case in point. It is a positive scandal the price that is charged to British workmen earning £4 or £5 a week for plastic materials. Let me give an instance. A woman who has not got the coupons to buy curtains is asked to buy plastic curtains at 12s. 6d. a yard, and on the first day, if they are pulled, they tear into ribbons. That is the plastic industry, and the British worker is paying these sums in order that one family's income might increase from £165,000 to £3,500,000. This House must take note of that, and I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his next Budget will do so.
The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) mentioned the unattractive industries. The fact of the matter is that if we are to attract the British workers into these unattractive industries we have got to make wages and conditions attractive. I mention this concerning agriculture, and I submit it to the Minister of Agriculture, that it is not wages only which are going to attract men into British agriculture. In a substantial part of my Division which includes agricultural areas, there is no water, no electricity and no sewerage while many of the workers are living in houses which are 300 years old. I am not blaming the present Government for not bringing these services to the countryside. That is going to take years. I do say this, however—and I do not wish to be provocative to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell-Fyfe)—that I am one of those who believe that until we make these improvements we are not going to attract the fine, upstanding men and women out of the Services on to the land.
I want to make one or two constructive suggestions to which, I submit, it is essential that we should pay attention if we are to get the greatest effort. What about the pockets of unemployment? There is no mobility of labour. The workers are static. I understand—and here the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) will correct me if I am wrong—there are something like 28,000 unemployed in Liverpool today. I think by persuasion we could attract some of those unemployed into the other areas if the Government are prepared to be bold and provide them with housing accommodation. In 460 my view, having regard to the difficulty of output, it is essential that they ought to have preference, at any rate in temporary housing, in those areas. We moved millions during the war and we built accommodation in weeks not months. Therefore, I hope that the Government will pay some attention to this.
Another point which in my view and from inquiries which I have made—and I have evidence on the matter—is having a bad effect on output and production is in connection with the transport services of the country. They are in great difficulty because substantial numbers of buses belonging to transport companies are out of commission as a result of there being no spare parts. In my Division, in the steel trade time and time again, the workers are not getting to work because the buses do not arrive to take them and they have to travel over long distances by other routes. In a comparatively small company out of a fleet of 80 buses 30 of them are often out of commission at one time. The company is being highly criticised by the workers and by the management for not providing transport but one of the reasons for these buses being out of commission is that spare parts cannot be procured for them. Throughout the country there must be thousands of buses out of service for the same reason, and I suggest that it is the duty of the Government to examine this question and see whether, rather than keeping the undertakings waiting until they can get new rolling stock, they should not provide spare parts in order that these buses, which are eight, nine and 10 years old should be put into commission.
There is one other example of transport which has been brought to my notice and which I wish to bring before the House. Steel workers in Scunthorpe totalling approximately zoo are having to finish an hour earlier in the afternoon in order that they may be transported home a distance of 20 miles. The workers say that the train ought to be adjusted in order that they may put in this extra hour at the works. Though they have made representations on the subject they do not seem to get any further. Therefore, I am hoping that the Minister of Transport will examine this question, because I calculate in this one instance there is a loss of something like a thousand 461 hours a week which is equal to the output of 20 men.
There is one other point which I think is vitally important, and that is the question of consumer goods in the shops. I have here a letter which was written by a mill girl in Lancashire and sent to a friend in London quite recently which states the position more eloquently than I can do it and I propose to read it. This is what she says:We are all so tired of being told what to do and getting very little in return. I think if people could buy a little more either in food or for their homes they would work harder. I hear people say, 'Why work? There is nothing to buy when we get our money'.I submit quite seriously that there are great reasoning and great sense in that letter and I would say to the Government that they ought, even if it is at the expense of exports, to put more consumer goods into the shops. What a fillip to morale it would be if the womenfolk could buy some curtains, carpets or some other furnishings and certain household goods to brighten up their homes. I submit that the Government must give consideration to this question.
In these matters the subject of a wages policy has been introduced and I do not intend to enter into it, but I do suggest that if British industry, including the trade union leaders and the employers and the Government, really got down to this question they could do a great deal towards the recovery of the country. Therefore, I hope that the Government will take early steps to consult the trade unions—and after all we must rely on the trade union leaders to do this job of greater output to a great extent—and I feel sure that we could get British production on the road to recovery. There has been too much defeatism and too much Jeremiahism. I was astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) talk of this country approaching ruin. It is not approaching ruin, and it can be inspired. The people of this country can rise to the occasion as they did in 1940, and I have suggested some of the lines which I think we should take.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
In opening my remarks may I congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Brigg (Mr. Williamson) who must surely be the 462 only representative in this House coming from any part of the country who can claim to have contact with an agricultural constituency without water. It would be a very pleasant thing to engage the hon. Gentleman in debate on the question of the profit motive about which he spoke to the House, but frankly I would prefer to confine my remarks to the question of the distribution of manpower. I hope, therefore, that I may be forgiven for not following the hon. Gentleman. Except that I shall have something to say presently with regard to the consumer goods in shops, I should like to go straight on to the main question of the distribution of manpower at the present time.
One thing which I think has emerged abundantly clearly, both from the course of this Debate and also from the Debate last week, is that in regard to this question of manpower the Government are quite unable to express any opinion which they may or may not have as to what is in their minds. The second point is that if they have any opinion at all as to our distribution of manpower at the present time they do not know what they want to do about it, and still less do they know how to do it. The Minister of Labour smiles at that remark; I am very grateful to him for having listened, but I listened to him last week when he was discussing this question at great length in his speech, and there is a point to which I should like to call his attention. It arises out of a question which was put to the Government by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) in which he besought the Government to avoid misunderstandings.
The people of this country, as he pointed out, are continually being bewildered by different statements from different Ministers of the Government, and I would remind the Minister of Labour that when he was speaking last week he made it quite clear that in his opinion there was no real shortage of manpower. The President of the Board of Trade, however, when he spoke the previous day, made it quite clear that in his view there would not be an overall shortage of manpower until the time came when, owing to the improvement in the fuel situation and the raw material situation and so on, full production could be envisaged. That is the first point at which we have an issue between two representative Ministers speaking on the manpower problem in 463 that Debate. It is only a question of referring to the OFFICIAL REPORT and the records of the right hon. Gentlemen's speeches are there to be read.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. Woodburn)
There was no contradiction.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I did not say that there was contradiction, but they are bewildering statements. I am a very common or garden member of the public. I have not the advantage of being a Member on the Government benches, whether in front or at the back, and therefore in the inner understandings of the Government's mind.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
My hon. and gallant Friend says that I should be more bewildered if I were, but the fact remains that an ordinary member of the public hearing the President of the Board of Trade imply that there is no shortage of manpower at the present time and the Minister of Labour stating that there is, is definitely bewildering. I urge that the Government should qualify their statements and at any rate try to speak with one voice so that they at least will know what they are trying to put across. I congratulate them on making clear one thing which has to be satisfied—the attainment of the target figure of 140 per cent. exports over the 1939 figure by the end of this year. That is a point upon which I wish to make some comment because the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was most emphatic about this and the. House will probably remember that he went so far as to say in his speech:We conclude, therefore, that our home consumption must be so adjusted as to enable us to reach our export target of 140 per cent. by the end of 1947."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 977.]The important words there which I wish to impress upon the House are that in order to achieve this target "our home consumption must be so adjusted." That is a point which will strike hard at the hon. Member for Brigg. He is already complaining that there are insufficient consumer goods in the shops to meet the demand at home. I wonder if he has 464 realised that the President of the Board of Trade has made it quite clear that in order to achieve his export target figure by the end of this year it may be necessary for the Government to adjust home production still further—and it can only be an adjustment downwards—in order to limit home consumption? There is a further point, again from the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, in which he said that the distribution of our labour force—and he was referring at that time to the distribution by the end of 1947—will not by any means restore our prewar position in a number of consumer commodities, particularly the textile group, where there will still remain a very serious and marked deficiency."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 990.]I want to draw the attention of the House to the cumulative effect which will arise from the difficulties which the Government have already envisaged and, further, to the fact that the Government have not propounded to this House, either in the White Paper or elsewhere, any plan to meet and overcome those difficulties. What exactly will arise? We have the position at the present time that consumption is admittedly low on all sides because the production for the home market is insufficient. We have the problem arising that production for the home market may be still more limited and the admission that even on the target figure the manpower situation and distribution will not be sufficient to produce the necessary quota and quantity of goods. It is quite obvious, therefore, that even if everything were to go right the production of consumer goods in this country would remain at a very low level indeed, and the probability is that if anything at all goes wrong the production of consumer goods in this country during the current year—and, as it has necessarily a cumulative effect, in succeeding years—will continue to decrease.
I want to draw attention to another point, and that is in regard to the attainment of our export target. The House will remember the figures quoted by the Minister of Labour, and in this connection I should like to make exact reference to them. In reference to the production of exports at the present time, he stated:In manufactures for export in mid-1939, the figure was 990,000, and at the end of 1946 it was 1,466,000, an increase of 476,000, or 48 per cent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 1162.]465 I accept that figure entirely. It means that to achieve an increase of 13 per cent. in our exports between 1939 to 1946, it has been necessary to increase our labour force by nearly 50 per cent. I cannot accept or believe these figures. I know it has been stated that man-hour production is not what it was in 1939. There are various reasons for that. We all know the distressed state of affairs, the dreariness of life, the effects of postwar lethargy, and above all that people have looked forward for years to a period of shorter hours, less work, and an easier life by gaining Socialism in their time; it stands to reason that now they have Socialism in their time, they should put into practice those principles for which they have been working, because this is what the British workman has been fighting for, and having won, he has the commonsense to take advantage of those principles for which he has fought. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a reflection on the British working man."] I refuse to believe that the British workman has so reduced his man-hour output, that to achieve a 13 per cent. increase it is necessary to have a 50 per cent. increase in the total labour force. I do not know what the answer is, and I ask the Minister whether the figures are wrong. I have quoted the figures correctly, but perhaps the Ministry of Labour have failed to ascertain the correct proportions of the labour force devoted to export production.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
How can the hon. Member say that, when six months later has not been reached? I am dealing with the figures for the end of 1946.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
The answer is still the same. The corollary is that if we are to achieve the target of 140 per cent. by the end of 1947, then the labour force will have to be still further increased by a total of 1,500,000 people. That, of course, is utterly out of the question. It cannot be done by a distribution of manpower, because the President of the Board of Trade has said that the Government will have the utmost difficulty in 466 redistributing the figures shown in the White Paper of some 260,000. Obviously, even if the manpower were available, it will be impossible to redistribute the vast number which would be necessary to procure the target figure for total exports at the end of 1947.
I now wish to deal with the first potential breakdown in the Government plan. To get exports, the Government intend to get coal. We entirely agree with that; it is vitally essential. In order to get coal, they are to give incentives to the miners, and that is a policy we have advocated for a very long time. In granting incentives to the miners, as has been pointed out, very human questions will be raised in the minds of other people in essential industries. The mines are vitally essential to the economy of the country, but so are the merchant seamen, the industry of agriculture and the industry of fuel and power. The Government will be up against the problem of where they can draw the line in giving additional incentives to industry. That is where the proposals, as far as they have been envisaged by the Government, are likely to break down. The third point is in regard to the special incentives the Government propose to give to encourage people to go into the mines by diverting prefabricated houses. If the Government divert prefabricated houses already allocated to other industries, they will again create mental strife and stress, and great feeling as between one industry and another. That is a bad thing. It will create disappointment and a difficulty in the distribution of manpower. Where are these prefabricated houses coming from? It will be very difficult to divert them without affecting the textile industry, the seaports, and agriculture. All these three industries need additional incentives to attract labour to them as much as any other, and that is another point on which the Government's plans are liable to break down.
§ Mr. Alpass (Thornbury)
Does not the hon. Member agree that some incentives should be offered to the miners and o men to come into the mines? If he does not agree with that, how does he propose to get the increased labour and production? If he admits that incentives are necessary, what kind of incentive would he offer?
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I appreciate the question of the hon. Member. As one of the oldest Members of this House, and as one who has graduated from an urban to a county seat, I would like to repeat his question to him in the case of agriculture What incentive is he prepared to offer for agriculture?
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
I have accepted the incentives which the Government are preparing to offer to the miners, but I say that they are doing it much too late.
§ Mr. D. J. Williams
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that these concessions are not being offered to the miners, but to other people, to induce them to go into the mines?
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
Of course I do. I have just asked the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) what concessions he is prepared to offer to get people into agriculture.
§ Mr. Joynson-Hicks
No, not now. It is clear that the redistribution of the limited number of people, which is the Government's target figure in order to attain their object this year, is entirely insufficient. A critical examination, not only of the White Paper, but of the monthly Statistical Digest on which it it based, makes it clear that to achieve anything like a balanced distribution of manpower throughout the export and essential home production industries it will be necessary to redistribute something like one million people at least. Therefore, the proposals of the Government, to attempt to distribute a comparatively limited number of people, will have no substantial effect whatever on the increase of essential production.
We have heard today from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) about the vast number of people in non-industrial Civil Service employment, and we had a constructive proposal from him as to redistribution of a very substantial surplus of those people. I want to follow that up by asking the Government how many people they estimate are employed in industry today entirely on the Government's work, and in supplying them with 468 information. I have made myself as critical an examination of this matter as is possible, but I have not the facts or the figures, and so I ask the Government whether they can improve upon my estimate that about 365,000 people are employed in industry today on absolutely non-productive work, in filling in forms and in doing work in connection with P.A.Y.E. and other matters to meet Government requirements? I should be glad if the Minister who replies to the Debate will deal with that point.
I apologise to the House for having detained Members longer than I had intended, owing to interruptions, but I will now conclude by calling attention to the fact that the Government have had the greatest opportunity for the distribution of our manpower that any Government have had in history. They have had 7,500,000 people coming out of the Forces, and out of employment, and they have lamentably failed to take any steps whatever to ensure that these people went into essential industries. The recent crisis through which we have been passing is only a symptom of further crises of cumulative effect which are coming one after the other and I warn the Government of the resulting unemployment which will follow from these crises as a result of their complete failure to produce any satisfactory plan at all. The Government have been warned that the country is dissatisfied with the way in which they have handled the existing crisis, and I add my warning that if they again fail the country they will receive absolute public condemnation.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)
I am rather surprised at the tone which has been adopted by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks). He did not seem to realise that during the past week this House has been doing something that it has never done in its history before—indulging in a national stocktaking. We have been trying to find out the actual supply of manpower, how it can best be utilised, and what kind of incentives must replace the old ones of poverty and despair in order to get workers to go into the various industries in which they are required in the national interest. Now, this is not a party matter; it is a business proposition. What can we do? The hon. Member for Chichester dragged out the 469 old shibboleths about Socialism. I would remind him that Socialism means the national ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange. It does not mean the national ownership of the railways, or the Bank of England, and every other productive capacity in private hands. Members opposite are not getting a taste of Socialism at all. No real Socialist is under any illusion about that. What we are trying to do is to make the capitalist system, which completely broke down because of two world wars, work.
How are we to make it work? I am not concerned, as many Members seem to be, about the immediate policy of getting 43,000 more miners into the pits in order to produce the coal necessary for an increased export drive. What I am concerned about is the long-term policy. When the Government produce a White Paper, and the Minister of Labour says that he wants 20,070,000 people to be engaged in industry so that we can increase our exports by 175 per cent. over our prewar figure, I ask the Government: How long are we going to hold to 175 per cent. above our prewar figure? How long will it be before the increased productivity of other countries competes with us in other markets? How long will it be until we are back to the scramble we had before the last war?
I represent a Scottish constituency, and I hope that nobody will make the mistake of thinking that I am suffering from the narrow kind of nationalism that has come out in blotches in certain parts of the House since the last election. The average working man in Scotland has the impression, rightly or wrongly, that in some way a centralised Government in London is responsible for the large pocket of unemployment in Scotland, and that that centralised form of Government takes no cognisance of his needs. I do not agree with that, and I spend much of my time trying to teach otherwise. But it takes a bit of doing to try to keep down arguments like this: from 1921–31 there were 392,000 people who migrated from Scotland, because they could not get work, to Canada and the United States. The natural increase of Scots people was 352,000, but the population dwindled by 40,000 through lack of employment. Admittedly the Government have a scheme, and I have examined it 470 to see how far they have a solution by the redistribution of industry. By going into that question, I have discovered that even if all the new industries, and all the factory space they are proposing to provide, are fully employed, allowing for the rate of 100 per acre, we would still have 10,000 unemployed in Scotland. We see unemployment creeping up to 100,000 at the moment. The fact that we have 80],000 people there doing nothing at all, and that we want 40,000 more in the mines, and 26,000 in the cotton mills, is no fault of the Government. They inherited the situation, they did not make it.
What incentive have we to get these people to come in? During the war it was easy to say to them that national needs determined that they must come in, but then we immediately sent before them someone to provide accommodation for them. We had to get housing, and built huts. The man in the street asks that if the needs of war determined that huts and camps and food and clothing could be provided, why can they not have them now? That is a very natural question to ask. Either we have to decide to give the man freedom to go where he likes or to direct him. There is no other way. What kind of direction can we have? All kind of palliatives have been put up, and one of the palliatives is the building of houses. I have advocated that myself. As a matter of fact, the bait which can draw a young married couple to any part of the country is a house. I would say concentrate on house building, and you will get the labour. But, that is not the only thing. The problem is worse in mining because that is the fundamental basis on which all the others rest. I can speak from experience, because I worked for two years in a coal pit. There is no job which is more onerous, or more strenuous than working in a coalmine. If a man is not put into it when he is young, it is a very difficult matter to get him to go into it when fully grown. It is difficult for him to adapt himself to the new situation. I know that some men have done it, but it was a tremendous effort, and I do not know that it would be a general success.
In taking stock, and finding out what we can do, I have been quite frank to the Government. This is my opinion. I would say to the nation quite frankly, "There is the situation. We want 657,000 471 employees to take the nation out of the danger in which it is at the moment." We want that for the purpose of getting our heads above water, or we are likely to be sunk by the exigencies of the situation and by those who were our good friends during the war. I do not know what to call our friends in America. One minute they are friends, and the next minute they want their pound of flesh. They cut off Lend-Lease as soon as our real friend President Roosevelt died, and left us with no resources. Then we had to negotiate a loan. If we want to maintain the position we have held hitherto throughout the world, 657,000 must be prepared to go where they are wanted.
I would give a guarantee that their needs would be looked after when they went there, in the same way as when they went into the Army and the Navy. There is no other way of dealing with the problem. If people in my constituency in Port Glasgow are asked to go here and there by exhortation, or by a fireside chat over the wireless on a Sunday afternoon, they remember when 56 per cent. of them were unemployed, and they want to know what is going to happen next year, and the year after. They want to know what their chances are.Where there is no vision the people perish.Up to the moment we have lacked vision; for God's sake let us pull ourselves together. Our people will go anywhere, but they require a lead and direction—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—and I do not want any "Hear, hears" from the other side. It was hon. Members on the other side who were responsible in their industrial policy for sending 392,000 of my people across the pond. That is not the industrial policy which I want. I want the Government to raise the morale of the people by telling them the truth. Do not be afraid of it. The people will be behind them, but for God's sake tell them that we will take—not ask for, but take—the wealth of the nation and build the houses where they are needed, and will give them food and clothing, and look after them if they will do the nation's work. If we did that, I have not the slightest doubt that we would regain ascendancy, and become once again one of the greatest nations in the world.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)
I want not so much to put a theme of my own before the House this evening as to comment on some of the speeches which have been made. I shall not say much about the speech of the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan) because, to be quite frank, I find myself unable to adjust my mind quickly enough to his rather novel view that the primary purpose of the present Government and the prevailing character of its policy is to make the capitalist system work. I will however remark in passing that perhaps it may be some consolation to him when he thinks of the great number of emigrants from his country that, although from some points of view that may be regrettable, it has been of considerable value both to the individuals concerned, to the United Kingdom and I think to the world, that they have carried their skill, industry and enterprise through the world as they have.
§ Mr. Scollan
Will the right hon. Member allow me to point out that he has evidently forgotten the pain and suffering they went through when they were in this country?
§ Sir A. Salter
I quite agree, there has been incidental suffering but looking at the whole history of emigration from Scotland and immigration into other countries of the world I think there is something to be said on the other side. But that is by the way. I will turn for a moment to the speech of the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Williamson). I do not propose to follow him in his argument about the profit motive or counter his instances of specially high dividends or increased shares with instances which might be given, in some cases from hon. Members' personal experience, of equally striking losses. But I greatly regret that in explaining to us, as he did quite accurately, what is in the minds of many workers he did not also add with great emphasis what he knows to be true and what my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) emphasised the other day, namely, that there is no fund, no rich pool of wealth out of which it is possible for any Government or any system to raise the standard of living of the workers of this country, without increased production. I wish the hon. Member had said that as a counterpart to what he said—
§ Mr. Williamson
What I did say was that the worker wants to know that he is getting at least his fair share of what he is producing.
§ Sir A. Salter
I quite agree, and I agree that that is an accurate statement of what is in the minds of many workers. I do not object to the hon. Member quoting his instances. But I wish he had not stopped there and had gone on to make it clear that these were a few selected instances, and that there was no possibility of any general increase in the standard of living of the workers without an increase in production.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
I think the right hon. Gentleman is rather misjudging my hon. Friend. One of the points which my hon. Friend made was that if these vast profits were ploughed back into industry so that new machinery and equipment could be used in the industries which were short of manpower, we should raise production and get this added wealth. That was the way in which he suggested that it should be done.
§ Sir A. Salter
I agree with that part of what the hon. Member said. I only expressed regret that he did not also state what I said just now. He also said, and 1 agree with him, for on both sides of the House we agree that workers must be attracted into the industries where they are most wanted without compulsion or direction, that these industries must be made sufficiently attractive. I would add however that it is not enough to make them absolutely attractive. They must be comparatively attractive. That means not only additional incentives in the vital industries; it means restricting or diminishing incentives in the industries from which it is now desirable that they should move. It means a great deal more than that. It means that there must be a wages policy for industry as a whole and a method of making that wages policy effective. That is a great deal more in the way of a wages policy than one sees signs of the Government having at present.
§ Mr. Williamson
Would the right hon. Gentleman explain whether or not he means a wages policy imposed by the Government?
§ Sir A. Salter
I was about to say that that in turn means an association with the trade unions of such a kind that under the influence, and with the co-operation, 474 of the Government, the trade unions will positively help in applying a wages policy which will make the attractive force of the incentives offered in the most important industries prevail, as against the attractions to other forms of employment.
The White Paper says quite clearly that the present situation is not such as to enable wages to be raised, unless the rise is accompanied by an increase in production. I think that the White Paper was timid in putting it in that way. It should have said "unless preceded by an increase in production." Bearing that in mind, I think that it is essential to have a wages policy, with the co-operation of the trade unions, which will damp down all wage increases in what are now the less vital industries until there has first been a considerable general increase in production.
Turning to the main subject of manpower, it is a matter of real surprise to many of us, who have tried to study all the papers and statistics available, that it should be possible, at this time, to speak in any sense of an overall shortage of labour. The President of the Board of Trade told us a few days ago that in this last 18 months no fewer than 7,500,000 men and women had been released from the Forces and from munitions manufacture—4,250,000 from the Forces and 3,250,000 from munitions manufacture. A great proportion of these are available for civil production. It is extraordinary, in those circumstances, that there should be, in any sense, an overall shortage of workers. Indeed, in the sense in which that phrase may popularly be understood, that we have not enough people in the country, it is obviously not true. We should not be better off if our population was just duplicated—we should be worse off. The truth is that perhaps we have not enough people with precisely the skill and experience which are wanted in the industries which are now most important at this moment, or that many of those who have that skill and experience are not in those industries, but elsewhere. But it is not true that there is a general shortage of population. There is an unbalance in the distribution of skills and of unemployment.
That has an important bearing on the question raised in the speech by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) about 475 the employment of foreign labour. I am one of those who have been pressing the Government to bring in foreign labour from some of the displaced persons' camps in Germany and Austria. But I have never for a moment contended that if the whole 250,000 or so displaced persons in the British zone in Germany were brought over in a mass it would assist the economy of this country, though it might serve a humane purpose and reduce our expenditure in the British zone. But if we could, from their number, and from other sources, select a considerable number of people in the prime of life who have the requisite skill of just the kind which is wanted, and of which there is a shortage in our basic and most important industries, it would undoubtedly greatly assist the economy of the country as well as serve the other two purposes. Any such selected persons would, as soon as they were fitted into a job, be producing a great deal more than they, or even they and their families, would consume. And both the scale and the pace might well be greater than the Government have announced.
As I say, the trouble is not overall shortage in the popular sense; it is a lack of distribution. But we should not be candid if we did not also add that the phrase is commonly used as a polite euphemism to disguise the fact that what it wrong is a shortage of output per man-year on the part of workers already employed. I say that, not as an accusation, but as a statement of economic fact. Indeed, to a large extent, though not entirely, that shortage of output is due to causes completely outside the control of the individual worker—to such things, for example, as the inadequacy or irregularity of coal supplies or raw materials for his factory. Those are not, however, the only causes. Very often there is a bad tradition in a particular union, or trade; and this and irregularity in the supply of raw materials, react upon and increase each other.
I have sometimes thought that in Debates on housing in this House there has been a great deal of shadow boxing as between private and public enterprise. Everybody knows that the main reason why we are not getting more houses is that the output per man in the building industry has for many years been poor, 476 and is now poorer. That has been aggravated at present by the difficulties of supply of materials, timber and so on. But there is a long tradition of ca'canny going back to an earlier stage in the building industry. For example, take one criterion, which I know cannot be applied without some qualifications, of the number of bricks laid per hour. I believe the number mentioned in the Essential Work Order was 30 per hour or 240 in a full day. There are countries in Europe and America where the rate and the whole tempo of building is at least twice or three times that. When we are talking about a shortage of manpower we must remember that a great deal of what is really wrong, disguised by that phrase, is that there is a shortage of output per man year.
What should we do about it? We must get a better balance in the distribution of both men and raw materials. This problem is aggravated and made much more serious for the Government by the existence of suppressed inflation, by the fact that there is in this country, as we all know, more expendable money, after taxation and savings have been deducted, than there are goods to be bought by it. I thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day dealt very inadequately with this question. He did not address himself to what is the really serious trouble at this moment. It is true that there is no runaway inflation in the sense of the vicious higher-wage-higher-price spiral with which we were familiar at one stage after the last war.
Inflation of that kind has been suppressed largely by means of the food subsidies. Those subsidies, however, and the way by which they were financed, have not removed inflation. They have just forced it underground. Suppressed inflation is very much like a suppressed fever, which is not necessarily less dangerous, and is usually more lasting, than the sudden crisis and climax of a sharp illness. What this kind of suppressed fever of inflation does is to upset the whole metabolism of the economic body. I seriously suggest to the Minister of Labour that his troubles really are being greatly increased by the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not so far effectively started—I would not call it a deflationary policy—but a counter-inflation policy. This is as much needed at this moment as a "re-flationary" 477 policy was when we were suffering from deflation at a certain period between the two wars.
Many of us at that time very much objected to being accused of preaching inflation when we wanted to get an increase of prices. We were preaching "re-flation." I am not sure that I did not myself invent the word at that time. I suggest now that the contrary policy which we need is one of counter-inflation and not deflation.
§ Sir A. Salter
Certainly that would be a very great help. It would however be out of place if not out of Order to develop my ideas on that subject further. Perhaps I shall have a chance during the Budget Debate.
I will turn to the question of incentives mentioned by several hon. Members and particularly by the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Jones) in his very remarkable speech, to which we listened with the greatest interest. We remember that the President of the Board of Trade the other day said that he was intending to do what he could to increase incentives on much the same lines as the hon. Member had in mind to-day. We are all of us conscious of the difficulties and limitations of individual piece work. At the other extreme, I do not think that an increase in wages based upon an increase in production in a great industry of, say, half a million men, constitutes a direct incentive to the individual worker. But a great part of the economy of this country is organised in small units. There may be perhaps a single factory with 100 or 200 men working in it. I believe that if on top of the basic wage—I agree that we must have that to start with—we could have a percentage increase to every one in the factory proportionate to any increase in production by that unit, it would be of enormous advantage to many parts of the economy of this country. I have not sufficient technical knowledge to know whether that same system could be applicable to individual pits in the coal industry. But I am sure that taking the country as a whole, incentives of that kind would be of the greatest possible value.
478 I wish to return for a moment to a question which I have already mentioned, the possibility of the co-operation of the trade unions in an increased output drive. All of us know of the enormous benefits which trade unions have conferred during the last century not only upon their own members but to the whole social progress of this country. Those benefits have been obtained by pressing for increased wages, shorter hours, and so on. It is natural that those traditions should remain in the minds of trade union leaders. Concentration upon this traditional role is however now bound to do more harm than good not only to the country but to the union members themselves. So long as there are fewer goods available for purchase than expendable money seeking to purchase them, it is certain that an increase of pay or reduction of hours that a particular union may get for its own members is doing, and will continue to do, more harm to members of other unions than good to members of the particular union.
It is undoubtedly the case now, and it will be for some years, that it will benefit union members as a whole much more to increase the cake to be divided than to scramble, even if for the moment successfully, for a few more crumbs from a diminishing total cake. In my last words, therefore, I would express the very sincere hope that the Government will be able to enlist the co-operation of the trade unions and that the unions will themselves be the instrument and spearhead of a drive for increased output.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Captain Peart (Workington)
The senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) reminded me of the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Jones), and before I come to my main theme I wish to take up one point which I detected in that speech. It was in regard to his attitude to the miners in the present production drive. I hope that hon. Members will not lecture the men in the coalfields. I say that not only to hon. Members opposite but to some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House. The miners are responding magnificently. They responded magnificently during the crisis and I believe they will respond in the same manner in the future battle for coal. On the question of trade union co-operation it has been proved in the coal mining industry that the National Union of Mineworkers—I do not speak as a member but 479 there are many members here—have co-operated with the Government and are co-operating with the Government now on this important question. I am confident that with the five-day week and the incentives we are now offering in that industry, the coal crisis will be solved and we shall be able to fight the major economic battle.
This Debate, like the Debate last week, has covered a wide series of economic problems. We have had questions of finance, exports, industrial planning, defence, etc., and we all agree that manpower is fundamental to our industrial recovery and future prosperity. We agree on two things; there is, first, an over-all shortage and, second, an uneven distribution. We must address ourselves to the question of how to repair that overall shortage and how to attract into un-attractive industries the manpower which we require. Some people have from time to time put forward the suggestion that the solution lies in foreign labour. That is not an immediate solution; certainly it is not in the coal industry. Others, like the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts), probably giving the official Liberal point of view, advocate a nebulous wages policy. As yet we have had no details as to how the wages policy will operate from those people who advocate it so eloquently in this House.
But we do agree that the problem of manpower must be tackled in a democratic way. That is emphasised in paragraph 8 of the "Economic Survey for 1947." We reject direction of labour. We believe that that is a totalitarian method, and it does not commend itself to the British people. But I believe that the maldistribution of manpower can be solved by the direction and the control of materials. We should have an even more rigid control of materials in the building industry where unfortunately a black market has now developed. If we had a more rigid control, I am confident that building labour would follow the material.
I was glad when the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) raised the question of Development Areas, although I could not agree that the problem of the distribution of population and of manpower could be solved by a voluntary transfer of workers 480 from Development Areas in 1947. Such a principle would cause great concern in areas which were formerly distressed. In the "Economic Survey for 1947," following the series of objectives for 1947, we have paragraph 120 containing the following words:Moreover, the present distribution of the labour force, by industries and by places, is not satisfactory; a wide range of industries are under-manned, while others are getting too much manpower in relation to the raw materials available; in Wales, unemployment before the power crisis was 7½ per cent., while in London and the Midlands it was 1 per cent., and the number of new vacancies notified to the Labour Exchanges every week far exceeded any possibility of filling them.That extract from the White Paper has a tremendous psychological effect not only in Wales but in other Development Areas like West Cumberland, Durham and parts of Scotland. The seriousness of this maldistribution and unemployment is even further emphasised in the White Paper in paragraph 123, which states:For the purpose of estimation, the Government has assumed that unemployment at the end of 1947 will be 400,000, or 2½ per cent. of the insured population. In the Development Areas, where unemployment results from the fact that there arc not enough factories, the percentage will be higher than this. The cost to the nation in 1947 of this legacy from the past of un-balanced geographical distribution of our industry is equivalent to the loss of the labour of 120,000 men throughout the year.It also says:… until the new factories have come into full operation, unemployment in the Development Areas will nevertheless be well above the rate in the rest of the country.This emphasises the seriousness of the situation in the Development Areas. In 1947 we shall have a manpower loss of the equivalent to 120,000 men. That is important, especially when hon. Members go out into the country and appeal for more production. In many parts of Britain we have pools of labour, labour which is sometimes highly skilled but unable to make a contribution to our national effort. That state of affairs is, as the White Paper stresses, an indictment of past policies and certainly an indictment of the lack of planning and the failure to appreciate that the State had a responsibility to control and direct industry before the war. I speak very feelingly on this because I represent a constituency which lies in the Develop- 481 went Area of West Cumberland. We still have pockets of unemployment in that area.
In the Debate on the economic situation the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) said that the greatest tragedy which he saw between the two wars was the social and economic history of France. The greatest tragedy I saw between the two wars was the exodus of good labour from our distressed areas, such as the counties of Durham and Cumberland. Unfortunately we are still suffering from that heritage. I hope that the problem of the Development Areas will be treated with the urgency of a military operation. During the past 18 months much has been accomplished. New factories have been built. Many of the workers who would formerly have had to leave those areas have adapted themselves well to new trades and new skills, but the White Paper stresses the urgency.
When he presented his Budget last year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated that £10 million more would be given for constructive schemes in the Development Areas. To use his words:… the Treasury was henceforth to be, no longer a curb but a spur.But as the Chancellor of the Exchequer then said:The battle of the Development Areas is not yet won…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1946; Vol. 421. c. 1807.]Those words are still true today in this manpower shortage. Their battle is interwoven with the major battle for economic prosperity. How can we help? How can we create employment for these people who are urgently requiring work for the national effort?
I would have liked to deal today with the Distribution of Industry Act because I believe that if we solve the distribution of industry, in the end we solve the distribution of manpower. This Act was a Coalition Measure. It was inspired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was President of the Board of Trade. Unfortunately that Act was mutilated by the Caretaker Government when Clause 9 was removed. If I am not out of Order, I would like to ask the Government to look seriously at that Act to see if it is strong enough to enforce that distribution of raw materials and resources which we require so much in the Development Areas.
482 It is not just a question of the Development Areas. In other areas too we have pockets of unemployment. My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) has in this House pleaded eloquently for the needs of his own constituents. Recently he addressed a question to the Secretary of State for Scotland which showed that on 22nd February this year there were 2,054 insured males registered as unemployed at the Stornoway employment exchange—48 per cent. of the estimated total number of insured males in the area at July, 1946. That is a serious problem. I believe we should tackle it by attracting industry to the worker. I do not believe that we should go on wooing our industrialists. If we could direct industry in wartime to the workers, we can do it now.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)
I appreciate what the hon. and gallant Gentleman is saying, but does he mean attracting industry or directing industry?
§ Captain Peart
I believe we should both attract and direct, but I emphasise that the Distribution of Industry Act has certain weaknesses, and I would like to see the restoration of a Clause similar to Clause 9 which was taken out by the Caretaker Government. In wartime, workers responded and factories were put up overnight. I give the example, which the hon. and gallant Member for Penrith and Cockermouth (Lieut.-Colonel Dower) knows quite well, of Distington. There a new light engineering industry was introduced; key workers were brought in from outside, local labour was trained, and after a few months that factory was turning out intricate aeroplane component parts. It was in itself a wartime miracle. If it can be done in war, it can be done in peace. The old argument that we should concentrate on localities where traditional engineering skill is high has been disproved by our wartime experience.
I would like to see the Government conducting a vigorous distribution of industry and an increased implementation of the limited Act of 1945. This would absorb the unemployed we have at present. Our old distressed areas want more light industries. We want, certainly in Cumberland and other development areas, not just factories for female labour, but our fair share of heavy industry. I believe it is possible. I ask my right hon. Friend 483 the Minister of Labour to see if his colleague, the President of the Board of Trade, could not delegate some responsibility to a junior Minister in that Department who would concentrate solely on manpower in the development areas and the need of factory development too. They are in themselves of major domestic importance. Not only must we have factories, we require the basic services, gas and electricity supplies, and above all we require new houses to attract workers. In West Cumberland, as the hon. and gallant Member for Penrith and Cockermouth knows, we need considerable improvement in our transport services; both our roads and our railway services need a drastic overhaul. If we are to have that planning, we must have also a greater co-ordination between Government Departments, not just at a high level but at a low level. I hope that the Front Bench will look into that question of the co-operation of Whitehall and the local authorities. At present, too many Departments are going their own way without looking at the problem as a whole, and if we could have that coordination and co-operation between Government Departments and the local authorities, I am confident that this battle against unemployment would be won.
In my short speech I hope I have emphasised the needs of the Development Areas. I would not tolerate another exodus from the old distressed areas. We do not want history to repeat itself. We do not want, as the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby said, a voluntary exodus out of our areas; we want to attract more men and women into these areas so that we can create locally an expanding economy which offers a brighter future to our people. I believe it can be accomplished if we have the will to accomplish it.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
I hope the hon. and gallant Member for Workington (Captain Peart) will excuse me for not following his argument except to say that I agree fully with what he said about lack of co-operation between Government Departments, and that no Department suffers more than the one he helps to administer—for instance, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer decides to assist Denmark in the purchase of feedingstuffs 484 and the Minister of Agriculture is doing his best to obtain those feedingstuffs.
Last night the Prime Minister broadcast to the nation and he said that our lives and jobs depend on the three great industries of coal, transport and power. I do not imagine that the B.B.C. will be wise enough to ask me to broadcast in reply. If I had the opportunity, I would like to remind the Prime Minister that he missed out the most important industry, and that is agriculture. As a matter of fact he did say as an afterthought:Then we come to agriculture … we must have more workers on the land.That is becoming rather a commonplace. We hear on all sides that we must have more workers on the land, but neither the Prime Minister nor, so far as I know, any other Minister has said how those increased workers are to be found. I would remind the House that for about 12 months we heard of the shortage of workers in the mines. No notice was taken of those warnings until we drifted into a fuel crisis. The same warnings are now being given with regard to the shortage of workers in agriculture, but no serious attempt is being made, so far as I can see, to meet that problem. Are we to drift on in this dream world until we come to a food crisis? Are we to wait until the "tick" on which we live has been exhausted, or are we to face up to the fact that food production in this country is the most important problem with which we are faced? The problem, therefore, is that before we can get this increased food production, we must get more men.
I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan) when he came all out for the direction of labour. It is a thing that I have said has to come some day. He has put it over in a forthright speech and, in my opinion, it was a much more honest suggestion than that labour would be directed by being starved of material in a certain district. The honest way is to direct labour if it becomes necessary, but that at the moment is not a practical proposition, so I do not propose to enlarge on it. Therefore, we have to think of some other method of getting farm workers on to the land. There are two ways: first and foremost is the provision of homes with urban amenities, built in the countryside and not necessarily in the villages.
485 There are great differences of opinion in this House as to where cottages should be built. In my constituency 14 cottages were built in the village, but only one was allocated, after a great struggle, to a farm worker. Those cottages therefore will not help agricultural production in that area. Cottages should be put close to the farms so that men will not have to walk miles to their work.
I ask the Government seriously to consider the fact, which has been outlined in the Hobhouse report, that 100,000 cottages now need reconditioning. It was a great mistake to do away with the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. I know that was done because of pressure by Members of the party opposite, who stated that no money should be spent upon tied houses. If hon. Members will refer to the report in question they will see that only 12,000 of the 100,000 houses that need reconditioning are tied cottages.
The next matter which is of great importance is wages. It is high time that the agricultural industry was given a different status from that which it has had during the last 100 years. For too long has agriculture been looked upon as the lowest form of life instead of as the premier industry of this country. I am sorry that the Minister of Agriculture raked over the ashes of the past and put many of the present difficulties down to the misdeeds of Tory government. I was sorry that he raised that party spirit, which had hitherto been kept out of the Debate. Since it has been raised, I would only remind him that the present position is the fault of no party.
Our present difficulties are due to the fact that this country has for more than 100 years looked upon industry as the only thing that mattered and upon agriculture as a nuisance. Between the wars, more than 250,000 men left the land. The exodus was greater in the period 1929–31 than at any other time. It must be remembered that the agricultural worker is entitled to some recognition of the fact that for the last seven or eight years he has worked with a minimum of absenteeism, for the lowest wages of any industry, and without any strikes. That is a record even better than that of the steel workers to whom the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Jones) referred. In passing I would say how delighted I was to hear that speech from the hon. Member. In 486 my opinion it will rank with some of the big speeches that have been made in this House. It was factual, and honest-to-goodness commonsense.
The raising of the wage of the agricultural worker will be accepted as necessary by all hon. Members. Whether we are to provide the money by increasing the prices of the produce is entirely another matter. It is high time that food were put upon a more economic basis and that some of the increase was pumped into the agricultural industry so as to raise it to the position of the highest industry in the land. Until that is done, no effective improvement of conditions in the countryside can take place. The price reviews that have taken place do not admit of our doing what we want for our men, and will not assist in increasing output. The industry has a claim for more consideration, yet wheat has actually been reduced by is. per cwt. for the harvest of 1948. Instead of a reduction, we should put up the price of wheat to £25 a ton for the next three years.
There is no shortage of labour in this country.
§ Mr. Baldwin
Labour in this country is misplaced. We should bring out of the offices hundreds of thousands of people who are doing unproductive work. Until we do that, there will be no solution of the crisis into which we are going. We have to make the agricultural industry and other industries that are important more attractive to men who have to live by the sweat of their brow, and who should be paid accordingly. Agriculture is the industry which yet will pull this country out of the slough of despond. The hon. Member opposite said that our exports should be raised by 75 per cent. There is something easier than that; to raise the home production of food by 75 per cent. That would be a certainty, whereas the raising of the export trade is a gamble related to the continuance of the sellers' market. There can be no overproduction of food in this country and no unemployment in the agricultural industry. A solution of the present crisis must come from agriculture, but only when the industry is raised from the lowest rank to one of the highest.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mrs. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
I sat through the whole of the three-day Debate last week and I have sat practically through the whole of the Debate today. Up till 1939 I was one of those Socialist agitators who made it their business to inform the workers on every possible occasion that the harder and the longer they worked the more profit they made for the employing class. I realise how successful those of us who were agitators of that sort have been. Both Debates laid much stress upon the supposedly terrible difficulty which we have got into in relation to manpower.
Something has been said about coal. I do not want to say very much about the coal position, only one or two fundamental things. Coal provided two lessons, under democratic freedom. The first is the failure by the investing class to re-organise the nation's necessities when the profit motive was missing. The second was the same failure by the working class when the returns, in wages and working conditions, were unattractive. I believe that the problem is exactly the same today as it has been throughout the years.
Unless we make our industries, particularly the disliked industries, very attractive, we shall still fail to attract people to those industries. The basis of economic planning must be that the income, conditions and old age security for workers engaged in the most essential industries shall not be below those of any other occupation. I put the categories of those industries in the following way: First, mining, then transport, then heavy engineering, then textiles and clothing, and then building and construction. I am not dealing with agriculture, because that has already been dealt with, and I come from an industrial area which has had, and still has, a terrible amount of unemployment. I am concerned mainly with that aspect of the problem which affects highly industrialised areas.
It is useful, particularly in a Debate of this sort, to find out why we are short of productive workers. I agree with the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) that there is not a shortage of labour power, but there is a shortage of productive labour power. I have been watching the situation for some time, and I have almost reached the conclusion that it is necessary to get a magnifying glass to discover where the productive workers 488 are. The reason for this is most important. The reason is the attitude that was adopted by essential industry for 25 years prior to the war.
Let me put the matter in this way. Let us take railway vehicle building, a craft in which we are definitely short of workers today. During the last war, railway vehicle building was a sheltered occupation, and a railway vehicle builder was not called into military service; he was considered to be so highly essential that his work was taken in place of military service. Because of that position, the wages of railway vehicle builders increased very much, due to the fact that they were able to dictate terms during the last war. Those people who became the leaders in this desire for an increase of wages were scheduled by the railway companies and the private owners for moving out of the industry as soon as it became less essential than it was during the war.
Railway vehicle builders of very pronounced Left Wing opinions throughout the country were earmarked, and they were pushed out of the industry as soon as ever the necessity for war products disappeared. This meant that highly skilled people in the industry had to find some other means of earning a livelihood. Because they were blackmailed in every railway shop or privately-owned railway vehicle building shop throughout the country, they had to find some other way of making a living. That applied not only to skilled railway vehicle building, but throughout industry, at the end of the last war, and it has applied throughout industry during the last half-century. If any capable, skilled worker dared to agitate for better conditions, and gave assistance to his fellow workers in agitating for better conditions, he was immediately earmarked by the "boss" responsible and put outside the industry as soon as ever it was possible to do so. That applied up to 1939.
Many other highly skilled workers found themselves compelled to drop their skilled occupation and find some other way of earning a living. What did they do? They got into industries that were less controlled by the employing class in relation to terms of employment. Where did they get? Let hon. Members look through the thousands of insurance agents, and they will find in their ranks the cream of the skilled workers, pushed 489 out of industry between the wars, collecting insurance, and doing what, in effect, is an unessential job. I could point to hundreds of them who, because of their agitation, because they wanted better conditions and wages, and were prepared to say so, were moved out of industry, and found themselves totally unable to earn a livelihood in their skilled occupation. Let hon. Members also consider the commercial travellers—any number of them—in unproductive work. I notice that they are not scheduled in the Economic Survey for 1947; I do not see anywhere in that Survey the people who are commercial travellers, insurance agents, and people of that type, who are increasing in numbers at present, because it is an easy way to earn a living, and there is a decent living to be obtained out of unproductive industry of that sort. Let me say quite honestly that, to me, the fact that we change the Government does not mean that we change the situation in relation to industry. We have to change that situation very definitely before we shall be able to attract back into essential industry those people who have been driven out of it by economic conditions and the need for trade union organisation between the two wars. There are plenty of people who are capable of production but are doing unproductive work, and we must find some way of attracting those people back into the various necessary industries.
I have listened to the pleas which the Opposition have made to the Government to drop the nationalisation schemes. The working class of this country are demanding nationalisation, and any attempt by the Government to withdraw any of the nationalisation schemes will completely defeat the ends of the Economic Survey for 1947. Does anybody mean to say that if the coal mining industry had not been nationalised, we would be having the terrific response to appeals for increased production that we have today? Does anybody mean to say that if the Conservative Party had come into power in 1945, there would have been more coal today than there is? I believe that we would have been in such a state, due to the fact that the Conservative Party would have attempted to worsen the conditions of people in the coalmining industry, that there would have been a lock-out or a strike within six months of the Conservative Government taking political power in this country. The 490 Government have realised—it may be that they did not like to have to realise it, but I am one of the people who believe most sincerely that the Government of this country are the miners—not the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, but the miners at the coalface. It is just as well that that retribution has come. It is just as well that the present Government are in control, because those people are behind the Government at the present time. I believe that increased coal production is the one and only increased production that can save the industrial situation of this country. Without coal we can pack up completely and get out of existence altogether. The miners are perfectly justified in asking for any concession that we can give them to make up for the terrific hardships they and their families had to suffer between the two wars, and they are perfectly justified in having it.
We have been talking about incentives and about restrictive practices. Lots of questions have been asked about restrictive practices. I believe that there ought to be more restrictive practices. The restrictive practice which is the most essential is the control of the profits that are being made out of the increased productivity of the workers. I believe that if the Chancellor in his next Budget would say that all profits were to be restricted to 5 per cent., the response of the working class in this country in increased production would be something that would surprise everybody. I am among the ordinary, poorest section of the working class of this country every week-end; I keep among them so that I do not lose touch with what they are thinking, and this is what they say: the gap between those who are making all the profits and those who are out of work is still far too great. We must go on narrowing it very much more quickly than we have been doing up to the present moment.
I have listened to what has been said about what has been done for the un-employed. I am very sorry to have to say it, but I cannot see that anything has been clone up to the present except to pass an Act of Parliament, because the rate of unemployment pay, 24s. for a man and 16s. for his wife, £2 a week, is still the same as it was when the war ended. So nothing at all has been done in relation to increasing the amount paid to those people who are unemployed, not because they want to be unemployed, but because 491 at the moment in certain areas of this country we have not got the employment to offer them.
Let me give here a rather interesting situation in relation to the Liverpool area. I have here a schedule of figures, of 9th December, 1946. They are the nearest figures I could get that are sorted out in relation to age groups and periods of unemployment. There are additional figures up to 12th February, but they are only aggregate figures, and are very much increased as compared with the figures I shall give in a moment. Unemployment at present in the Merseyside area is just on 30,000, and the number I have scheduled here is just over 22,000. I am quoting these figures for a very special reason. It is very difficult for those of us who know that additional production is absolutely necessary to go and say so on public platforms in an area where there is continued long-term unemployment. In Liverpool, emergency tally holders on the docks are being told that they are not required as dockers after the age of 50, and when there is a situation like that, in an area which has always been a depressed area with a very high unemployment rate, it is very difficult to tell people who have been out of work for a long time that they ought to produce more and work a bit harder. That is why I am quoting these figures.
Let us have a look at the age groups of the unemployed on 9th December in Liverpool. Males, 56 to 64, 2,795; 41 to 55, 5,316; 21 to 40, 9,471; 18 to 20, 771; 16 to 17, 657; 14 to 15, 104. These are males only, I am not quoting the female figures. Let us have a look at the duration of unemployment, and this to me is most significant. Males unemployed, more than one year, 1,430; between nine and 12 months, 1,801; between six and nine months, 2,063; between three and six months, 3,264; between eight and 13 weeks, 2,600, and so on down to less than four weeks. There is something wrong somewhere when one section of the community is shouting out "Produce more and work harder" while a percentage of the community somewhere else is unable to find employment for a period of anything between six months and one year. I have only quoted the figures for men because I do not want to bore the House, but the total of women unemployed is 3,474 as against 19,114 men.
492 There are suggestions which can be made in regard to this matter. We have in Liverpool a lot of single young men who have been in the Forces and who are unskilled. That is one of the difficulties in the Liverpool area, a lot of unskilled temporary labour. They are prepared to go out of Liverpool as a temporary measure and work somewhere else, but they are not prepared to go out of Liverpool and keep their parents out of the income they can get by working somewhere away from home. Married men are in a particular difficulty, though single men are in a different position. Let me quote a typical type of case we have in the Liverpool area, of a man with a wife and four children. He is a skilled man and is asked to go to Coventry or Birmingham. Being fed up with drawing unemployment pay he decides to try anything once and, at the request of the Ministry of Labour, he goes. His total wages will be in the region of £5 per week. It costs him at least £25s. to live in Birmingham or Coventry. He is left with just over £3 a week, if he does not keep anything for himself for cigarettes or entertainment, for his wife and four children, who probably have a rent of anything up to 17s. 6d. a week in a corporation house. He has to suffer all the disadvantages of remaining in lodgings, his family have to suffer the disadvantages of not having him at home, and he finds it totally impossible to remain. He goes back to Liverpool, and in very many instances, having left the job on his own accord, he is refused unemployment pay.
That sort of thing creates a very difficult situation, and we have to find some way of getting these people to go to the areas which are short of manpower or woman-power without losing the amount of money they do lose through having to maintain themselves in one place and their families somewhere else. As a temporary measure it ought to be quite easy. Knowing the Liverpool working people as I do, most intimately, I am certain that most of them do not want to be unemployed. They do not want to hang around the street corners, as they did between the two wars when there was no work to offer them, they want to make use of what ability they have and are prepared to do it if the incentive is offered them. Where there are pockets of able bodied youths anxious to work, whether they are married or single, I am certain that some method could be arranged through the 493 Ministry of Labour whereby their expenses for living in an area away from their own homes could be paid as well as some way of seeing that their railway fares travelling back to their homes at weekends were provided for.
§ Mr. Marples (Wallasey)
Would the hon. Lady not agree that it would be a great help if light industries were immediately introduced into the Merseyside area by the Government?
§ Mrs. Braddock
That is long-term policy, and I have no doubt that the long-term policy of the Government will achieve something which the Conservative Party, through all its long years of control, failed to do at all. I am certain that the Government's long-term policy will solve the hard core of unemployment which we have had, in Liverpool, to my knowledge, since 1914, but it is the immediate problem of having almost 30,000 men and women out of work which we have to tackle. It is this short-term policy which is causing a tremendous amount of concern to those of us who know the situation in the Liverpool area.
There is one other matter to which I wish to refer, because I think it is very important. We still have in the Liverpool area a number of shipbuilders and repairers who are out of work, and a matter which is causing great concern is the report that—as was intimated to me during the week end—not very many days ago a ship belonging to the Holt Line was loaded with a cargo scheduled as "ships' stores." Those "ships' stores" turned out to be the spare parts for the repair of another Holt ship which was already at Hamburg. Whether the description of the cargo as "ships' stores" was likely to help to get it out of Liverpool I have been unable to find out, but the fact that a ship repair is going from Liverpool when there are ship repairers unemployed there, and that the spare parts necessary for such a repair can be sent by ship to Hamburg is creating a very great deal of feeling in the Liverpool area.
Although I have no definite proof of that, I have the details of how the ship was loaded and of the composition of the cargo from the dockers who actually did the work. As I say, it has caused a great deal of concern and it tends to create the feeling among the workers that 494 perhaps an unofficial strike now and again may do something which they are unable to achieve in any other way. That is a spirit we cannot afford to foster in any direction. I hope that the Government Front Bench will ascertain exactly what is the situation with regard to shipbuilding and repairing in the Liverpool area. If repairs are being sent out while there is unemployment there I hope that some steps will be taken through the Minister of Transport to alter the situation and to retain the ship repair work in Liverpool.
I have tried to be as unprovocative as possible, and if I had been able to take part in the Debate during the previous three days I might have been much more provocative. In conclusion, I would say that although we have all kinds of plans the fact remains that plans very often go wrong, and I should like to suggest to the Front Bench that they begin now to prepare a new plan which can be put into operation if the present one fails. I suggest also that the new plan should be founded on the true basis of Socialism—the public ownership and control of the means of production, distribution and exchange.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
In the interests of good Debate I should have liked to follow some of the arguments which have already been put forward by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen. I agree with one remark made by the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) when she said that we would be expecting too much of this Government if we expected them to change their plans. I quite agree, and I would add that in my view the only thing that matters is to change the Government. I should have liked to associate myself at some length with the very eloquent plea put forward by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) on behalf of disabled ex-Servicemen, although that was only one facet of this problem. I congratulate the Minister of Agriculture on the fact that in the course of a very short speech he managed to blame all the mistakes of this Government five times on 20 years of Tory misrule. He came second only to the Minister of Health who, in an equally short speech, once managed to blame Tory misrule on seven occasions.
After three days' economic Debate and the discussion today I am still hoping 495 that some hon. or right hon. Member opposite will explain to me how it is possible for this or any other Government to plan everything from traction engines to babies' rattles, and how it is possible for non-experts to interfere in the day to day running of industry without taking powers of compulsion and powers to direct labour which, to my way of thinking, at least, are utterly incompatible with the fundamentals of democracy as I understand it. To me it still remains an unexplained mystery how the vast and untried experiment—because it is untried and it is an experiment—of whole-hog Socialism can possibly work. I hope it will, but nothing I have seen in the last 18 months has done anything to convince me that it can.
I want to concentrate on one very important part of the manpower problem which has been extremely inadequately dealt with during this Debate—the question of the employment of foreign labour, and I intend to ask the Minister of Labour a number of questions to which I hope he will be in a position to give me an answer. The President of the Board of Trade was reported as having said in Bradford that our overall labour shortage may be as high as 750,000, and he went on to add that he could not over-emphasise the seriousness of the situation. In paragraph 124 of the White Paper I read:The prospective labour force of 18,300,000 men and women at December, 1947, falls substantially short of what is needed to reach the national objectives.In the same paragraph it is stated:This need to increase the working population is not temporary; it is a permanent feature of our national life.I know that several distinguished hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken during this Debate have sought to show that the labour shortage is not so serious as that, but I must believe it to be the case. The President of the Board of Trade said, too:There will be an overall deficiency of, labour as soon as supplies of fuel and material are available.Again, I believe in the White Paper, I find:There is far more work to be done than there are men and women to do it.I am not in a position to judge whether that is the case or not, but I can but believe that it is. In other words, the 496 Government admit that there is a very serious labour shortage indeed. If that is the case I feel quite sure that hon. Members on both sides will be in complete agreement with me when I say that unless the gap is filled our national recovery will be seriously imperilled. I am not aware of any way of filling that gap except by the employment of foreign labour. In paragraph 125 of the economic White Paper I read again:Foreign labour can make a useful contribution to our needs. The old arguments against foreign labour are no longer valid. There is no danger for years to come that foreign labour will rob British workers of their jobs. The Government intends to seek every means of employing in civilian work the Poles who are here or who are coming here and who are unwilling to return to their own country. It also intends to extend the recruitment of displaced persons from the Continent to work here.Further on in that paragraph mention is made of language and accommodation difficulties and the suitability of displaced persons to do the work that they are wanted to do, and the paragraph concludes—and this is the last quotation I will make and I apologise for having made so many—with these words:But foreign labour is the only substantial additional source of manpower which is open to us—especially for the under-manned industries—and the Government intends and believes that with the full co-operation of British employers and workers these difficulties can be overcome.If that were the only voice in which people in authority in the Labour movement were speaking that would be all right, but unfortunately that is not so as I propose to show in a moment or so.
There is a great deal of prejudice in this country against the employment of foreign labour. Some of it may be well founded but in my opinion it is out of date. Some of it is uninformed, ill-founded and arises largely from our inherent insularity. Some of it has been inspired by Moscow propaganda. [Laughter.] Yes, and I propose to show how in a minute or two. The President of the Board of Trade said that prejudice exists where competition or unemployment is feared. I am not quite sure why he used the word "competition" in that context, because to my way of thinking a little foreign competition might be quite healthy. Let me hasten to add that the fear of unemployment is a very natural and very understandable reason for this 497 prejudice. In fact, the memory of the dole and unemployment in the interwar years is something which people will never forget.
§ Major Beamish
This out-of-date and uninformed opinion can be overcome by good leadership which we lack most seriously today, and if the facts were put across in an intelligent and modern way. If labour becomes cheap I would emphasise that there are the Dominions and Colonies who are now eager for labour and they will be even more eager for labour in years to come. We know already that something in the nature of half a million enterprising young people from this country wish to emigrate to the Dominions and Colonies, but one of the main reasons why they cannot go at the moment is a shortage of houses in the Dominions and Colonies.
§ Major Beamish
That is a fact. When those difficulties are overcome I believe the demand for labour from the Dominions and Colonies will increase. The trickle which it is now will become a steady flow. There are quite a number of serious difficulties in the way of employing foreign labour here and of getting it here. One of them, of course, is transport from Europe. I do not know if the Navy is in a position to put to sea but judging from a recent Debate I am doubtful whether many ships are in a fit state to do so. If the Navy could be used as it was during the war, and particularly aircraft carriers, for short runs, I do not see why in an emergency—and this is an emergency—the Navy should not be called in to help. As regards accommodation in this country, that is often put forward as a serious reason against employing foreign labour, but General Morgan who is a great friend of the displaced persons said in an article which he wrote recently that a pig-sty is a palace to a displaced person. I have spent the last five weeks going round displaced persons' camps and my contention is that what General Morgan has said is 498 true. I say that a tented camp would be a luxury to these people. I believe that the accommodation difficulties could be largely overcome—
§ Major Beamish
I would not mind living amongst them, for there are a great many excellent people living in these displaced persons' camps. I believe that this difficulty in regard to language is over emphasised. All farm people have much the same language for on any farm a spade really is a spade. Such farm tasks as milking cows do not need any particular language. Indeed we have only got to set these people to plough a field and they will get on with the job. The German prisoners of war managed very well when they were here as did the Italians. I do hope that no effort will be made to over emphasise the language difficulty. I appreciate that in a skilled job, particularly coal mining, the language difficulty is a very serious one indeed, but perhaps I can put forward one solution which may not be too popular with hon. Members opposite. In connection with people being trained to do these jobs I have a number of facts and figures which I hope will not weary the House but without which my argument would be incomplete. Let me say in this connection that the possibilities of vocational training have been very largely neglected. I saw some excellent work done in Austria and Germany by U.N.R.R.A. There is room for a great deal of expansion in that field.
I was reading in the "Daily Telegraph" recently an article by Sir Robert Burrows in which he said:Two or three months would enable any able-bodied man to do half if not two-thirds of the tasks in coal mining.He specifically excluded from that extract which I quote the highly skilled underground jobs. That the fourth difficulty which could be raised and I hope will not would be exaggerated is the length of time it takes before a man can do a useful job of work in industry. As I said before, the Government's voice is not unfortunately the only voice in this connection. During last year voices were raised at the T.U.C. Conference at Brighton and things were said which made me squirm. They seemed to me to dub the Poles, our 499 first and last allies in the war, automatically as Fascists because they would not return to their own country—a thing I disliked very much. These voices were unanswered. When I referred to Moscow-inspired propaganda one of the things I had in mind was a report I read on the 18th February in an evening paper. It was a statement attributed to Mr. Will Lawther, the Mineworkers' President. This statement says:Mr. Lawther, the mineworkers president, told me, 'We are surprised there should be suggestions to introduce D.Ps. into the coal mines without consultation with our union'.
§ Major Beamish
Hon. Members say "Hear, hear" too soon. The interview goes on:Speaking as a member of the T.U.C. General Council, he said, 'So far as I know the T.U.C. has never been consulted'.In the same extract I find that Mr. Collinson is quoted as saying for the Agricultural Workers' Union:We have heard nothing at all about the arrival of D.Ps. for British industry but our executive would not agree to taking any into the industry. I am quite sure the agricultural workers would not consent.I do not know whether these statements were actually made, because I only believe about half of what I see in the newspapers. The statements have not been denied and the report was made as recently as 18th February. What I cannot understand is how it is possible as recently as three weeks ago for any spokesman of the mine workers or the agricultural workers to make such statements as these It seems to me to show a complete lack of co-ordination between the Government and the unions. I really thought if there were any Government capable of working with the unions it would be this Government, supported as it is by 130 union Members. They have had many months to think these things over. I would remind the authors of this Moscow inspired propaganda who seem to be adverse to the employment of foreign labour of any sort, let alone displaced persons, that the one gentleman to whom they owe their whole creed, Mr. Karl Marx, was a displaced person who enjoyed asylum in this country.
The figures are sometimes conflicting with regard to labour shortages, but I hope that the ones I am going to give are 500 more or less correct. I understand that it is the intention this year to get a further increase of 30,000 in the coal mines. That is a very low target. Again, all the farmers of my acquaintance tell me that they are short of labour. Of the 130,000 German prisoners who are going back to Germany, half are in regular employment. The Minister tells us that there are outstanding shortages in the textile industry, and also that the cotton industry, which employs 252,000, wants 88,000, and that there is an immediate demand for 26,000, mostly women and girls. He states that as regards the woollen and worsted trades, the Government hope to recruit 60,000 during the next five years. As regards displaced persons, however, there are not many unattached women who are available. In the British zone of Germany, there are 94,000 employable men and 52,000 employable women, and these are low estimates. Nine thousand people in the British zone of Germany are employed in forestry, and are already highly skilled. Seven thousand two hundred are employed in other industries, and 8,500 are doing vocational training, including agricultural, engineering, carpentry and nursing. There are only 0,000 skilled miners in the whole of the British zone, and these people are being taken up by those who are quicker off the mark than us.
As regards agriculture, there are now 24,000 Poles skilled in the industry, and 10,000 Balts who are very excellent people. In the British zone, 35,000 people are skilled in the key industries in which we lack manpower. The figures I have quoted cover only the British zone in Germany and do not refer to Austria or Italy at all. The Ministry of Labour has been very slow off the mark in this connection, but I welcome what is apparently now being done. France has been much more realistic, and are taking 50,000 displaced persons from Germany. The French have had a Minister plenipotentiary going around for months. The Belgians are taking 20,000, and the Brazilians are taking 1,000 who are mostly highly skilled. I appeal to the Minister to show more drive and initiative about this problem, if what the White Paper says really counts for anything. At the moment the British taxpayers are footing a very large bill, running into millions of pounds, to keep displaced persons in idleness, whereas those countries which are 501 not footing the bill are skimming the cream.
As regards Poles in this country, 1 understand that out of 140,000, some 80,000 are in the Resettlement Corps, and that only 4,000 have been placed in regular employment. Some 75 per cent. of them are skilled in agriculture, and I really cannot understand why something more effective has not been done. If a farmer applies for a Pole, how long does it take before the man is available? Many of the best Poles over here are tired of hanging about, and a lot of highly skilled wireless technicians and pilots are looking for opportunities elsewhere, and finding them, because we have been so slow. I know of people who have waited six months for answers to their request to employ some of these people.
I am not sure why we were so quick to make certain that none of these Poles should serve in a Polish division under British command. Maybe we were afraid of offending Russia, and if that is so I think pertinent inquiries about General Paulus and his activities would not be out of place. How does it come about that this minimum figure of 100,000 foreigners to be employed this year was selected? The Minister of Labour has told us there were reasonable hopes of offering jobs to all those in the Resettlement Corps in the coming months, and that means a figure of 80,000. If he is to reach his minimum target figure, he has to employ 20,000 displaced persons, and yet we are told it is the intention to allow 4,000 displaced persons to come to this country each week, which is 16,000 a month. If we start in May, that is a figure of 128,000 for this year. It seems to me there is something here which is extremely contradictory, which ought to be cleared up. I hope the Minister will explain exactly where this discrepancy arises. The displaced persons employed here so far have been a mere pinprick—about 8,000 for domestic service and some 2,000 Baltic women for hospital work and so on.
I have a few fundamental suggestions to make in connection with this question of foreign labour. I understand that a special department has been set up by the Minister. I hope it is not just another department of the Ministry of Labour, and that a really big man is to be put in charge, because it is a big job. Our whole national recovery depends to a large ex- 502 tent on this problem, and I appeal to the Minister to stop dabbling with this question of foreign labour. I ask him to look into this question of vocational training, and to get his officials to go round the U.N.R.R.A. training camps, as such visits would be most profitable. In regard to miners, as the Germans are so short of these people, we might well take over one or two German mines to teach displaced persons the job. The men are available, and there would be no language problem. Having gained the experience, would it be impossible to place them in mines over here, perhaps not quite so up to date, and let them carry on the job of mining themselves? it would introduce a little healthy competition between their mines and some of our own.
I beg the Minister not to split up families. If we are going to take an employable man who has an unemployable wife, I hope we shall take her as well. Having decided in which industries they will work, I hope they will be employed on equal terms with our labour, will become union members and be paid the appropriate wage and will not be considered as everlasting industrial outcasts. I hope he will not succumb to the blandishments of some people connected with industry in Germany who would like to keep displaced people in Germany to benefit German economy later on. I hope the Minister will cut out this screening. These people have been screened over and over again. They have been screened by the N.K.V.D., by the Germans, and by our own security people. Maybe a few have served in the Wehrmacht, and a few even in General Vlasov's Corps, but I believe it is about time that we accepted them as human beings and took them at their face value. Lastly, I appeal to the Minister to get the co-operation of the unions. The most serious mistake has been the lack of co-ordination between this Government and the unions, as exampled by the two quotations I have given. If I have misquoted Mr. Lawther or Mr. Collinson, I hope the Minister will say so. These displaced people do not want charity and they are not asking for charity. All they want is an opportunity to start afresh and become human beings again. It is in their interests that they should come here and it is in the interests of the short-term and long-term policy of this country.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Macpherson (Romford)
We are suffering from a shortage of many essential things, but the greatest shortage of all is the shortage of manpower. That is why we are short of coal, steel, houses, clothing and many other things. This is quite understandable after six years of total war. We need not be ashamed of these shortages. Neither the Government nor the country have anything for which to apologise. We might look upon these shortages as some of the honourable scars of war suffered by the British people in the all-out effort during the war years. We have heard how the Government propose by every expedient open to a democratic and free people, to try to increase the manpower force in British industry. I doubt, however, whether after all these methods have been tried, we will be successful in attracting into British industry a sufficient number of additional workers to bring about any substantial increase in essential production which is so vital this year. I am inclined to agree with my hon Friend the senior Member for Bolton (Mr. J Jones) and would like to see more emphasis placed on making the most of our present manpower.
The only substitute for manpower is horsepower. I ask the Government if they appreciate sufficiently the importance of more horsepower. It is said that the average American worker has four times more horsepower than has the average British worker. I sometimes wonder how it is that the American worker, often working shorter hours, can earn more, and frequently produce more, than his counterpart in Great Britain. No one can tell me that the American miner is better than the British miner, or the American engineer a better worker than the British engineer. I think the answer is that the American worker has more power, more powered tools, and more mechanical aids, in the mine, factory and workshop, than we have here.
I had a letter the other day from a constituent of mine illustrating this point. It says:Dear Sir,I am a fitter on the L.N.E.R. During the war it was said, ' Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.' Well, I am saying the same. I have never been mole disgusted with the way we have to work. I have only been at Stratford one month, and all the tools I have been issued with are two chisels, and two 504 spanners, and even they are not fit to use. I went to see the foreman and he told me they had been on order for three months. Surely, the railways are as important as the mines. If you saw the conditions in which we have to work you would agree with me.As one who has to travel regularly on the L.N.E.R. from Liverpool Street to Romford, and being aware of the deplorable conditions on that line I can well imagine that those conditions exist in the locomotive repairing shops.
I will give another illustration about the need for more horsepower by making a comparison of what has happened during the past few years in agriculture and in mining. I have looked up the figures of 1938 to the end of 1946. During the war years there has been no material increase in the mechanical equipment in the mining industry. There has been some increase, but no important material change, up to the end of 1946. We know the position regarding production and manpower in the industry which is broadly speaking about the same. In agriculture, on the other hand, there has been almost a revolution in British methods of farming. Some 100,000 new tractors, combine harvesters and no end of new mechanical aids have been provided for the agricultural industry. As a result, bearing in mind the fact that the number of workers in agriculture has increased by about 20 per cent. at the end of 1946 compared with prewar, production has gone up TOO per cent. I am referring especially to arable farming. That is definite proof of what can be done with our available manpower forces when given adequate and proper mechanical aids.
The shortage of manpower has been most acutely felt in the coal industry, and our immediate need is for more coal and power. That is fundamental to the whole production problem. We must have more coal and more power for next winter. The most practical way to go about producing more coal and power—indeed the only way if we are going to do something this year—is to give our manpower more horsepower, and to do it now. To do it now, we must concentrate on three things.
The first is the production of more mechanical equipment for our coal industry. Secondly, there is the production of more engine and generating plant for power, and, thirdly, the repair and production of more railway locomotives and wagons.
505 I am not an industrialist, but an ordinary business man. During the last few weeks I have been present at a number of conferences on this crisis with experienced leaders of the engineering industry. I am assured that there is engineering capacity available in this country to provide additional mining machinery and equipment. There is engineering capacity available which could make a substantial contribution to existing shortages in the repair and new construction of engine and generating plant, and also of railway locomotives and wagons. This would involve putting the work out to firms which do not normally go in for that type of production. But, in an emergency like this, as in the war, I think all will agree that every bit of engineering capacity should be used to its maximum.
The regional boards, which did such splendid work during the war, could also he used by the Government for this purpose. They have knowlege of the capacity and ability of firms in their area to make this equipment, or to switch over from less essential work and the production of luxury goods.
Wrapped up with this question of manpower is the all-important question of priorities. I do not think we will get the production of power and equipment we need, unless we tackle the question of priorities and put it on a proper coordinated basis. Today, industry does not know where it stands regarding priorities, and a good deal of confusion exists. This is probably the key to our production problem. There must be a master plan for priorities, as, indeed, there should be a master plan for the whole of our industrial production during the continuance of the present emergency.
We are facing this year a problem of the greatest magnitude. The maintenance of the standard of life of our people, our industry, our exports, and our food supplies all depend on a bold, imaginative, and businesslike handling of this problem in our economic affairs. I do not believe that to appoint some super planning staff committee of high civil servants—no matter how eminent—is the right way to go about this job. We must have a master plan, it is true, but we must have a master planner. Very often the success of something depends just as much on the man who is going to be in charge of it, as 506 the efficacy of the plan itself. Therefore, we must have a master planner to do the job. I think that a master planner should be a member of the Cabinet. The Prime Minister should choose the biggest man he has available, and a new post should be created. I am not suggesting that there is any reflection on present Ministers.
This problem of production is probably the most important work ahead of this Government today. On the success of our handling of this problem will depend the success of this Government. We should have the best man we can get for this job. Fortunately, there is, in the Government, a man of outstanding qualifications for the post—my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I suggest, with the greatest respect, that he is the man for this post. As soon as he can be spared from Moscow and the Foreign Office he should be put in charge of this tremendous task, the rehabilitation of British industry. The Foreign Secretary, like no other man, has the confidence of the organised workers of this country, and I am sure that he would have the good will and support of employers and of industry as a whole.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)
I think that our Debate today, and the three-day Debate we had last week, can be summarised in a very few words. They come down to this, that the volume of production from British industry today is not sufficient to do three essential things: first, there is not enough to balance our essential imports with exports; second, there is not enough to provide the British people with anything except a miserable standard of living; and, third, there is not enough to pay anything of the debts of £4,000 million which we owe to countries abroad.
What we are investigating is the reason for all that, and what we can do about it. Various suggestions have been made today, one about the employment of foreign labour and another that British industry must be mechanised to an extent at least comparable with that in America. Means have been suggested for increasing the output of our existing industries and workers. Wherever we go today we hear complaints that the output of industry per man year, or week, is not, by and large, what it was in 1938. What we have to remember is that even if we get back to 507 a 1938 standard of output that will not bring us back to a 1938 standard of living, because, since that time, we have lost a large part of our overseas investments, which made such a great contribution to the standard of living of the British people. We also owe the staggering sum of £4,000 million abroad, every penny of which has to be paid back from the work of British workers, from which there will be no corresponding return.
I should like to refer to what I might term the "misuse" of our manpower. There are, shortages of men in mining, in foundries, and in agriculture, and of women in cotton and woollen factories, and so on. But, at the same time, we all know that hundreds of thousands of people are today being employed in wholly unproductive industries such as, for instance, football pools and gambling. I ask the Minister of Labour the other day if he knew how many were employed in football pools, and he confessed that he did not know. The large number of people employed in these unproductive industries will not help in any way in the present crisis. I am hoping that the Minister will tell us what the Government's plans are for getting these people into productive industries. He could, of course, reimpose the Essential Work Order, but we are all against that, although I warn Members opposite that when they talk about a planned economy and a planned society they may find that before long there cannot be a completely planned society without planned labour.
Another way in which we might get labour from unproductive to productive work is by devising a scientific method of wage rates, imposed by Statute, which would automatically attract people from one type of labour to another. But to this the trade unions, rightly, would not agree. We might try to see what can be done by exhortation. There is a great deal of that going on now but, in the long run, exhortation will not take a man from an attractive job to an unattractive job. Have the Government considered this revolutionary suggestion? Have they considered the negative direction of labour? By that I mean that a certain number of industries would be scheduled as unessential. Football pools would be one, the luxury hat trade another. The Minister could then say, "This is the 508 quota of labour which you can have in this industry, but you cannot have any more." Automatically, we hope, the people who would not be able to get a job in that industry would go to more essential industries. There should be no difficulty in preparing lists of essential and non-essential industries. We did it in 1939, when we imposed the Military Service Act. We had a long list of exemptions of people who were supposed to be in the most essential industries.
I do not see any physical difficulties in it. I confess that I do not like it very much, because I do not like any sort of restrictions or any sort of unnecessary controls. But it seems to me that unless he can, by exhortation and by purely voluntary means, get people from these quite useless industries—useless to us now—to the absolutely essential industries, he may have to consider some method of this sort. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell the House whether he thinks that this is in any way feasible.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
I am certain that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that this Debate has served a valuable purpose in that the opportunity has been given for the putting forward of many points of view upon what the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. T. Macpherson) rightly described as the biggest problem facing the Government. I wish that I could pay the same tribute to the only Ministerial intervention which the House has yet had the privilege of hearing, that of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, who is a Minister directly concerned with the subject matter of this Debate. Paragraph 128 of the White Paper prescribes his task for 1947—the obtaining of an additional 39,000 men for agriculture. Indeed, the Prime Minister, in his broadcast last night, told the country that it was essential to obtain an increase in agricultural labour. When the Minister of Agriculture came to the Box, he did not make one single concrete practical proposal as to how that additional labour was to be obtained. He made four references to events between the wars which seemed to give him great satisfaction, but when faced, by the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) with the straight question as to how he was to get this additional labour, he could give no concrete and precise answer.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture made no less than eight different proposals and gave eight different means whereby the agricultural labour force would be recruited during the year, and he gave an assurance that as far as he could ascertain, there would be sufficient labour this year for gathering the harvest.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am much obliged to the hon. Member for his no doubt helpful intervention. May I bring to his attention, and to the attention of the House, the words of his right hon. Friend, because I am sure that the House would prefer to take the words of the responsible Minister even to those of the hon. Member who has been so anxious to intervene on his behalf? I made a note at the time, and the right hon. Gentleman ended his summing up of this aspect of the matter by saying, "I hope there is going to be an increase in British civilian labour." The House will note the word "hope." He did not say "As the result of these specific measures X thousand additional labourers will be obtained." He concluded his observations, to which I regret the hon. Gentleman apparently did not pay great attention, with an expression of hope.
I repeat that throughout the speech of the right hon. Gentleman there was no concrete suggestion as to how he was to carry out the task imposed by the White Paper, to be carried out in a year, a quarter of which has very nearly passed. He referred to the Women's Land Army—a diminishing asset; he referred to prisoners of war—a diminishing asset; but never did he face up to the problem. I agree with the hon. Member opposite that it is the essential problem today as to how this necessary inflow of labour into agriculture is to be obtained. I hope, though perhaps it is the triumph of hope over experience, that when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour replies to the Debate as a whole, he will be able to be a little more helpful, a little more precise and even a little more constructive.
The problems raised by this Debate are really three—how to secure the proper distribution of the existing labour force, how to secure that that labour force is of adequate size, and how to secure from it the maximum of productivity. I think that the Parliamentary 510 Secretary will agree that that is a fair summing up of the grave and serious problems with which he and the Minister are confronted. The first of these problems on which I should like to touch is the problem of redistribution. As the House is by now almost painfully aware, the Government have set a target, in Paragraph 128 of the White Paper, a target which involves a certain redistribution of labour. I do not propose to address myself to the question as to whether that redistribution is itself a proper and intelligent one. I am prepared to leave it that it is the target which the Government have set themselves, and to which they are naturally committed. How is that redistribution to be obtained? It is quite useless and a waste of the time of the House and of hon. Members, to set a target of this sort unless the means by which that target is to be hit can be brought forward. It would be a sheer waste of paper to propose a beautiful plan of redistribution unless reasonable methods could be set out by which that redistribution could be obtained.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour, in our recent Debate, set forth what he suggested were the means to this end. He said:We are doing it"—that is, effecting the redistribution—by giving priority to vacancies in those industries, by bringing those vacancies to the attention of persons seeking employment, by publicity drives, by improvements in the working conditions and attractiveness of these industries—that is the main way to overcome this difficulty—and by training in Government centres."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1947; Vol. 434, c. 1156.]I am sure that the House would be more impressed by the belief in the effectiveness of those measures were it not for the fact that all these measures have been, in greater or lesser degree, in effect for the past 18 months. There is nothing new in those measures. I am certain that to the best of his ability the right hon. Gentleman has been applying them already, and applying them at a moment of unparalleled opportunity, at a period when 7,500,000 people were in any event changing their jobs from the Armed Forces or war industries, and going into other employment. If a method of effecting this redistribution is to be put forward, one is surely entitled to be just a little doubtful as to its effectiveness when one recollects that it has been applied in 511 easier and more favourable circumstances for the last 18 months, and has ended in a state of affairs in which the Government themselves regard substantial redistribution of industry as necessary. Therefore, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he will tell the House the answer to two questions. First, why is it that he anticipates that these methods, which have had only limited success when applied during the easier circumstances of the last 18 months, will be more successful in the future? Second, has he nothing else to offer?
I feel that this is the fundamental point of the whole matter, and the fundamental point of the whole policy of His Majesty's Government. It is useless to have the plan to which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister referred in his broadcast last night, if the will or the means to carry it out are lacking. I suggest to the House that the fundamental difficulty is that the right hon. Gentleman and his Government have twisted and distorted the normal price mechanism, by price controls, by limitation of every sort and by nationalisation. [Interruption.] There is no question about it. I really should have thought that hon. Members opposite would agree. I understood it was their object. That has been done and the normal working of the price mechanism upset.
I suggest that the Government are up against this difficulty Having ceased to obtain the working of the price mechanism in the normal way, they are up against an alternative which they will not face. The alternative is that Socialist planning, and the Socialist plan necessarily involves direction of labour. I do not suppose that that will be very palatable to the Government Front Bench. I believe it is intellectually acceptable to some of their supporters who really believe in the policy of Socialism. But whether or not it is acceptable to the Government Front Bench, I suggest to them that unless they are able to show how they can implement the Socialist plan without direction of labour, they are in this dilemma: Either they must swallow their natural and very proper repugnance to direction of labour, or they must abandon the Socialist plan.
Unless the Parliamentary Secretary can tell the House how he can implement this part of the plan without direction of labour, I am sure the House will be in- 512 terested to know what are his alternative and his escape from this dilemma. There is one aspect, and one only, of this redistribution of labour which the Government can handle without facing this dilemma, and that is the question of the public service. The White Paper admits to a 50 per cent. increase in the numbers engaged in the public service since before the war. The planned redistribution involves a small decrease. There are two points I wish to put to the Parliamentary Secretary. The first is whether there is any reason to believe that this impoverished and battered country can afford to maintain 50 per cent. more Governmental machinery and personnel than it could maintain in 1938. Second, is there the slightest indication of any tendency today towards obtaining even the limited reduction during the present year, which the White Paper contemplates? The most recent issue of the return of Government staffs shows that notwithstanding a substantial reduction of nearly 10,000 in the Service Departments, so great has been the increase in the other Departments that that decrease is swallowed up and there is a net increase of 4,140. What has the House to go on to support the belief that a cut in Governmental staffs can be effected during the current year when the tendency up to a month or two ago was in the opposite direction? I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that.
Then there is the second question which I posed to the House, the question of the quantity of labour. I appreciate, and I do not propose to touch on it as it was so well set forth by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), the question of women labour. L would like to deal with it from the point of view that the only possible increase in male labour available to the Government is from older people and from foreign labour. In regard to older people, the Government are setting a very bad example. The Civil Lord of the Admiralty at Question Time today admitted in a reply to the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce) that the Royal Dockyards had in the last six months dismissed 372 men who had reached the age of 65 and and had only retained 65. That does seem, from a Government Department, a bad example, but that is a drop in the ocean.
513 The important source of additional labour is foreign labour, and I desire to ask the Government one or two questions on that. First of all: why is it that when the Minister of Labour spoke last week he could only tell the House that 3,900 Poles were yet in employment in this country? There are 80,000 Poles in the Resettlement Corps. There are some 70,000 more not yet in that Corps. Most of these men have been in this country for many months. Why is it that when there is this—as the Minister of Labour called it—"overall shortage of labour" looming up, thousands of men for whose maintenance this country has been financially responsible have not been put before into proper employment? There are only two alternative explanations. One is that the Government have surrendered to pressure from the unions. It may well be that the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) was right, when she said a few minutes ago that the Government of this country was the miners. Either the Government have not faced up to union opposition on this matter or they have been quite incredibly lax in making arrangements. I hope we may be told why even today only five per cent. of the men in the Resettlement Corps have been put into productive employment.
There is then the question of other foreign labour. I did not understand from the speech of the Minister of Labour last week whether a decision had yet been arrived at or not as to the employment of foreigners other than Poles in the mines. May we be told the answer to that? There is yet another question. Four or five months ago a statement was made to this House that a number of Italians were to be brought to this country for work in foundries. What has happened to those men? Are they here? Are they coming, or has something happened? May we be told something about that?
On this whole question of foreign labour I would like to know, I must confess, a great deal more. What arrangements are being made for this foreign labour? May I put that question quite specifically? Is this foreign labour, when it is brought here—displaced persons, Baits, Italians, whoever they may be—to be confined to the particular industry for whose purposes it is brought? Are those men to be confined to that industry, and, if so, for how long? What sanctions 514 are to be applied if they abandon work in that industry and go elsewhere? Has it been realised that it may well be impossible to send them back to their countries of origin because their countries of origin may not take them? What arrangement has been made to prevent men brought in for work in the undermanned industries transferring themselves to some other form of activity, such as the football pools, which so interest the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally)?
It is clear that this important step of importing foreign labour cannot be taken without thought and, if I may use the almost sacred word "planning" in these matters, what is the plan? Are these people to be confined to particular industries for life? Is a man of 25 brought in, shall we say, for agriculture to be confined to agriculture for life? What will the right hon. Gentleman do if he does something else, say, goes in to politics? Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us that? These are serious questions, of importance to this House in its responsibility, of importance also to members of the trade unions in this country, and of importance particularly to these men who are being brought over. Perhaps I may be told what the plan is?
Finally, there is the question of the productivity of our existing labour. A good deal of loose talk has been indulged in on this subject, not least by hon. Members who have referred, for example, to increased productivity in the mines. There has been—and I am sure all hon. Members have been glad to hear it—an increase in the last few months over the output per man year in 1945, but do hon. Members opposite realise that the level in 1945 was the lowest for a great many years, that it was roughly 50 tons per man year less than 1941, and marked the lowest stage of a steadily descending staircase? [An HON. MEMBER: "Private enterprise."] An hon. Gentleman refers to private enterprise, and I am obliged to him. The figure of 300.8 tons per man year—the highest figure reached in recent years—was obtained in 1941—the year before the Government took over the management of the mines. It has been followed by a steady decline in every year under Government management down to 1945, so if hon. Members really want to discuss this important matter on that basis, I am quite ready to deal with them. 515 I hoped, however, that hon. Members opposite were prepared to discuss this matter on a somewhat higher level than the "who dunnit" level. The point surely is to face the fact that there has been a decline in productivity, not only in the mines but throughout our industrial system, and if hon. Members do not like to accept that from me, perhaps they will accept it from a member of the Coal Board, Mr. Ebby Edwards. He said this last week:Output in 1941 was 206,344,300 tons. In 1946, when nationalisation was guaranteed, output dropped by 26 million. The manpower in each year was nearly equal, but the overall rate of absenteeism rose from nine per cent. in 1941 to 16 per cent. in 1946.The real point, surely, as an hon. Member opposite said, is psychological. In his broadcast last night the Prime Minister made it quite clear that it was essential that everybody in this country should realise that what an hon. Member opposite called national survival depended upon everybody putting their heart into their job. I hope that hon. Members opposite will support the Prime Minister's appeal in that respect, and I hope that they will not hark back to their speeches of not so long ago when they advocated somewhat different courses. I do not want to go into that—[Interruption.] If hon. Members opposite so desire, I am only too willing. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do."] As the hon. Gentleman has asked for it, I will invite his attention to certain observations made by the Minister of Food. I invite attention to certain observations made by the Minister of Food in a book entitled, "Why You should be a Socialist," which was republished as recently as 1944. It contains these words:Our conclusion is that, however hard the workers work, they will remain workers, and poor workers at that. Hard work will not make the workers any richer, but it will make their employers much richer … Allied with this propaganda for industriousness, you remember the old 'produce more' cry. I suppose we shall get it again after this war, too.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Hon. Members opposite must make up their minds on which leg they stand. Do they stand with the Prime Minister in his appeal for hard work, or do they take the attitude of the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer), who says, "It is true"? They must face that.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Member has faced the problem. I do not know whether his colleagues have.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I respect the hon. Member's viewpoint, but other hon. Members must make it clear whether they support the Prime Minister in the appeal for work, or whether they do not, because they are here, as all of us are here, as representatives of the people, to whom the people of this country are looking for a lead. I am obliged to the hon. Member for his intervention. I hope hon. Members opposite will clear their minds on this matter, and be quite sure where they stand. The responsibility for all this rests on the Government. The Opposition have only one duty, as I see it, and that is to utter a warning. That we have tried to do. We have tried to say—and history must be the judge of whether we are right—that the measures so far taken by the Government are pitifully inadequate to deal with the gathering storm. There is no need to argue that. The next year or two will show who is right, and I pray to Heaven hon. Members opposite are right, and we are wrong.
§ Mr. Shurmer
I would not put it past the hoe. Gentleman to try not to make it so, to meet his own political ends.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I pass over that observation, because I am certain that no responsible Member of the House would make it.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
No one envies the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour his responsibility. In his hands, and in those of his colleagues, lies the whole future of our people, and I am sure he knows that, doubt as we do the efficiency of what he has done, and grave apprehensions though we feel as to the immediate future, our only wish is that he may prove—what he has not proved so far—capable of mastering the tremendous difficulties of his task. If he can do that, he will carry with him the blessings of millions in this land and of millions yet unborn.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Ness Edwards)
This Debate has been more or less a spill-over from the three days' Debate last week. It has followed and flowed naturally from the Debate on the general Economic Survey. I want to say how pleased I was that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), who opened the Debate for the Opposition, maintained the same high standard as was shown last week, almost throughout the Debate, in dealing with this very grave problem. I had the advantage, in 1944, of hearing a Debate in the House on a previous White Paper, introduced by the Minister of Reconstruction of that time, who is now the chairman of the Conservative Party. Subsequently, I was involved with my right hon. Friend in the discussions which took place, at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, with the National Joint Advisory Council, consisting of 17 representatives of the British Employers' Confederation and 17 representatives of the Trades Union Congress. Out of those discussions we got the White Paper which was issued in January on the economic considerations.
What I want to draw to the attention of the House is this. It was highly important that that Paper issued by the National Joint Advisory Council should precede the economic survey which was the subject of the discussion last week, and which again was the subject of the discussion today, because in that White Paper there is an overall recognition of the fact that the deployment of labour in this country was wrong, that steps had to be taken to improve it, that there had to be an increase in production on the part of industry, and a general recognition of that fact by both sides of industry. It was on the basis of the conclusion contained in that White Paper that we were able to get those more or less successful discussions which we had in the House last week on the economic survey. Apart from that, there has been throughout the Press of the country a recognition of the facts contained in the Economic Survey, and, perhaps more serious thought has been given to the economic situation of the country in the last three months than has ever been given before in our history. I think that is all to the good.
518 As I was saying, I had the advantage of listening to the Debates on the first White Paper in 1944, then I was present at those negotiations, and I have heard the Debates in this House on the Economic Survey. Looking back to the White Paper on Employment Policy of 1944, it is amazing to see how inadequate was that Paper in its scope. I am not blaming anyone, I do not want at all to make a party or partisan point, but it is amazing today to realise how limited that paper was in its scope, and how quite inadequate to deal with the problems that we have to face in the postwar period. The Paper on Employment Policy which was then issued, it will be recollected, was issued without any consultation with either side of industry. The Government of the day did not carry both sides of industry with it in the issue of that White Paper. In these recent negotiations the reverse process has been adopted. With regard to the White Paper on economic considerations both sides of industry were brought in and agreement was arrived at with regard to general principles, and that agreement is essential if we are to get out of the difficulties in which we now find ourselves. The Economic Survey has been made fully known to industry, and has been the subject of discussions in this House.
This, if I may say so, is a policy of democratic planning, in which both the industrial and political sides of the nation have been wholly taken into our confidence, and have been given full opportunity to make their contribution in the diagnosis of our difficulties and in the formulation of plans for the future. The House has lived up to expectations and has put forward in this Debate, and in the Debate last week, contributions that must be of assistance to the Government in going on with this policy. The way in which this subject-matter has been treated, both in the National Joint Advisory Council and in the House, shows that we are, in our belief, on the right road to finding a solution between the totalitarian method and the method of unrestricted private enterprise. That is our belief, and I hope to deal with it later on in what I have to say. If we can succeed in this, we shall make a great contribution to the advance of mankind, and once again, provide an example that other nations may copy.
519 For some years ahead it is obvious that we have urgent tasks to perform which outstrip both our present manpower and our resources. During the course of the Debate that view was not taken by a number of hon. Members. It was the view of the right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) that we had ample manpower for the tasks ahead. I think he is quite wrong. We have not sufficient manpower in this country at present to meet all the demands that are now being made upon our economy. The loss of our foreign investments has been regarded as roughly the equivalent of the product of 300,000 men per annum. In addition we have to make up for our American loan, we have to import, with nothing there to pay, we have to deal with the back-log of demand from the period of the war, we have all the repairs and new building to do, and we have the social commitments that have been decided upon by this House, and in that sense we have naturally an inadequate labour force to meet the demands that are being made upon us. This was a problem which was set out in the National Joint Advisory Council White Paper on the economic considerations. Equally, it has been recognised throughout the Debates that our economy is distorted and some of our basic and manufacturing industries have been seriously undermanned. In other words, not only are we short of manpower over the whole field, but what we have is wrongly deployed. I think there is general agreement upon that. [Interruption] I am trying to make a purely non-party speech on this matter. I think the House ought to be at its best in dealing with the grave problems that face the nation, and I hope the standards which have been set by the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate on that side of the House will be maintained by his colleagues.
The National Joint Advisory Council's paper illustrates the position by saying that, at a time when we are in full employment, we are short, compared with 1939, of some 600,000 workers in certain basic and vital services. In the days between the wars, when we had millions of unemployed, we might have scraped through even with our present supplies of fuel and power, but we can only provide for full employment if we expand the basic industries, and the basic industry of 520 coal in particular. It is this problem, the necessity for manning-up our basic industries and redeploying our manpower, which is now being seen, I think for the first time, in its totality, and the Debate has been on that basis in the House. It has been attacked from sectional angles before but I do not think that the problem has been looked at in this total way previous to this Debate. Progress is being made in dealing with our problems. I was asked how the Government anticipate deploying labour in such a way as to get the most efficient results? How are they going to do this planning? Is it going to be a plan imposed by the Government? Is it going to be democratic planning or totalitarian planning?
I had better run over what the President of the Board of Trade said in his opening speech in the Debate last week. This is the picture as I saw it and I think as the House saw it. For some time there has been an official Committee working in close association with the Economic Section of the Cabinet office and the Central Statistical Office. These were working under the Lord President of the Council who had got us so far in our present economic survey.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
It is a matter of regret that the Lord President himself has not been present in these Debates. This work has largely been done under his direction, and I am sure the contribution he could have made to the House would have been extremely enlightening. The Government now propose to appoint a Joint Planning Staff which will consist of the planning officer of each Department working in the closest co-operation with the Economic Section of the Cabinet office and the Central Statistical Office. This will function under the general observation of a planning board which will consist of representatives of the Joint Planning Staff and of employers and workers. By this way both sides of industry will be closely in touch with every step taken by the Government to develop resources to the full. The National Joint Advisory Council as I have said consists of 17 members from the Trades Union Congress and 17 from the British Employers' Federation. They will be kept fully informed of the way which it is 521 intended to use the resources of this nation.
Thus, at the top level, we shall be carrying the country both politically and economically in each step that has to be taken. There will be no gulf between theory and practice, nor between planning and implementation. The charge is very often made that we bring in our economists who plan on paper and then pass it on to industry. By this set up we have our economists and, sitting with them, representatives of both sides of industry, so that the principles of the implementation of the plan are kept in mind in making the plan itself.
I would suggest that that is a very useful step forward. In this way both employers and workers will have a social responsibility for the success of the plan and will also decide jointly what steps are necessary to use our manpower resources of manpower and materials in furtherance of the general plan. I remember that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) said in his speech that we ought to have a plan and a representative of industry making it. It need not be a very precise plan but a sort of general and rough outline, and the representatives of both sides of industry should be in on its making. It seems to me that this kind of structure is one that will use the best experience in the country, combining it with the best knowledge of the general theory of planning.
In this way, as I say, we shall obtain on the part of the employers and the workers a sense of their social responsibility. They will have made the plan and they will implement it, and one would hope that in that implementation they will be as much concerned about the success of the general plan as of their own particular part. In that respect a sense of social responsibility will over-ride their narrow, sectional industrial interest. The annual Economic Survey will be discussed in this House and will be made available to industry. The information as to the tasks and allocations of manpower with roughly available material resources will syphon through down to each industry. Both sides of each industry will then consider what is expected of it, and each unit in the particular industry must look at the size of the contribution the industry is to make. It is important for the success of our efforts that the man at the 522 Bottom—in the pit—or at the shop level—should know what we are about as well as the man at the top.
§ Mr. K. Lindsay
I know the hon. Gentleman is coming to it later, but I hope he will not omit to answer the questions put to him by hon. Members during the Debate.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I have made notes of the points raised by hon. Members on all sides of the House. I intended no discourtesy, but there are certain considerations I want to put over. I do not want to dodge a single question which has been put. Coming back to the recommendations of the planning board, each industry will know what it can do, having regard to the manpower resources available. It will then be for industries to make their own plans and work with each other to make the most of the situation. I do not want to see an industry run by civil servants. I want to see both sides running industries to the best advantage, not only to the industry itself but to the nation as a whole. This briefly outlines what, in our view, is a general democratic plan, which makes available for the first time information which will enable industry to make the most efficient use of its resources, and to plan firmly with the least damage and greatest advantage to the general economy.
I come back to the question of redeployment. Our great problem is to man up the under-manned industries, and unless we do that we are sunk. It has been suggested that this should be done by a number of methods. The House has agreed that we should not use direction of labour, that has been generally accepted, with one or two exceptions, and in view of that, I do not intend to deal with the point. The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby thought it was wrong to try and control by allocations of fuel and power. I imagine that he objected to the Government controlling in a direct way and on a planned basis. I am sure he will agree, no matter what may be said, in the last analysis it is the supply of fuel and power which controls all other activities. Perhaps he would leave it to chance, and let the people in luxury industries have the same quantities as the vitally necessary industries. I do not know how he squares that with the general argument for redeploying manpower in connection with the under-manned industries.
523 Another point raised was in regard to making more attractive the undermanned industries by a new wages policy. The advocates of this policy obviously forget that employers provide employment and wages. A Government wages structure might be considered side by side with a Government profit structure, which would, in my view, be equally effective or ineffective. I cannot understand why those who advocate a vaguely defined wages policy confine it to wages. Why not include salaries and other incomes? If we are to have a grading of incomes, let it cover the whole field, and let citizens get out of the pool something which bears relation to what they have put into the pool. This has been put vaguely, and I think it ought to be answered. First of all, it is not certain that increased wages alone can solve the problem of the labour shortage. The worker is concerned with something more than the mere level of wages. There are other things which he cannot be expected to sacrifice simply for the attraction of high wages. In my judgment, security of employment has a high place in the consideration of the worker when he is choosing his work. Then there is the question of good conditions in the factory, whether there is proper lighting, ventilation, and hygiene, and welfare arrangements. I do not suggest that a high level of wages has no influence on the attraction of workers to industry, but I want to impress on the House that other things do count, in many cases, more than mere wages.
The proposition has been put forward that we should increase wages in order to attract workers to undermanned industries. That is a proposition which is both impracticable and fraught with danger. Presumably, one industry must be taken at a time, and wages increased to a sufficiently high level to attract workers from other industries. The attraction must be both considerable and indiscriminate, and may well hit some most vital industries. But, apart from this, what happens when you have your industry manned up. Do you keep wages up or reduce them? In our view, this is no real policy for attracting labour to undermanned industries.
§ Sir A. Salter
Surely, if you want to attract people from an industry to another which is more vital you must make 524 the vital industry more attractive than the other.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
But once that has been done what must then be done with the next undermanned industry? Put wages higher still?
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Wages must be fairly equal in industries to attract workers. The dirty, hazardous industries must have compensation in the way of wages in order to attract workers. The Government's view is that we shall stand by the system that now exists, that discussions and negotiations on wages shall be a matter between both sides of industry. It is the policy of the Government to pass to both sides of industry the fullest economic information, on which they can take a decision which will not militate against general economy while still serving the needs and interests of their own industry.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
What about answering some of the questions which my hon. Friends have put during the Debate?
§ Mr. Speaker
The Parliamentary Secretary has now only about six minutes left in which to reply. There cannot be any extension of time.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I am missing questions which were raised on this side in order to try to satisfy Members opposite. As regards the question of negative control, there is something in that, and my right hon. Friend is meeting representatives of certain luxury industries to see if he can get them to agree to take on workers who are not available for the ordinary normal, or heavy, industries, to see if they will take on disabled people and women, and not take on those who would otherwise be available for industries which are undermanned. That matter is being explored, and we hope to get some results from it.
The hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), who is not in his place now, put a number of questions about disabled persons. In this matter, we are advised by the Disabled Persons Advisory Council and there is the Disabled Persons Corporation We are also getting valuable assistance from Sir Brunel Cohen, an 525 ex-Member of this House, who has a distinguished record in relation to disabled Service people in this country. With regard to labour in agriculture, I am sorry that I was not able to be here when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture replied. I understand that he made a complete reply to the questions which have been raised. I have not time to go over the details of the position, but we are satisfied that there will be available, for the agricultural industry this year, more labour than was available last year. The same number of prisoners of war will be available, 180,000; there will be additional numbers of Poles available; displaced persons will be coming in, and some Italians? and we have agreed to let remain in this country certain categories of German prisoners of war to work continuously in agriculture.
Another point put was about manning-up the mining industry. I should like to have told the House the full effects of what we have gained from the working of the present machinery. In the four weeks ending 15th January, 1947, we recruited to the mines 7,500 men; in the week ending 22nd February, we recruited 7,750. I would remind Members opposite that we are trying to recruit back to the industry men who were driven from it by their past policy. It was not done by the control of labour but by the whip of poverty and victimisation, which drove out the men we are now begging to come back into the industry.
§ Major Lloyd George (Pembroke)
Can the hon. Gentleman give us an estimate of what the wastage will be in the mining industry this year, as compared with last?
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I have only a few minutes left. I made no reference to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and, in any case, I have not got the information with me at the moment. We were asked about the effectiveness of our present machinery. We have built up mining until, on 8th March, the number of men in the industry was 701,000. In the clay industry, from December, 1945, to December, 1946, there was an increase of nearly 30,000 men; in the building industry there was an increase from 895,000 to 1,250,000; in the cotton industry there was an increase from 221,400 to 251,600. Those are some of the effects resulting 526 from the operation of the present machinery.
I am sorry that I have no time left in which to deal with foreign labour, or other questions which have been raised. In our view, we are moving in the right direction to make our economy one which will give our people greater happiness. We want to give to their lives a new purpose. We know all about this tiredness. We want to let the man at the bottom see that he has a place in the nation, and contribute to the rehabilitation of the nation. Far too frequently the call has been to the workers alone. It must go out to the employers as well. They must show more initiative, and a greater desire to co-operate in this matter. Companies should exercise restraint in their pursuit of profits also. Everybody should try to show an example to each other sector of the nation. In this matter, all sections of the nation can make a contribution. There is a great task in front of us but we are satisfied that we can get through.
§ It being Ten o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14, to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the Report of the Resolution.