HC Deb 09 May 1947 vol 437 cc1000-23

This Act shall not apply to any person engaged in the production of machinery for coal-mining purposes.—[Mr. Ayles.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. Ayles

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I shall not take very long—I never do in the speeches I make in this Committee—because I think all the arguments can be put in a very few words. At the present time the coal mining industry is the premier industry necessary for the national economic recovery. The one thing which we must have, if we are to get the coal we require, is machinery, in order to enable us to make up the deficiency of manpower. It is absolutely absurd for us, when we are in such grave need of mining machinery, to take men who are making that machinery and put them into the Forces. Their work in the Forces is infinitely less important at the moment than the making of mining machinery and the provision of coal for the industries and the homes of this country. We have had amazing lapses on the part of the authorities in the past with regard to taking miners out of the mines and putting them into the Army, and then having to bring them back to the mines again. I hope we shall not make the same mistake in this case.

I hope we shall encourage as many engineers as we can to do the work of producing this necessary machinery for the production of coal. Because of that, I think there ought to be some statutory obligation on the part of the authorities to see that that is done, and that every attraction is supplied to young men to enter the engineering industry to produce this particular kind of machinery. It also has another indirect effect. Today, most of our mining machinery is imported from America. That means dollars. Therefore, we are doing two bad things if we take out of the mining industry these young fellows who are now producing machinery for coal mining purposes. We are delaying—and one does not know how long we are going to delay—the reorganisation and mechanisation of our mines, and, at the same time, we are using up the most precious financial asset that we have. Therefore, I hope that on these grounds the Government will find their way clear to accepting the new Clause.

Mr. Collins (Taunton)

I find myself at some disadvantage in that, in an effort to save time and to help the Committee, it has been decided that the proposed new Clauses dealing, in the main, with exemptions should be taken together. I say that, because I feel that the new Clause referring to exemption for agricultural workers and students engaged on an agricultural course is in an entirely different category from that of the other proposed new Clauses concerning the other industrial exemptions that are being asked for. My hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Ayles) referred to the pre-eminence of the coal mining industry. In my view, everything that can be said about the importance of coal can be said with equal, if not greater, force with regard to agriculture. I do not wish to oppose any case that may be put forward in support of exemptions in any other industry, though I find myself disagreeing with some of the suggestions put forward. We have the position today that the only industry which is dealt with in the matter of exemptions as an industry is that of coal, and that other industries, in particular, agriculture, are dealt with on a sort of individual basis.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour today has made an important announcement in telling us that people would not be called up from agricultural service this year or next year. But that does not alter the main principle I wish to submit to the Committee. I have already mentioned coal. Coal and agriculture are the two industries which are the twin pillars on which our whole economic recovery must be built. Coal provides the energy for our machines, and agriculture provides the energy for the people who are going to work the machines; and I think that each is so completely complementary to the other, that they are equally indispensable, and in a class apart from all other industries. I do hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that when he comes to reply.

I am going to suggest that agriculture is far worse off, relatively and potentially, than coal in the matter of labour supply. It is true that in the mines the current labour figure of 711,000 men is less than it was in 1939, although there has been this important increase in the last five months; but the 711,000 men in the mines are all native, skilled, full-time workers. The agricultural army, which has increased from 711,000 in 1939 to 859,000 is the most strangely assorted industrial army we have in any industry in this country today. If we examine that figure of 859,000 we see that there are only some 470,000 regular, full-time men employees; that there are about 150,000 casual workers of one kind or another; about 150,000 prisoners of war; about 27,000 members of the Women's Land Army; and some 60,000 other women workers. But this labour force will be reduced some time about the end of this year—certainly before the operation of this new Bill—by this total of 150,000 prisoners. We all approve of the fact that they must go. That means a loss of some 20 per cent. of our agricultural labour force. The future of the W.L.A. is quite uncertain, except that it seems reasonable to assume that the numbers will not increase. But, above all, under this Bill we do stand to lose in 1949—and it has been indicated this morning—a large proportion, a considerable proportion, a proportion we cannot afford to lose, of our youngest and strongest workers from the land. It is going to be a crippling, and I suggest, a catastrophic blow to our farms. They are already heavily under-manned. Farmers are wondering what is going to happen when the prisoners have gone. It will be utterly impossible to maintain the present output unless, in some way or another, this labour is replaced. How much worse is it going to be without these young men?

The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) said that agriculture is in importance equal to defence. I quite agree. It is quite impossible to suggest that these young fellows should be taken away. I hope no one will say—because it will be utterly wrong—that if the young men remain on the land they will not be doing their duty to the same extent as if they were to join the Forces. Let us hope that that suggestion will not be made, because it will be utterly wrong. During the war, and to a far greater extent since the war, owing to the very enlightened attitude taken by the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Labour, the position with regard to the calling of men from the farms has improved. We know we are going to be all right up to the end of 1948. But I wish to submit that the position will not be cured by the end of 1948, that the need for labour on farms will be just as vital—and, indeed, more vital—than it is today, and that it is complete nonsense to suggest today that by 1st January, 1949, we shall be any whit less in need of manpower on the farms than we are today. It will be blinking the facts which we know are true and which we know will arise if it is suggested that that change can be made in 1949.

Where is this extra labour to come from? We may get some Germans who will stay—perhaps, 5,000. There may be some from the Polish Resettlement Corps; say 10,000. We may get former Italian prisoners who may come back—some are coming back, I know—perhaps, another 10,000. We may get some displaced persons, though I think if we place any great reliance on good farm labour from that source we shall be most unwise. But suppose that from all those various sources we get 50,000. We shall still have a deficiency of 100,000 compared with the present supply of prisoner-of-war labour on our land. If to that we add in 1949 an unspecified number—I should say, not less than 30,000—of young men it will make the situation quite impossible. The economic survey this year showed us that we need another 40,000 more men in agriculture this year. The Minister of Agriculture hoped some time ago he might get as many as 100,000 trainees from the Forces, and he got less than 10,000. It is not only necessary to maintain the numbers on the land: we have to increase them. The present value of home food production is something in the nature of £600 million. It could be increased by another £100 million or £150 million if we had the labour. Think of the effect of our balance of payments if we had more labour on the land. We are told of the vital necessity of coal exports to improve our balance of payments. It is equally vital to reduce the volume of our food imports. That would have exactly the same effect. The Government should do something more to get the men back on the land. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the houses?"] We are doing very much better for housing than was ever done before the war, and I suggest to hon. Members opposite that the less they say about the countryside the better it will be for them, because the one thing for which they will never be forgiven in the countryside is their cruel betrayal of the rural areas, and that is why there are so many more hon. Members from the country on this side of the Committee and why the proportion will continue to increase. Hon. Members cannot betray the land and get away with it.

1.30 p.m.

The Government have been doing everything possible to get men to stay on the land and others to go back to the land. It is the first year of this century, where there were more full-time men on the land at the end than at the beginning of the year. There are schemes for electricity, water, drainage schemes and special subsidies for agricultural cottages, all designed to bring men back to the land and all of which will be useless unless it is decided to make the change in this Bill which is suggested by this new Clause. I believe that we shall have to face the possibility of cuts in some of our rations in the next six or nine months. How much worse will it be if our people have the prospect, not of improving home production, but of a worsening of conditions because the land is being denuded of its 'men. It may be objected that this provision will enable men to avoid military service, but that objection can easily be met if it is provided that certificates shall only be given to people who are in full time work on the land.

This situation is a really desperate one. A little while ago, I learned that 166 school children had left school in North Wiltshire, but only three went to work on the land. In my own Division, some 600 square miles in extent, only 21 boys went to work on the land on leaving school. I suggest that we must do something about that, and must do all in our power to see that more people go to work on the land. The shortage of labour at the present time is extremely acute. I want to refer to the provision in the new Clause for exemption for people who are taking approved courses at agricultural colleges. The Minister may tell us that provision already exists for that, but it does not appear to me that it is sufficiently satisfactory.

I will quote a case in point. A young man came to me the other day, saying that he was working on a farm and that he wished to go to an agricultural college. He is of military age. He said, "I can get a vacancy, but if I do that, I shall be called up, and I do not know whether it would be better for me to join up now and leave the agricultural course until later." Young men must know how they stand in this matter, and, if they have been working for two or three years on a farm, it should be made possible for them to complete their agricultural education on a higher plane by means of a course at college. If it is absolutely basic that our industries cannot proceed without fuel, it is equally basic that our people cannot proceed with their work without adequate food supplies. In view of the economic set-backs which we have had, and the conditions arising from the bad harvest last year and the disastrous winter this year—and the repercussions from these will be felt for some time, and will certainly still be felt in 1949—it must be realised that there must be an influx of people on the land. I think that harsh economic reality will compel us to suspend the call-up in 1949, and I ask the Minister not to do it in a piecemeal fashion but be bold enough to do it now by accepting the course which we suggest, so that industry knows exactly where it is and the people of this country can look forward to maintaining agricultural and food production on that level which is so vital to the future of the country.

I hope that, when the Minister replies, he will give particular answers to the special points that have been made. I think that a case could be made out that agricultural workers should have, in every respect, exactly the same consideration and priorities as coalminers, because their work is of equal importance to the welfare of the country, which cannot look forward to prosperity unless agriculture is maintained at the highest efficiency.

Mr. Wadsworth (Buckrose)

The reason why I have entered into this general discussion of the question of exemptions is to draw the attention of the Minister to a very important number of people engaged in the production of food—the fishermen. I associate myself with what the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) said about the agricultural workers, but I think it must be recognised that, in a conscription Bill based upon conscription for all—however much one might disagree with it—if we have exemption on the grounds of expediency in the case of the coalminers, it must be obvious that many other sections of the community must also have claims for exemption.

In the case of the fishermen, like the agricultural workers, their labour produces food. We know that coal is essential for our economic recovery, but we do not get very far without food, which we now require more and more to be produced in this country. The fishermen are very important food producers, and they are now fishing on a very considerable scale, and the fish they produce becomes more and more important as the meat ration is declining. It is upon these grounds that I am asking for the support of the Minister, and I am submitting what I think is a commonsense case why the fishermen should be exempted. The purpose of this Bill is to bring men of military age into the Services, but, during the war, as we remember, the part that the fishermen played was a very valuable one in manning the small craft and entering into that dangerous operation of clearing the sea of mines. I have no doubt that if there were another war, the fishermen would again man the small vessels and undertake those hazardous duties. Would it not be better to allow them to remain in their present occupation which, in wartime, would be of such vital importance?

I should also like to draw the Minister's attention to the case of the inshore fishermen. In their case, a father and usually one or more of his sons very often depend for their livelihood on the one vessel which they possess. If the sons are taken away, the father who, in many cases, is the skipper, would not be able to carry out his fishing duties. There is no unemployment in these little fishing hamlets, and the skipper is nearly always dependent for his manpower on his sons. I hope that the Minister will realise the dislocation which will be caused in the inland fishing industry if he takes the boys away. Finally, I want to stress the great value of producing as much food as possible at the present moment, and I hope that the Minister will consider that when coming to a decision.

Mr. S. Silverman

I confess at once that in this series of Amendments I have very great sympathy with my right hon. Friend who is now faced with a similar kind of problem to that which he faced on Monday. Then he was being pressed from all sides to leave out Scotland, Wales, and a great many territorial areas. It struck me then that, if we accept the democratic principle that the majority should have their way, and that the minority should have their way too, as far as it is consistent with the majority having theirs, then there was only one solution—the unanimous decision of the House of Commons to leave everybody out except Northern Ireland. It was quite clear on that occasion that everybody else wanted to stay out and that they alone wanted to come in. We came to the very remarkable democratic conclusion that we would keep in everybody who wanted to stay out, and would leave out those who wanted to come in. The concession that coalminers shall not be subject to call-up is already part of the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not yet."] Even if it is not yet in the Bill, it was indicated by the Government that they will, in fact, be exempted.

Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)

I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that coalminers are not exempted under the Bill. It is true that the Government have indicated that they will not, in fact, be called up, but, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree, there is all the difference in the world between the two things.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. S. Silverman

I apologise for my error, although, from the point of view of the coalminers, it may come to much the same thing. I daresay that everyone of the movers of this series of Amendments would be content with the same position, if they could get it. It is now suggested that, in addition to the miners, those who produce machinery for coalmining purposes, those engaged in the distribution of food, those in full-time employment in agriculture, and students working on an approved agricultural course, and those engaged in the coal, shale and slate mining industries, and others who may or may not be discussed in these Amendments, are to be exempted. I can understand that my right hon. Friend is bound to say that if he gave everybody what he wanted—and had goad cases for exemption—there would be nobody left for him to call up. I know that my right hon. Friend appreciates that in every one of these claims a sound case can be made out. Nobody thinks that they are artificial claims, and nobody who heard my hon. Friend talking about agriculture would have felt that he was not making an extremely valid appeal to the Minister. I saw my right hon. Friend give indications of assent when he said that the boys and young men engaged on the land, at this time of all times, are doing a far more vital service in the salvation of our country than they would be doing by spending this 12 months in the Army. No one who listened to the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment concerning machinery for coalmining purposes, which we are now discussing, fails to realise the importance of the case he made out.

Now that I am on the subject of these different competing claims, I should like to say a word about the cotton textile industry. There was a time when coalmining and the cotton textile industry competed with one another as to which rendered the greater service to the total global exports of the country. That competition is over. The coal industry exports nothing at a moment when our need for exports is greater than ever it was, and the great burden of the export drive today is laid on the cotton textile trade which will be much the most important industry in the immediate future for producing the exports which will, to some extent, at any rate, restore our grievous international debtor position. In what circumstances is that being done? It is being done with an inadequate industry, which I am not entitled to discuss at the moment, although it is proper to bear it in mind, with worn out machines, with bad factories, and, what is very pertinent to this Amendment, with a labour force depleted by 50 per cent. The total labour force in the cotton industry today does not exceed 400,000 compared with the figure of 800,000 before the war, and even then it was in a bad condition. Its efficiency has been reduced over a period of two or three generations. I will not pause to consider the responsibility for that, although I will say that a great deal of it rests with the benches opposite. What matters at the moment, however, when cotton has become the main hope of our export trade, is that the industry is equipped with bad factories and bad machines, and is only manned to the extent of 50 per cent.

Mr. K. Lindsay

Did my hon. Friend submit the figure of 400,000 to analysis to show how many were men and how many women?

Mr. Silverman

I have not the figures with me, though I appreciate that it is a very important analysis. But there is an even more important analysis to which I am coming in a moment. Of all industries this is one which depends very largely, or sectionally, on juvenile labour. While the taking away of manpower for this purpose from any industry is important, it is far more important in an industry which is the main hope of the export trade, and which has its labour force already depleted by 50 per cent; and all the more important in an industry which depends so largely on attracting young workers to it. I am not saying—I do not want to overstate my case because nothing does more harm to a good case than to overstate it; it is better to understate it if one can muster enough self-restraint to do so—that juvenile labour which is so important to the cotton trade, is necessarily juvenile labour at the age of 18. But what is important, and what makes it so relevant to my present argument, is the necessity which everyone admits—I regret that there is no representative of the Board of Trade present, because this is a very important matter to the Board of Trade—the crying need of this industry at this moment to attract juvenile labour into it, and to stop the drift of juvenile labour away from it.

Nothing could be a more important incentive for young people to go into the cotton trade than to give them the same incentive as that which we give for an exactly similar purpose to the coal industry. The two things are absolutely parallel. I could understand a Government who said, "We cannot help it,"—I could not understand a Government who said, "We do not care." I could understand a Government saying, "We cannot help it in view of our needs and the demands upon us, and the only way in which we can discharge our obligations in international affairs is to have an Army or Armed Forces, of a size which we could not maintain without conscription, unless we gave disproportionate rewards." I can understand their case very well. The Government's case for doing this is, "We are not going back to the day when people were recruited into the Army by hunger, unemployment and economic conditions, and we are not going to attract people into the Armed Forces by offering an unjustified and disproportionate reward. Therefore, the only thing which we can do, and it is the fairest way, is to even out the burden among everyone and make everyone do his share." I can understand the Government doing that, and saying, "We will make no industrial exceptions at all"—

Mr. Stubbs (Cambridgeshire)

Either in or out.

Mr. Silverman

Either in or out. I could understand the Government saying, "We will not go the whole hog; we will not bring everyone in whatever the consequences to industry; we will consider the strains on each industry in turn, and where equal claims are made out, we will grant equal exemptions." If they did that they would have my sympathy, which I expressed to the right hon. Gentleman at the beginning, because every one of these industries has more or less equal claims. I have made out a case for the cotton industry, but everyone else has made out a case for a particular industry. I do not know how my right hon. Friend is to distinguish between them. I know that there are people who would like him to say, "Since I can only choose one, I shall choose yours." I should be delighted if that were to happen to my case, but I am not optimistic enough to think it will.

I would advise hon. Gentlemen who have made out cases for any other industries to be equally cautious in expecting such a reply. See what we are doing in this Bill, if each of these proposals is accepted. Why cannot we accept them all or, at any rate, those for which a valid case has been made out? If the right hon. Gentleman accepted them all, he would not have a Bill, and, therefore, what does he say? Let us look at it from the Government point of view. What is my right hon. Friend compelled to say? He is compelled to say, "I reject all these claims." He will not say that they are bad claims because he knows the situation too well. He will say, "I will reject all these claims because I am bound under the policy adopted"—and for which he is as much responsible as anyone else, a collective Cabinet responsibility—"I am bound to put these crippling burdens on these basic industries at this moment in order to fulfil a potential, speculative need in 1950, "which may never happen at all and which ought not to happen. So the great creative social revolution upon which this Government is engaged—

Mr. Vane

We do not think it is creative.

Mr. Silverman

I know that some people do not like it, but I hope that everyone will agree that it is one. That is why they do not like it, and why I do. I am not making a party point about this or complaining in the least. I understand that they are bound to attack the Government for all the things for which I praise the Government. I can understand their view. I do not share it, but I understand and respect it. But I am talking to my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side who believe in the creative revolution we are attempting. I have tried to argue that they are sacrificing the success of that great social revolution on which the fate not only of our own country depends, but the fate of the world depends, in order to fulfil a speculative burden which quite clearly, on this argument, is beyond our power. What a tragic irony it would be if the world, looking to this country to see whether collective economic planning on which the future life of the world depends can be reconciled with political and civil liberty, without which it does not much matter whether the world survives or not; what a tragic irony it would be to see the whole of that experiment collapse; that we should fail to prove to the world that it can be done here and can be done elsewhere, in order to serve a military need of a problematic and speculative kind which is quite clearly beyond our powers to perform. That, I think, would be a tragedy not only for this country. I say that the great service which this Government is called upon to perform at this crisis of human history is to prove that our social revolution can and shall work, and that they are not entitled to take risks by making sacrifices to serve ends which are problematical, speculative, not real, unjustified and beyond our powers.

That is why I have opposed this Bill throughout. I opposed it on Second Reading, and I shall oppose the Third Reading. I hope that I have put my case on this part of the Bill in a constructive way, and have shown what really lies at the basis of conscientious objection to this Bill. I know that there is not much which the right hon. Gentleman can do about these new Clauses. I know that he will give us an honest and not merely a plausible answer to the claims which we have made. I know that at the end of the day he will be bound to say to us, "Your claims are just, but I cannot meet them." What we are really attacking here is not his refusal to accept this, that or the other claim for this, that or the other industry: it is an attack on this policy of the Government, which seems to us as dangerous and as tragic as it is unnecessary.

2 p.m.

Mr. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)

The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) does not always impress us on these benches with his fund of wisdom, so that I find myself a little uncomfortable in taking the same line as he did when he said it was illogical to suggest making exemptions and then go on to plead for a special set of people. I realise that the Minister of Labour must harden his heart against these exceptions, because one concession leads to another and if he were to make exemptions where-ever a real case could be made out, he would immensely complicate and probably wreck his whole plan. It is for that reason that I would not go into the Division Lobby to press for an exemption in any of these cases.

However, I should like to bring to his attention the particular case of the inshore fishermen and suggest that perhaps it would be worth considering granting deferment in that case. In that connection there are three points I should like to make. First of all, with the inshore fishermen we get an enormous quantity of food produced for a minimum of labour. In my division in the two towns of Scarborough and Whitby 100 inshore fishermen produce an enormous quantity of fish which if properly handled would make a substatinal contribution towards relieving the appalling food shortage in Germany today. These men do a great deal because they are supported by a devoted band of wives, daughters, mothers and aunts who do so much behind the scenes which enables the men to do the work that they do.

Secondly, I would point out that to an extent that does not apply to any other trade that I can think of where these men cannot be replaced. If they are in a crew which is largely a family business, and two young men are called up, that boat might not be able to go out to fish. In most industries by attractions of hours, wages, etc., other people can be brought in and trained, but inshore fishermen not only require to be trained, but require to be bred for it. In my constituency generation after generation do this job and so it is from a very small number of people that replacements can be drawn. Therefore, I suggest that the advantages to the food production of this country by the granting of a deferment to these young men might be out of all proportion to the number of men the Minister would lose.

The third point is that these inshore fishermen afford a most valuable reservoir for the Navy in time of war. They themselves are trained for the purpose of mine-sweeping, and many most dangerous and arduous duties and the boats which they use are available for that purpose too. I suggest that these inshore fishermen in their own business make a considerable contribution towards the defence of the country, and it would make a great difference if they were not available in time of war. For that reason, and bearing in mind how very few men are involved, I ask the Minister to give this matter consideration.

Lady Megan Lloyd George (Anglesey)

The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) said, quite rightly, that a sound case can be made out for all the exemptions incorporated in these Clauses. It is, in fact, additional proof, if that were needed, that this Bill, indefensible as it is on other grounds, is also inde- fensible on economic grounds in the present condition of the country. The hon. Member also stated that it was going to be very difficult for the Minister of Labour to distinguish between one claim and another. I hope we shall be able to assist him materially in that choice, before he replies. I submit to the Committee that there are two national priorities which have to be considered, food and coal. It is not really a question of discrimination between one section of workers and another; it is a question of the national need and measuring it by the two things I have mentioned. I think all will agree that miners and agricultural workers are in a special class of their own. Indeed that fact is already recognised by the Government today. In fact, miners and agricultural workers are not called up for military service, so that they are recognised today as being in a special category. We hope very much that the food situation—

Major Legge-Bourke

On a point of Order. We are having an interesting speech from the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady M. Lloyd George). Is it in Order for an hon. Member at the same time to read a newspaper concerning the Shetland Islands?

The Chairman

It is not in Order at all to read any newspaper, unless the hon. Member concerned is going to bring before the Committee the matter which he is reading.

Lady M. Lloyd George

I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member in his reading. As I was saying, we hope very much that the food position, serious and alarming as it is, will be greatly improved by the time this Measure comes into operation, but is any Minister on the Front Bench prepared to say that by the time the Bill comes into operation, the food position will be such that we shall be able to afford a call-up of thousands of agricultural workers for military service for even such a short period as 12 months? We must remember that these will be the youngest and most virile workers in the industry for whom there is such a tremendous need today.

The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) gave us some very interesting figures about the great shortage of workers in agriculture. I believe that in the White Paper on manpower the Minister of Agriculture submitted that something like 80,000 men are needed this year. Certainly 100,000 permanent workers are needed to work in agriculture to set against a loss of 150,000 prisoners of war who are going to be repatriated. That is going to be a loss of 20 per cent. of the labour force in agriculture. It will, as a matter of fact, take all our time and all the inducements we can offer in amenities, wages and conditions in rural areas to get that 100,000 permanent new workers which are needed. The Minister will no doubt say that we have got our deferment procedure, and that farmers can apply, as they did during the war, and as they have done up to date, to I think it is the hardship committee or it may be the manpower board. But if the case is such a clear cut one as I believe it to be, it is really a waste of administrative time and farmers' time—and heavens knows they have to fill in enough forms as it is—that they should have to go through this somewhat laborious process to reach exactly the same results in the end. Therefore, it would be better to exclude them in the Bill and have done with it. Planning is essential in all industries, but there is no industry in which long-term planning is more necessary than in agriculture. It is really important that this uncertainty should be removed from the minds of farmers and agriculturists generally. The Minister of Defence justified a very revolutionary change in the Bill on economic grounds. I hope the exclusion of agricultural workers will be incorporated in the Bill, because I believe it can be justified on overriding considerations of national importance.

Mr. Isaacs

I would like to put the minds of hon. Members at rest immediately by telling them that I cannot concede any of these requests. I have to deal with the manpower which is available for distribution to industry and the Services, both civil and military. We are here dealing with that section of the manpower of the country which is aged 18. The hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Ayles) asked us to exclude men making coalmining machinery, and shortly afterwards the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) said how great was the need of the textile industry for more machinery. Perhaps the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne will meet the hon. Mem- ber for Southall and decide whether it is only men who are making coalmining machinery who should be reserved, or whether those making textile machinery also should be reserved. I do not want to score a debating point, but I must say it is unfortunate that many of these claims for exemption come from those who say that even if these claims are granted, they will vote against the Bill, because they are opposed to the Bill on principle. That does not apply to all the hon. Members concerned with these new Clauses, but to several of them.

Coalminers are not postponed, but are deferred under the administrative machinery. The noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) asked why we should not exempt agricultural workers in the Measure and be done with it. It is fairly easy to decide who are underground coalminers, but when one comes to agriculture, the question arises whether it is to be every agricultural worker at the age of 18, or whether it should be different classes—the herdsman, the man engaged on arable farming, the man on a dairy farm, men in forestry, horticulture, and so on. It is not a simple question of saying in the Bill that all agricultural workers would be excluded; one would have to get down to the job of deciding who were agricultural workers. I know that several years ago, when it was decided that agricultural workers were to have a special cheese ration, there was in my village dozens of fellows who got the extra ration because they were jobbing gardeners, and so were entitled to the extra ration.

Lady M. Lloyd George

As agricultural workers are on permanent deferment almost en bloc, surely there must be some definition which the Minister has?

Mr. Isaacs

That is the point. As it is a deferment we have the right to check up and examine case by case. Some cases are deferred because there is only one fellow on the farm, or there are special difficulties. If the matter were dealt with by an insertion in the Bill, a great deal of definition would be required. With regard to the exemption of agricultural workers, it has been said that the Committee knew what I was going to say, and maybe the Committee does know, but that is no reason why I should not say it. My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) made a thoughtful speech, and I agree with everything he said. We have to look after the agricultural workers, because not only must we keep pace with modern times and meet the future, but we must overcome the shortfalls and shortcomings of years past. Many of our young men and women would not stay in the country. It may be that modern education has given them the opportunity of understanding more about life elsewhere, and that may have been the cause of the drift to the towns. The hon. Member said that if we were to call up the agricultural workers, it would be a matter of 30,000 a year, but I assure him that if we took every young man on the farms at the age of 18, it would not be anywhere near that number—it would be nearer half that number. Nevertheless, that is a considerable number, and the industry must make that contribution, should it be necessary.

Every lad on the farm who is already under deferment and will remain under deferment until the end of next year, will not be called up in 1949 under this Bill. The industry will gain that number against other industries, and some deferments will still be granted for those at the age of 18. The fact is that there is a need which the Government think has to be met. We have decided that we must have this Bill. The noble Lady the Member for Anglesey asked whether it is thought that the food situation at the end of 1949 will be so safe that we can risk calling up these men. The nation has to look at it another way. Are we satisfied that the peace situation will be so safe that we can at this moment risk allowing our forces to slide out? I apologise sincerely to my hon. Friends for not being able to give them what they want, but I ask them please not to force me into the Division Lobby to vote against them.

Mr. Rhys Davies

You were good enough, Major Milner, to suggest that I might say a few words on the new Clause on the Order Paper in my name: This Act shall not apply to the only son of a widow living with and supporting his mother. As we have dealt with the industrial problem and exemptions in coalmining, engineering and agriculture—

Mr. Stanley

On a point of Order, Major Milner. Does this mean that the new Clause will not be called?

Mr. Rhys Davies

I had understood that I would be entitled to have a Division on this new Clause.

The Chairman

I must point out to the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) that I did not give him a free hand. I had hoped that he would have spoken before the Minister.

Mr. Rhys Davies

I thought it would be better to allow the question of exemptions in connection with industry to be dealt with before I raised this point; otherwise, I would have intervened before. I want to exempt quite a different class of persons from those covered by the other Clauses—that is to say, the only sons of widows. This is a new proposition.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

On a point of Order. So that we shall know exactly where we are, and to clarify the position, could we not get rid of the issue which the Minister has answered, before we begin discussing this completely different issue?

Mr. Ayles

As the mover of the new Clause, I beg to ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw the Motion.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

I wish to make one or two remarks before this new Clause is withdrawn.

The Chairman

The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) is in course of addressing the Committee.

Major Legge-Bourke

You have not yet ruled, Major Milner, on the point of Order which the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. H. Davies) raised. May I respectfully ask whether you would do so before the hon. Member for Westhoughton continues?

The Chairman

These matters must be left to the Chair. I do not want to have a large number of Divisions if it can be avoided.

Mr. Ayles

May I say that if the request I made to the Committee to withdraw my new Clause is taken as referring others to the Clause upon which my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) is speaking, I withdraw my request, because I wish that Clause to be considered separately.

The Chairman

Obviously if the hon. Member takes the action he has indicated, he can only do so in respect of his own new Clause.

Mr. Frank Byers (Dorset, Northern)

May I ask, as a matter of clarification, whether it is not usual, if an hon. Member asks to be given leave to withdraw an Amendment or a new Clause, for the Committee to come to a decision on his request?

The Chairman

The hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Ayles), as I understood him, has not formally asked leave, as yet, to withdraw his new Clause.

Mr. Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Assuming that my hon. Friend agrees, would it not be better to consider the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) is raising as a separate item altogether, as it deals with an entirely different aspect of the matter?

The Chairman

If the Committee is agreeable we might dispose of the general question on the new Clause which was moved by the hon. Member for Southall.

Mr. Harold Macmillan (Bromley)

Further to that point of Order. I thought it was understood that all those new Clauses dealing with industrial groups would be dealt with, and that we should then come to this separate item. I thought that was your wish, Major Milner.

The Chairman

I had formed the opinion that whilst the matters were admittedly different in application, they were precisely the same in principle. If it is the wish of the Committee to dispose of the agricultural and industrial matters and then deal with this other matter separately, I am in the hands of the Committee. Perhaps the hon. Member for Westhoughton will postpone his speech.

Mr. Rhys Davies

Thank you.

The Chairman

It is now for the mover of the new Clause before the Committee to take what action he thinks appropriate.

Mr. C. Williams rose

Mr. Byers

On a point of Order. May we understand this procedure correctly? The hon. Member for Southall has asked leave to withdraw the new Clause. Is a speech by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) in Order?

The Chairman

Yes. I have not proposed that Question.

Mr. C. Williams

No doubt a great many of us have reason to suppose that it would be a good thing to exempt certain industries. There is the case of fishermen. I have no doubt that if the Minister of Defence, with his great knowledge of the Navy, was a Private Member, and happened to represent the fishing industry, he could, if he wished to do so, put a case with all that persuasion and charm which we know so well, which would soften the heart of any Minister. I might do the same, but the fact remains that if we exempt one industry we shall tend to draw into that industry labour from others, and thus create a series of bottlenecks throughout industry, as well as a sense of unfairness in those industries which are not exempted. If we exempted the farmer or the farm worker, and did not exempt distributive workers, there might be a tendency for men to leave the distributive industries to go on to the land, thus creating a shortage of distribution facilities.

The same thing applies to machinery. It might tend to take men out of industries making tractors and machines on to the farms. For that reason all these new Clauses could only have the effect of wrecking the Bill, although we might conceivably make out a case for any one of them. If we proceeded piecemeal in this way, to give exemptions bit by bit, it would have a severe effect on the whole industrial position, and would dislocate the natural flow of labour by drawing it into the exempted industries. Much as I would like to see the agricultural industry doubled in production and in manpower, I cannot think it possible to accept the proposals in these new Clauses. I am glad to have brought aid to the Front Bench opposite. I can see by their smiles that I have done so. For once they had a bit of their Bill practically explained.

Mr. Ayles

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Mr. Emrys Roberts

I should like to examine further the Minister's reply, behind which there were many dangerous implications. It indicated that the Government have not thought out the implications of peacetime conscription, In the first place, it is evident that when the Government first made up their minds that peacetime conscription would be introduced, no exemptions whatever were contemplated. That was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Debate on the Address on 18th November, 1946.

Mr. C. Williams

On a point of Order. On this new Clause, are we entitled to go back to what happened in the Debate on the Address? It might open discussion very wide. It is rather difficult, but I thought, Major Milner, that your attention might not have been drawn to the grave danger involved. The Front Bench obviously realise the danger and I am trying to facilitate them. I beg respectfully to draw your attention to that point.

Mr. Emrys Roberts

We are discussing a series of proposed industrial exclusions. There is a policy behind the idea of the industrial exclusions and I am making a submission on the exclusion of an industrial class, as I think I am entitled to do.

2.30 p.m.

The Chairman

The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) is perfectly right, but if the hon. Member speaking is proposing to lead up to that matter he is perfectly entitled to do so.

Mr. Emrys Roberts

In the Debate on the Address on 18th November last the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, of military service: in our view, it is more democratic that all should bear their share … we reject any suggestion of favouritism or privilege in regard to any of those called up to take this service. The hon. Member for the University of Wales is quite wrong in thinking that, if he had a coalminer instead of a university teacher, he would have got off … we do not propose that there should be any favoured classes—neither colliers, nor railwaymen, nor university graduates. My hon. Friend the 'Member for the University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd) then said: My suggestion was that economic circumstances would compel the creation of favoured classes. The Chancellor replied: We do not believe that circumstances will compel us to do anything of the kind. Conscription, however, will apply to all men."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th Nov. 1946; Vol. 430, C. 636–637.] The Minister of Labour defended his rejection of the new Clauses on the grounds that he could not make provision in the Bill. He said that we were dealing with a difficult economic situation and must deal with difficult problems, as they arose, by administrative measures. That is a dangerous principle on which to proceed in time of peace. In war time it is inevitable that we should allow the Executive flexibility in deferring a class or postponing a call up in particular circumstances. But when you are instituting a measure for long-term peace time conscription, totally different considerations apply.

The right hon. Gentleman defended his action by saying that in not calling up certain classes that was not exclusion, but deferment. Are deferments total exclusion, or are they not? Large classes of people are deferred from year to year until they attain a certain age, and then are not called up as they are beyond call up age. Thus, in practice, what has happened has been the exclusion of those people. The Government have said they are going to do that in the case of coalminers. I am against the exclusion of any class at all if there is to be conscription. On the other hand, I would be prepared to put down Amendments specifying the 3,000 or 4,000 trade classes recognised by the Ministry of Labour. If you admit the principle that those working in a particular industry should be deferred, you are entitled to look over the whole field of industry and argue that those engaged in the production of food and textiles and so on should be excluded. Food is every bit as important as coal, and there should be exclusion for those engaged on the land if there be exclusions at all.

Let me refer to the Minister's own argument, that the necessary result could be achieved by administrative machinery. I suggest seriously to the Committee that that is a dreadful and dangerous power of oppression to give to the Executive. I know that we have no need to fear oppression from the right hon. Gentleman, but in peacetime, when we have conscription on a permanent basis, it is dangerous to give the Executive a power of that character. The Government of the day can roam over the whole field of industry—I am not suggesting that this Government would do that—and select certain classes of people for deferment from the Services, thereby, in fact, saying to the rest, "You will go into the Forces". If there are to be any deferments, or exclusions, they should be incorporated in the Bill. If there are to be any exclusions food should be ranked with coal, and the necessary provision made in the Bill. The matter should not be left to the discretion of the Executive.

Mr. Ayles

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman

As the Committee have now decided the question of industrial exceptions, I assume the principle is decided and I do not propose to call any of the other new Clauses dealing with the distribution of food, agricultural workers, and the like.

Hon. Members