HC Deb 14 December 1949 vol 470 cc2830-71

11.36 p.m.

Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Order, dated 5th December, 1949, entitled the Control of Engagement (Amendment) Order (S.I. 1949, No. 2251, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th December, be annulled. Although this is the third year in which this House has discussed the Control of Engagement Order, I want to point out to the House that a new factor has entered into our discussions; that is that the Supplies and Services Act comes to an end next year, and this is therefore the last time that it will be possible for us to renew this order under that Act. However, as I understand it, the position of that Act, according to the indicated intentions of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, is as stated by the Lord President of the Council on 8th June of this year. The right hon. Gentleman then indicated that the Government had no intention that that Act should come to an end, and he said: It is an essential basis for the organisation of economic planning and control, and therefore we shall place a revised and permanent version of that Act on the Statute Book if we are returned to power. In other words, the "little Bill," as the right hon. Gentleman described it some two years ago when it was introduced, has become an essential basis for the organisation of economic planning and control in 1949.

The slow ooze of Socialism is seeping in. The unending series of crises grows steadily worse, and will continue to do so while Socialism is in power and more drastic measures must be taken to deal with these crises. Therefore, I feel that this is the occasion when, in view of this steady encroachment, we are entitled to demand from the right hon. Gentleman an assurance whether or not it is proposed to make permanent the Control of Engagement Order under the Act which it is now stated will be a permanent Measure. Even the unlikely possibility of the last words of the right hon. Gentleman, "if we are returned to power," do not take away from this point because the country is entitled to know before it goes to the poll and votes whether the Control of Engagement Order—that is, compulsory direction of labour applied to the working people of this country—is part of the permanent policy of the Government or not.

If we cannot get that assurance, we on this side of the House are entitled to assume, and we shall certainly make the assumption and act upon it, that the control of engagements will be a permanent feature of the Socialist Utopia, towards which we have so notably retrogressed during the last four-and-half years. That is obviously a serious point affecting not only those covered by the order in question, but the Election which must come very soon. And we shall want an answer on it.

But on the basis, which I assume for a moment, that it is not to be permanent, that the right hon. Gentleman will give an answer in that sense, and therefore that we can treat it as just one more of those expedients which the Chancellor of the Exchequer talked so feelingly on a short time ago, I want to point out that the Government's case for this order is that it is an unwanted and ugly child. I start, as I mentioned him last, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. His words were only six months before this order was first introduced even: There will be no compulsion of the individual in industry. That, of course, is just one of those flat statements made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer which now convinces the whole world that the opposite will come into force, as indeed it has in this case. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was not alone. The hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) used equally heavy language. He said: If we had told the electors that Socialism meant the direction of labour, I doubt whether we would have won the General Election. It will be very interesting to note—

Mr. Blackburn (King's Norton)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give me the paragraph in HANSARD where I said it? He has taken it out of its context and used it most unfairly.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I cannot agree with that. I quoted this remark of his in a Debate over two years ago. No one took exception to it then and I quoted it in exactly the same terms as I have done now. As I quoted it two years ago without objection, it is a sign of instability—

Mr. Blackburn

The meaning of my words was that if we really were to use direction of labour and introduce positive direction of labour and operate it, then I agree it would be entirely contrary to our Election mandate.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I am glad of the hon. Gentleman's interruption because not only have I moved for the annulment of this order but I also moved an Amendment to omit the direction of labour from the purview of the Supplies and Services Act, and I was voted down by hon. Gentlemen opposite on all occasions. Really, in the friendliest way, I should recommend to the hon. Member for King's Norton, that he had much better stand on a "Street-car Named Desire" than on a band-wagon named "Party Solidarity." He said: The Trade Unions, like everyone else—I am sure it applies to the Government and especially to the Minister—do not like this order. No one likes this order. So I do not think that my naming of it as an unwanted and ugly child, is any exaggeration, in view of the remarks of the sponsors.

The argument for this order on the part of the Government comes to this: No one wants this order, and if we could do the job which has to be done without it, we should not have to come here and ask for it. These, in fact, were the Minister's own words—in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 3rd November, 1947. This "painful necessity" argument reminds me of the very overworked phrase, "This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you." That really is a little out of date, It is, in my respectful submission, complete nonsense because there is an alternative, which, I will show in a moment, has not only been put forward by my hon. Friends but is also, apparently, part of the policy of the Government put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In view of the quotations of which I have reminded the House, it is not difficult to realise why on one occasion the Government majority of 200 dropped to 45 when hon. Gentlemen opposite were not ready to support this monstrous order.

Let me ask the House to consider one or two reasons why I agree with the Minister of Labour, the hon. Member for King's Norton, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in believing this to be a most regrettable order. One of the reasons is that it is not right that there should be control over the future occupations of men and women in this country in time of peace. I do not believe that it produces increased efficiency—and there, again, I do not rely on my own view, strong though it is. It could not have been put more clearly or frankly than by the Minister of Labour. He said: A man who is forced to go into a shop which he dislikes is not going to be of very much use to his shop, his fellows, or himself. When we look at the statistics on this matter, we find that in 24 cases out of every 25, the order has been used to keep people in the ring-fenced industries, mining and agriculture, and more and more hon. Members in all parts of the House are beginning to realise that it is keeping out of these industries people who would have otherwise gone in. The poor recruiting figures, which ultimately made the Government give up even their very tenuous efforts towards placing people in the right places in the labour force, have undoubtedly been influenced by that fact.

Mr. John

Lewis (Bolton): As the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers to poor recruiting figures, will he say how his remarks apply to the agricultural industry, having regard to the great increase which has taken place since this Government came into power?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I am referring to the great difference between the targets set by this Government in 1947 and 1948, and then abandoned in 1949, and the results achieved in that industry. The same applies to mining. I have given the figures constantly. If the hon. Gentleman had attended the manpower Debates he would know them and have had them brought to his attention—I would not say ad nauseam —but he would have my point in mind without any unnecessary interruption tonight.

Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)

I am very interested in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's line of argument. Seeing that he expresses his antagonism to the direction of labour, is he in favour of the direction of troops into the power stations of this country?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

Yes, I certainly am. The Government have never had to appeal in vain to the Opposition when they say such action is necessary in order to maintain an essential service owing to an unfortunate strike. We are prepared that the troops should be so used. That of course has nothing to do with the matter under discussion tonight. I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman, who in the non-political sense I feel is an old friend, is returning to that cunning power of interruption which we, who had sat with him so long, used to relish in the past when applied to the party opposite.

If the hon. Gentleman will just consider for a moment, he will see that the point he has put to me, which refers to an emergency which the Government themselves have admitted and proclaimed, is different from a course of action which, even on the basis that it is not going to become permanent, has now been in operation for two years and will continue for another year. Therefore it cannot be described as a temporary expedient to meet a temporary situation. On the other hand, if the Lord President of the Council is going to make the Act permanent and make this compulsion permanent at the same time, then the temporary argument disappears altogether. On either argument that interruption, charmingly delivered by the hon. Gentleman, has got nothing to do with the position which we are discussing tonight.

The next point I put to hon. Gentlemen, as one which is recognised by everyone who has had to consider this order, is that, operating as it does only on people who fall out of work, it is a strong encouragement to people to stay on in unnecessary trades rather than become subject to the chances of control. This order is now being introduced for the third year during a period when all parties have agreed that there was going to be, and there is in fact, full employment. It is not being suggested for a period when there is unemployment, or when unemployment rises to 2,750,000—as under the Government of hon. Members opposite, when it took us some months to break the rising trend of unemployment and to succeed in reducing it to 1,500,000, as we did.

Mr. Awbery (Bristol, Central)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making a case against the direction of labour. We are not discussing that. We are discussing the Control of Engagement Order, and I want him to take note of the explanatory note, which says that it provides for the engagement of persons for employment through the Ministry of Labour or approved employment agencies, not the direction of labour at all.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

The hon. Gentleman is assuming an innocence which I find great difficulty in according to him. Does he think there is no compulsion when you say to someone who has fallen out of work, "Here is job one, two, or three or maybe four. You can have a look at them, but if you do not take any of these jobs, you know we have the power of direction "? If that is not compulsion the hon. Gentleman and I are not talking the same language.

Mr. Awbery

Is it not the same power that you had for many years not to direct labour, but to stop a man from receiving his benefit?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

The hon. Gentleman is changing his ground. He put a fair point to me, and I gave him a fair answer. I do not believe he would say that what I have described is not compulsion.

Mr. Awberyrose

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I always like to give way, but the hour is not the earliest, and I hope the hon. Member will not make me give way unless it is something of great importance.

I want to deal with the matter from the point of view of alternatives. If I did not mention that, hon. Members would be entitled to say that I had made a destructive case but had not attempted to say what I would do. I believe that what should be done is that this order should not be brought into effect, but that this House should seriously try to follow out the policy of disinflation which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said is necessary, a policy of encouraging the movement of labour, in particular, to those industries which, like the export industries, are essential and will continue to receive priority in raw materials and the like.

That is the policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer:. Hon. Members opposite cannot say that it is one that is encouraging unemployment or poverty. It is what their own Chancellor has said is necessary. We on this side say that the alternative to making a real effort to put into operation this suggested policy of disinflation, is tightening up the strait jacket economy with more expedients such as direction of labour and increased restrictions, and eventually coming to the inevitable breakdown and mass unemployment that will result.

This is the serious point. If the Government persist with a policy like this and suggest that it may be permanent in our national economy, then it becomes very difficult for us to believe that they are sincere in their support of the Chan- cellor of the Exchequer in the measures of disinflation which he says are necessary at the present time. We say that we cannot control inflation or produce a healthy economy by placing more restrictions on labour and sitting on the safety valve of this country. We are not alone. It was only six months before this order was introduced that the Labour Party conference, as the hon. Member for King's Norton has pointed out on other occasions, by an overwhelming majority chose a wages policy rather than direction of labour.

In 1947 the Government changed their minds, but since the White Paper on personal incomes we have had at the same time some efforts towards a wages policy and a direction of labour. In fact, the straps of the strait jacket are being drawn tighter with every Government policy. I ask that the Government return to the spirit of 1947 and 1948, when, I admit, we had most fruitful debates. The Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary and all of us on both sides tried our utmost to get the labour force of this country into the proper places. At this hour I am not going to reiterate the suggestions we discussed, but hon. Members opposite will admit that I gave mine and they gave theirs. I think it was a disaster, and a tragic disaster, that the Government in 1949 gave up that trial, which they had carried on for two years.

If this is going to be permanent, then I say it requires an even stronger opposition, because, as I have said in answer to the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway, any argument about it being a temporary expedient to meet a temporary situation disappears entirely if it is to be a permanent feature of the pattern of British society. Any suggestion that it has not been used to a great extent up to now, of course loses its validity if it is going to be part of the coming pattern of our society, because then it will come into common use.

We are left with this position. The re-introduction of this order is a confession that under Socialism there will be permanent inflation, a permanent crisis which can only be dealt with by restriction. We say that that is a confession which this country ought to refuse to make. I expected the Home Secretary to be here, but if anyone is entitled to an evening off, he is, and I make no complaint, otherwise I should have let him know that I intended to raise this point, but I did not think of doing it because he is constantly here. I should like to remind the House of what he said only last month: The answering of the problem of the balance of payments will involve us, I have no doubt, before it is solved in some measures of direction that have not hitherto been applied. We are making an appeal to good will, and I hope good will will be forthcoming, but if good will is not sufficient to ensure our survival, it may be necessary to direct the policy of planning over a wider range than we have at present applied it. These are the words of despair.

No serious attempt has been made by the Government to deal with the problem of disinflation, which they themselves announced must be dealt with. The alternative is restrictive measures of this kind. We on this side of the House shall be voting for a real chance being given to the policy of the right hon. Gentleman, a policy which he knows is necessary for us if we are to have any hope, but which Socialism will never allow him to put into effect. It is for that reason that once again we have brought before the House this Motion to annul this order, and we shall vote for the policy of freedom for the workers to select the work to which they wish to go, and for the policy which my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) has put forward. [Laughter.] Hon. Members can laugh at freedom now. In the great days when their party was starting, they wuold not have dared to laugh at freedom. I prophesy that in two months they will not laugh at freedom again.

12.6 a.m.

Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)

I listened to the talk of the right hon. and learned Gentleman about freedom, but the only freedom that ever I got was the freedom to starve or accept the job which the employment exchange offered to me. He talked about no direction in peace time, but direction in peace time has always been the lot of the unemployed under the Administrations formed and supported by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The unemployed did not get a chance, because when they went down to the employment exchange they met the vacancy officer, who told them to go to a particular job. If they refused, then their benefit was disallowed. At the end of six weeks the same job was offered again, and by the sheer result of starvation, men had ultimately to go to outlying districts to work. The result was that in the years between the wars the coalfields of Kent and Yorkshire were filled with men directed from the north-east. It ill becomes the Opposition to talk about freedom in relation to this question.

This order offers four jobs to the people, and the Defence Regulations only enter into it on the refusal of the fourth job. That is a better system and better treatment than the unemployed ever had when they went to the employment exchanges in any period during the 20 years between the wars. I spent my time dealing with these things in the courts of referees. I know that if the men refused a job they went to the Unemployment Assistance Board, and they were then told that they could not get help because they had failed to maintain their wives and children, by. refusing jobs offered to them by the employment exchange. The whole pressure of those Acts was direction of labour by starving the men into submission. Therefore, I hope that whenever the Election comes, we shall fight the Tories on this issue. I am satisfied that the movement of opposition to the trade unions will fail, because trade unionists will never forget the treatment at the hands of the Opposition.

I entirely agree with and support the section of the order with which this Prayer is concerned. But I would ask the Minister to consider the question of the ring fence. The ring fence has now been in operation for two years, but that ring fence is not watertight. If a man becomes a nuisance in a pit, if, for instance, he undermines discipline, the consultative committee has no power but to give him, his notice as having a bad effect on the men in the pit. The consultative committee in my own area have had to give men notice because of chronic absenteeism. They have had to do this as a means of trying to deal with the problem. That means that if a man wants to get out of a pit he can do so, through the ring fence provided under this order, by becoming a nuisance. But the man who plays the game is kept in the pit.

In addition to that, it is known that the National Union of Mineworkers has asked for this ring fence to be lifted from the industry as an encouragement to recruiting. We now believe that men will come into the pits if the ring fence is lifted, and that we shall then get more men prepared to try working in the pits if they can leave that work should they desire to do so. Purely from the standpoint of the effect on recruiting, I put forward this point of view.

I ask the Minister to maintain the Control of Engagement Order, but to lift this ring fence to encourage young men to come into the pits. I know they are allowed a three months' probation period, but three months is not a long time in which to make up your mind whether you like an industry or not. I know people who worked for five years in this industry, and who then became fed up and left the pits. I plead with the Minister, seeing that the Mineworkers Union themselves think that this fence should be lifted as an encouragement to recruiting, to give this matter every consideration.

12.14 a.m.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

In following the hon. Member who has just spoken, I find myself in a difficulty, because he and other hon. Members on that side of the House have spoken from time to time on this order and have indulged in what I consider to be a "wriggle" upon the matter, saying that in the order there is no direction. This the Parliamentary Secretary himself said only two years ago—that it was merely a question of control of engagement. Yet, the main substance of the speech which has just been made with reference to the ring fence, and about an industry of which the hon. Member knows so much, has been against the whole fundamental principle of this order.

Mr. Blyton

If the ring fence is lifted, and the man goes out of the pit, there is still the Control of Engagement Order at the employment exchange.

Mr. Marshall

In my opinion, I think the hon. Member has had a "wriggle" again; and in the substance, and the tone, and the song of his speech, he does not agree with this type of thing.

In 1947 I spoke on this order, and in 1948 I tried again, but on that occasion I could not speak owing to the fact that the Closure was moved. But in that year I was still very clear in my mind as to my passionate opposition to it. In an interruption of the Parliamentary Secretary on this order I mentioned the question of force, and he will no doubt recall what he said to me. He said that if the Government did not have this Order, which was the instrument by which persuasion could be exercised, they might have to rely on force. That fact, he said, ought to be faced. Surely, that is a very serious issue indeed. Here we have a build-up, and something of this sort must come to pass. The very essence—I emphasise, the very essence—of the whole of Socialist administration is, ultimately, that more and more we shall have to direct men, and as British men and women all over the world refuse to be directed, one comes to force.

Then, let us consider some purely technical points; there are certain arithmetical calculations, which nobody can actually calculate, but on which one can have one's own opinions. The points I make are, first of all, that one takes a man who does not wish to be directed. He may have a job he does not like, and which, furthermore, is a job not of very much use to the country; but he goes on with it, because, if he comes out of it, he is within the scope of this order. I ask hon. Members seriously to think how much production is lost through that set of circumstances. There are men who do not like the work in their particular industry; they might be very good producers in another industry, and very good citizens, but they stay: and how can one calculate the loss of production because they stay?

I do not want to delay the House at this late hour, but I would, in passing, point out that this order, as we have seen before, has a habit of coming up at this late hour—[Interruption.] It does come up for consideration at a late hour. I say that if one takes the principle of this order, and the principle imposed under the Act which this order implements and helps, one is really discussing whether it is better to have a form of society which is persuaded by different forms of leadership freely to give its labour for the production which is desired, and is primarily based on the individual character of the man or woman concerned, or whether one wants to use the argument which was used in Nazi Germany.

The hon. Member who spoke just before me came very near to the point I am going to make, namely, that because something was bad a good many years ago, it does not much matter how bad this thing is now. It was the argument that was heard again and again in Germany, that the Hitler regime had solved the unemployment question in Germany, but it led, and must lead, to the direction of men, and is against the very principles, liberties and ideals of this race of ours. I feel tonight and I have always felt that every principle we hold and everything which matters to our ideals of democracy should make us oppose this order. Surely in these last fading days of this Parliament, hon. Members in every quarter of the House should search their own consciences and then go into the Lobby for freedom and democracy by voting against this order.

12.21 a.m.

Mr. Frank Byers (Dorset, Northern)

I shall also try not to detain the House long, but I feel that this is a most important occasion. This is the third time that we have sought to annul this order as it has come up annually. I want to start by disagreeing with one of the things said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe). He implied that he wanted an assurance from the Minister that this would not become a permanent feature of our economic life. I think that we have had the assurance already that it is a permanent feature of our economic life. I said in November. 1947: It is no use saying that this regulation is going to end in 1948. It was brought in because the country was in an economic difficulty and it is going to remain while the country is in that difficulty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 3rd November. 1947; Vol. 443, c. 1391.] I also said that it would become a permanent feature of our lives because the Government, seeking for powers of direction, were on the wrong track, and by being on the wrong track, they would wreck the economy, and, in doing so. destroy individual freedom.

Mr. Pannell (Leeds, West)

What did the Liberal candidate say at Bradford?

Mr. Byers

I have no idea. I was not on speaking terms with him. I want to bring the House away from the usual slanging match which goes on on these occasions when we tend to get into the habit of arguing that because something was wrong in the old days and this is wrong now, both of them are all right. It does not make sense. I have condemned unemployment and the inability and incompetence—refusal in cases—in tackling that problem when the Tories were in power. I can say that as a Liberal because we put forward a plan, "We can conquer unemployment." We have a good record on that [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but that plan, prepared in 1929, was the basis of the Coalition White Paper on full employment, and that was recognised. It was recognised, because the people who helped to bring in that plan were Keynes, Walter Layton and some of the best economists of the country; but nobody would listen to it. We can speak on this quite objectively.

Mr. Pannell

What did the Liberal Party say at Bradford?

Mr. Byers

The hon. Member has not been in this House very long, and I do not want to pose as an old and wise person. I will extend to him the same courtesy that I would like him to extend to me. I know that in his maiden speech he made a vicious attack on me, but I am not proposing to reply. I think perhaps he might stop interrupting.

The point I want to make to the Minister is that I am sure that he believes that it is morally wrong in peacetime to compel people to go into particular jobs. No amount of sympathetic administration—and there is sympathetic administration—can make the maintenance of a wrong principle right. I hope the Minister will agree with me that this is a bad principle. In saying that I should like to refer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. [Laughter.] Is there going to be laughter from the Labour benches when one refers to that? One rather expects that laughter. But this is a Declaration to which His Majesty's Government have affixed their signature and the signature of His Majesty's Government on a document of this sort has always been something which matters. Article 23 says: Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work, … and so on.

That is the Declaration of Human Rights—"to free choice of employment." By no stretch of the imagination can this Control of Engagement Order, which we have been asked to approve, be called the "free choice of employment." It is, in fact, a direct violation of a universal Charter of Human Rights. Let that be recognised. May I ask the Minister to tell us whether he regards this as a deliberate breach of the Charter of Human Rights and whether the Cabinet have taken this step since the Charter—after all this is the first anniversary of the Charter—came into force, and whether this is the first deliberate attempt to do something which is quite contrary to the spirit and letter of that Charter?

Has that step been taken with full Cabinet responsibility, because if it has not, it is a very serious matter. I believe that the Labour Party is doing a very grave disservice to this country in accepting this bad principle on the ground of economic expediency. Doing it on the grounds of principle is bad; and on the grounds of economic expediency, I think we have seen enough of this order, and the ring fence, to realise it is doing more harm than good. The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr Blyton) made a similar speech two years ago which impressed me tremendously. He has been quite consistent in saying that one cannot put a ring fence round an industry and still hope to get sufficient recruits.

I think the Minister of Labour should pay particular attention to the hon. Member to whose speech in 1947 I referred, and I put that to him. I have heard young men advising their friends, "In no circumstances touch the mining industry or agriculture because once you get in, you can't get out, and you have got the police on your track." I have heard that said, in rural areas, by boys, who have been in the mines or are in the mines.

Mr. J. Lewisrose

Mr. Byers

Just a minute. I am talking about the fact that one can find in the rural areas people who are keen to do their bit in the mining industry. They get a three months' probation period. Something may go wrong with a young man's life. He may want to go out after 18 months. He may meet a girl who lives in some part of the country where there is no mine. It may be unpatriotic, but at least it is understandable. That man becomes a criminal because he wants to do his courting.

Hon. Members


Mr. J. Lewis

How can the hon. Member account for the fact that during the period between the two wars, under the control of the Tory Party order, 280,000 people left the agricultural industry and that under the Control of Engagement Order, 80,000 people, in spite of that Order, have gone back into the agricultural industry? What deterrent is it?

Mr. Byers

I thought the hon. Member was going to interrupt me on courting. But I think if we are to assess the economic needs of the country, it is not a question of comparing the figures under the Tory Party before the war with the figures now. What we have to compare is the figures of achievement with what we require for the target. This is not the only deterrent.

There are other factors stopping people from going into agriculture, such as housing, which is very important. It is not the only one, but when it is coupled to a bad principle I am certain that if one has this ring fence system and Control of Engagement Order, men think twice before entering an industry because they know they cannot get out. Here we have a system by which a man is not allowed to leave an industry until he has made such a nuisance of himself that he has to be forced out. I should have thought it absolutely vital to do away with that ring fence in those two industries. It is of no use saying "We would lose a lot of men." If we say that and, at the same time, say there is no infringement of liberty, we cannot have it both ways; because if there is gong to be an exodus, then we are keeping men in an industry against their wills. That is a bad principle, and one which I do not propose to adopt.

I have said time and again that the undermanned industries are largely those in which conditions have been bad—in which pre-war conditions were bad and in which conditions today are not good enough. I would prefer to see improved conditions, to attract men and women, but while the Government have the Control of Engagement Order they are trying to force people into an industry and there is no necessity to improve conditions in that industry.

I would make one final plea to the House and say: Do not let this, which affects human, personal lives and concerns principles of human rights and liberty, develop into a debate in which one side says "Unemployment was the compulsive force before the war and now we have the Control of Engagement Order." In my view, both are bad, and our duty as responsible Members of Parliament is to see if we cannot devise a system in which there is full productive employment without resort to compulsion—either of the employment exchange or the Control of Engagement Order.

12.33 a.m.

Mr. W. T. Williams (Hammersmith, South)

I am happy to have the opportunity of speaking after the Liberal Chief Whip, the hon. Member for Northern Dorset (Mr. Byers) because I think few people would deny that the Liberal Party is one which believes in liberty, and that the Liberal Party as a whole have a good record in this respect. For that reason I think it a pity that he spoiled a careful and thoughtful speech with what I can only described as cheap sneers at the Labour Party. It was good to hear him speaking on this subject because I must confess that when I heard the Tories speak on this subject, at this time, my own reaction was: Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.

I think that the cries of protest and the laughter which come from this side of the House when Tories speak of liberty arise because few of us believe that the Tories believe in it themselves. When the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) worked up to a crescendo about the way in which people are led and persuaded freely to go to their labour, and spoke of the ideals and principles of labour and advised us to look to our consciences, it seemed to me that here "Charity begins at home." The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) said that his memory was good. I wonder if it is good enough to go back to the places to which my memory will go in dealing with the relation of the Government to the workers.

I believe that the number of people who have been affected as yet by this Control of Engagement Order is very small. On the other hand, in the years between the wars in my own country, the Principality, no less than three-quarters of the working population at some time or another between the years 1921–1938 were in the process of moving to find some other place where they could work. When it comes to the question of examining consciences, the consciences of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who were responsible for the conduct of affairs and who now stand up in Debates such as this, must be very troubled because in South Wales then the suicide rate of disappointed people was higher than it has ever been in the history of our people.

I do not wish to continue in this strain, but I beg the House most sincerely to agree with me that we should not have to put up with this kind of humbug and talk of the way in which Tories are concerned about working people. In the main the Greeks on this occasion bear gifts in vain, because the people of this country, and especially the working people—of whom I know something more than hon. Gentlemen opposite for* at least I have lived amongst them on the miserable pittance allowed by right hon. Gentlemen opposite as adequate means—do not fear this thing. They do not fear the Control of Engagement Order in the hands of a Labour Government, because it is held kindly and used mercifully. I believe that the people have a wider appreciation, although they may not be able to express it. of the philosophy that underlies it.

However, it is right that when we are dealing with an order which on the surface may seem to attack the liberty of the subject, to give some attention to whether or not it is as bad as the hon. Member for North Dorset would suggest. Liberty is a delicate plant. It is a plant whose growth is difficult to see. It is a plant that can easily be destroyed—[Interruption.] I am glad to have the agreement of hon. Gentlemen opposite although they cheer too soon. On the other hand, it is necessary to say that the first duty of a Government is to see that the widest possible liberty is given to the greatest number. It is possible, in the name of liberty to destroy liberty for the greatest number, and that is precisely my indictment of the Tory Governments in the interwar years. In the name of liberty, they made it impossible for the mass of people to have liberty.

On the other hand, it is quite possible that, by the restriction of the liberty of a small minority—and it is well to bear in mind that this is mainly a restriction on the liberty of those who, for one reason or another, are most unwilling to make a free contribution to the welfare of the nation—

Mr. Byers

Is the hon. Gentleman referring then to miners and agricultural workers, whom we know not to be free? Are they being sacrificed in the interests of the community?

Mr. Williams

The point I am trying to make is this. In so far as this order touches people, it touches only a minority of people, and even a minority of the people working in mines and agriculture. It is just not true to say that the majority of people who are working in mines and in agriculture feel it as a yoke about their necks. I have no love for engagement orders or direction of labour. I do not welcome this one. But it is surely necessary for a Government sincerely to weigh alternatives, and to say that, in a situation such as that in which we find ourselves now, this alternative is better than another.

I believe that in the situation in which this country finds itself, it is better, more just, more true to the fundamental belief in liberty, that a small minority of people shall be controlled in order that the great majority of people shall have a greater opportunity of freedom and liberty. I believe that, on the same principle as that on which hon. Gentlemen opposite maintain that it is essential for the greater freedom of this country to maintain National Service, it is better, in an economic situation such as we are now faced with, that a small minority shall be controlled, than that our economy should break down.

This is a residue that has been handed down to us from years and years of mismanagement and neglect of two fundamental industries. Hon. Members opposite may sneer, but that does not alter the facts. I believe that, faced with the problems we are faced with in these two industries through years of mismanage- ment, these two industries should be protected so that they may play their part in building up the economy of our country. I have tried to make a serious contribution to this discussion. I have only one word to add; my only regret is that when the Government saw fit to control engagements, they did not at the same time see fit to control the use of money.

Colonel Stoddart-Scott (Pudsey and Otley)

The hon. Member has spoken about the large number of suicides in Wales, and associated it with unemployment. Would he associate the fact that we now have a record number of people certified insane, and have never had so many people in our mental asylums, with this engagement order?

Mr. Williams

It is impossible for people who go insane to give their reasons for it, therefore it is impossible to say. Those who committed suicide said they did so because life was no longer worth living under a Tory Government.

12.45 a.m.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)

Both the hon. Gentleman who spoke last and the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) used the tit-for-tat argument. They said that because between the wars there had been some unemployment and that had resulted in an economic direction of labour, the Government of the day were justified in using this control to enforce a parallel servitude in industry. The hon. Member for South Hammersmith (Mr. W. T. Williams) went further and implied that it was right to turn some men in a so-called essential industry into machines so that they should obey automatically the will of their superiors in Government and that somehow through that process the economy of the country was going to be raised. If he thinks that by applying the principle which he so much admires to cover the whole of the industries of this country, then by some miracle we are going to get a resourceful nation that will be an effective competitor in world trade, I am amazed at his simplicity.

I wish to raise only two points, one affecting liberty and the other technical progress, which so far has not been mentioned in this Debate. On the point affect- ing liberty, I may go straight on from what I have been saying about the speech of the hon. Gentleman. There is no doubt at all that of the two stimuli to effort, direction of labour or the application of the price mechanism, the latter is much the milder. Hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to recognise by now it is the aim of all three parties to achieve full employment. We fundamentally believe in this aim. Hon. Gentlemen opposite must also recognise by now the fact that we on this side of the House are the principal authors of the authoritative economic White Paper on full employment.

There is no question that a more humane society arises through the association of full employment with the price mechanism than through the association of full employment with direction of labour. It is our aim on this side to achieve that combination of full employment and the price mechanism and we are well forward in so doing, far better forward than the party opposite. I think at the next General Election the people of this country are going to approve the Conservative intention to combine these two things because by that we shall achieve a much freer society than the combination put forward by the party opposite.

The only other point I have time for tonight is one on technical progress. I have no doubt at all in my mind that if the Supplies and Services Act, together with the direction of labour and the financial and other Socialist controls that go with it, had been applied to industries and services during the 18th century there would have been no Industrial Revolution, and that if they had been applied to industries and services in the 19th century, we would not have today any of the appurtenances of the modern age. I have no doubt that if this business of direction of industry and labour persists, we shall begin to fall behind the United States and other countries where they have a greater degree of freedom. It would be out of Order for me to mention those industries and services which I have in mind; but there is a range of 12 or 15 where the United States, since the war, has made bounds forward. We are now miles behind them in those industries and services.

Mr. Stubbs (Cambridgeshire)

What about the unemployed?

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Our falling behind is directly due to the freezing of the economy which comes about when these wholesale Socialist controls are applied. The Control of Engagement Order is part of this vicious system. If a man is not free to leave an industry and go into another industry, is it not possible that the industry into which he might want to go is retarded in its progress? There must be many men today who are tied to the coalmines who, if they were perfectly free to leave the mines and go into other industry might, out of their knowledge, zeal and brainpower contribute to the growth and development of those industries.

But here we have a Government which says, "We are concerned with a particular industry and wish to make it appear important. We have just nationalised the coalmines. There are 40 or 50 representatives of mining areas on our benches and we will apply full scale controls to that industry so that it shall appear to be prosperous and well staffed, filled with social capital and amenities of every sort and kind. But you never can tell that by so doing you are not denying other forms of industry of prime motive power—atomic energy, oil, hydro-electric energy, and perhaps other forms of energy not yet discovered—the vital opportunities to develop and go ahead. I believe that it is just as fatal in this century to apply these techniques of wholesale control to industry as it would have been fatal to Britain's technical progress in the twentieth century to have applied them in the past.

Mr. Stubbs

Will the noble Lord answer my question?

Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Are we to understand that when the Minister replies this Debate is closed?

Mr. Speaker

Certainly not. I want to hear what the Minister has to say, and I should have thought that hon. Members would also wish to hear it.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)

Up to now we have heard a considerable re-hash of speeches of previous Debates, with copious quotations from HANSARD. There have been one or two new points put forward. I think it would be to the advantage of the House if I were to devote myself to the new points. I am sorry that I could not follow the noble Lord who preceded me. I listened to him with great care, and I was wondering whether, out of his great knowledge and personal interest in industry he was speaking with any knowledge of the matter. But he will forgive me if I cannot follow his remarks about liberty and technical progress. I will only say that the noble Lord indicated that if direction of labour were continued it would lead to an absence of technical progress in the factories, and that we would fall behind in the market. That is no compliment to the employers. We are as far ahead in technical development as any other country. The noble Lord has been to America and has made speeches there, some of which have been reported in this country. Whether he was assisting the Americans to understand our problems or not is a matter for debate.

There are several things I should like to speak about. My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) spoke about the ring fence. There has been a lot of argument whether that ring fence is regarded as successful or not, but at any rate it has been maintained until the present moment at the request of the industries. Both the industries are now satisfied that they are able to carry on without the ring fence. Therefore, we propose to abolish the ring fence round these two industries as from 1st January. Do not let there be any misunderstanding or suggestion of any sort of trickery, because removing the ring fence does not mean moving the workers in these industries outside the Control of Engagement Order.

Mr. Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

They support this.

Mr. Isaacs

I know that. The ring fence is taken down. We will see then whether there is any justification or foundation for the allegations that the men did not want to go into those industries because they were afraid they would be kept in them. Many men have gone in and I shall quote a few figures in a moment to show the extent. At any rate, that change operates from 1st January.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), who opened the Debate, kept somewhere near the question under discussion, and he asked about this order being permanent. He referred to the fact that the Supplies and Services Act, under which this order is made, comes to an end this year. We have put in this order that it comes to an end on 10th December when the "Act comes to an end. I do not know whether there is any intention of repeating these orders. Speaking for myself as Minister, without anybody having any intention or authority to gainsay it, I would say there is no intention of making this order permanent. We could have made it permanent for the period of operation of the Supplies and Services Act when it was first introduced into the House three years ago. But we made it clear that if we found it necessary to ask for its continuance we would come to the House year by year and get the necessary authority. The fact that we did that, is an indication that we had no intention of trying to tie it up for longer periods than 12 months.

Lord John Hope (Midlothian and Peebles, Northern)

Does the right hon. Gentleman think it possible for the State to own the means of distribution, supply and exchange and also to direct labour?

Mr. Isaacs

Of course, it is. The hon. Member can have it whatever way he likes, but I am saying, speaking as a Minister for the Government, there is no intention in our minds of making this order permanent.

Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth) rose

Mr. Isaacs

If the hon. and gallant Gentleman can catch Mr. Speaker's eye he can make his own speech. I am at the moment trying to make mine, and to answer the questions which have been put to me.

This order will be continued to the end of this period. If it had not been for the situation in which this country finds itself through its economic problems this order would not have been repeated this. year. That is quite definite.

There was some question of what we have done under the order. The House should understand the immensity of the task that the Ministry of Labour, through the employment exchanges, is carrying out. In the 12 months ending 26th October, we have actually filled through our Ministry 4,063,000 vacancies in this way—2,842,000 men and 1,221,000 women. These are going into industry, and we have to decide how many are going into first preference vacancies. First preference vacancies are jobs which are considered essential for the nation's welfare. They may change a little from time to time. We have filled vacancies of first preference category to the extent of 360,000 men and 137,000 women, giving a total of 497,000 in all.

As an example of whether this has had a sound effect let us take cotton. The total placings in cotton were 41,500; of this number, 24,300 were inexperienced persons in this industry, and the balance of 17,200 represented people who went in—I do not say that they were directed—but who went in because they were told that they should take the work because it was first preference.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

They were terrified.

Mr. Isaacs

If workers were terrified of me, who knows something of industry, what would they feel about the noble Lord?

Viscount Hinchingbrookerose

Mr. Isaacs

One thing I can tell the noble Lord is that the working class people can "take it" as well as "give it," and he might "take it" as well when he is trying to "give it." The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) made a reference—and I must say I thought he got very eloquent about it; I thought the Election had already begun—to men who stayed in an industry when they wanted to get out of it, and who were, therefore, unproductive. All I can say is that that is not a compliment to employers; I do not think that employers would keep a man who was unproductive. They do not keep men when there is no employment for them, or when they are not giving satisfaction.

Mr. D. Marshall

I would like to make myself quite clear; my point was that if a man does not like the work which he is doing, that man, up to a point, cannot tell if he is in fact producing to the maximum capacity. But as a matter of fact he certainly will not be doing so.

Mr. Isaacs

I do ask the hon. Member not to believe that one.

Mr. Marshall

It is true.

Mr. Isaacs

It is not, because if the bloke himself does not know, the overseer down below knows, and believe me, employers do not usually appoint overseers who do not know the capacity of their men.

May I come to the point of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who opened this Debate? There has been reference to whether this order is (permanent. It has to come before the House again, whatever the circumstances in the House next year. This order ends on 10th December. I cannot, of course, say whether I shall be the Minister or not, but I am quite certain that, so far as the Ministry over which at present I have the honour to preside is concerned, the officials of that Ministry will express themselves, if the Minister asks for the information, in terms that this order should be dropped unless the needs of the country should make it essential for it to be continued. That is exactly what we are doing now.

Then, I take up the point the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised; and let me say that it was surely the first time that we have seen him "knocked off his perch" by an interjection. I do not say that in any unkindly way because, with his great skill and affability, we know that he always puts his case very fairly. But he says his party would support any line of action necessary to maintain essential services; that is just what we are doing. We must maintain coal production, cotton, agriculture, and production for export. What has been our experience? Some hon. Members say that this is theoretical, and that although we may not force people to go into jobs, it is wicked to have the power. Twenty-nine persons have actually been directed. Let me tell the House that I have made most careful and meticulous inquiries, and visited many of the officials throughout the country who are concerned with the operation of this order, and they say that seldom is there complaint with the instruction to take the work offered.

We want the order because there may be many instances of this kind. There may be a job of vital importance which has to be filled. There may be a man in the locality who has the skill to fill it, but he is unemployed and is anxious to take some other job for the time being. We have to have that job filled. Just as we had to take men from their homes in the war in the time of the country's needs, the country's needs remain today and we should therefore retain this order.

What complaint do we have? We have had meetings of the National Joint Advisory Council, employers and workers' representatives, regularly since the order first came into force. There have never been any complaints from them as to its harshness or unfairness. Each year they have advised the application of this order in the interests of the country. Have we had any complaints from the trade unions? Not a solitary one; and they are the people who represent these men.

Have we had complaints from any individual? So far as I can recall, only one, at the beginning of the scheme. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) smelt it out and put a Question on the Order Paper. I am glad that mistake happened because it brought home to officials of the Ministry throughout the country that the order had to be obeyed very strictly and meticulously. That is the only complaint which has come to me at the Ministry. No other complaint has ever been made in this House. People will say, "Even though you are working it as nicely as all that, it is still wicked to have that power," but we believe that the interests of the country come first. We believe that many of us may have to put up with things with which we would not normally wish to put up if the country's need requires us to do so.

I do not want to return to passing the matter backwards and forwards and saying who was to blame, but I must be forgiven if I refer to the fact that in the past there was another form of direction. There was the "genuinely seeking work" clause. I have known people go tramping round an area and knocking at the door of a firm and asking the firm to state that they were seeking work so that they could get benefit. We do not want that kind of thing again. We do not want this kind of direction to be maintained, but it is one of the consequences of circumstances that we must try to get labour into those spheres and services where it is most needed.

We have not been unsuccessful in doing that. It is true that there are first preference vacancies which we have not filled. That is because of one of two reasons, either that there was not a man of that skill unemployed anywhere—there has been no attempt to take men out of firms—or else there were men unemployed, but in other areas, whom we could not ask to take a job in another town. We have had no difficulty about that. We have had many men quite willing to take a job in another town provided that we could find accommodation, and we never send a man into another town unless we can find accommodation.

It is the same old Debate with the same old arguments, the same old answers and the same old reasons that the needs of the country at the moment make it necessary that we should call upon everybody to do the best they can in the job in which they are most fitted so that a greater measure of freedom can come as soon as our present troubles disappear.

Mr. Byers

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, will he deal with the point I put to him? Did the Cabinet deliberately decide to extend the Control of Engagement Order notwithstanding that they had signed the Charter of Human Rights? It is an important point. Is this a deliberate attempt to abrogate the Charter of Human Rights?

Mr. Isaacs

No. Sir. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman reminded me of that because I asked for a note on it. In the Charter of Human Rights there is a clause which deals with emergencies. If the present policy were permanent it would be a violation of that Charter, but as it is an emergency we are able to act under it.

1.10 a.m.

Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)

There are one or two points I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman, whom I have in many ways found very sympathetic; he meets Members of this House with great courtesy in their efforts and inquiries. Why has he not answered the question put by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), who said the Lord President of the Council had given an intimation that this was going to be part of the general policy of the Government? We on this side of the House feel that we do not know what the Government's view is about this.

We notice that every time we speak against it, we are opposed, but the right hon. Gentleman should make it clear whether he associates himself with the statement by the Lord President or whether he does not.

There was one speech which every Member should read; and that was by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), who, I am sure, believed every word he spoke and who was not trying to make political capital. I have taken part in these debates on direction of labour, in one form or another, right through the war when there was not a Socialist Government in office, and I have been told, time after time, and first of all by the present Foreign Secretary, that at the very first available moment, this was going to be wiped out. Yet we have speeches like that of the hon. Member for South Hammersmith (Mr. W. T. Williams), who said that the minority could be thrown to the wolves. Without trying to make political capital out of this—and I assure the House that I am not—I believe that the other side will have to talk among themselves and come to a definite conclusion as to what their policy is on it.

Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)

Will the hon. Member accept that principle in regard to National Service?

Colonel Dower

What is necessary in wartime, I will never agree to in peace time. The right hon. Gentleman says it has only been necessary to direct labour in twenty-nine cases. He says that with pride. I am very pleased there have not been more. I should like to ask him, when one hears Labour Members saying that* the Labour workers are in favour of this, whether, if he had had to direct them in 29,000 cases, he would not have had a lot of trouble? One does not hear much noise about it in 29 cases, but if it had to be done on a big scale, it would show him that the majority of workers are opposed to this. I am perfectly convinced that they are.

I do not think we did badly at Bradford. If the Party opposite lose 5,000 votes in their majority in all their seats, they are out. I sincerely ask the right hon. Gentleman this. There are things worth a great deal more than organisation and regimentation. There are things worth a great deal more than money. I can assure hon. Members of that. [Laughter.] I dare say hon. Members opposite do not think so and that may be why we have to wait for an Election for a long time. I hope the Minister, as soon as he can, will deny what his colleague said who gave the impression that this is to be part of the permanent policy of the Government if another Socialist Government is returned.

1.15 a.m.

Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)

I took part in a Debate on this subject a good while ago and will therefore have little to say tonight, especially as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has made two important concessions, and I want to thank him for that. The Minister has told us that the ring fence is to be abolished in coalmining and agriculture, the two industries in which it operates. That is a very substantial step towards personal freedom. He said, also, that the Control of Engagement Order is not to be made permanent. That is very satisfactory, too.

I cannot understand some of the arguments put forth from both sides of the House in relation to the Control of Engagement Order. I am not moved at all by what the Conservatives say about personal freedom, when they always support military conscription. Of all the foul offences against personal liberty, conscription is by far the worst. Then, on this side of the House the strange argument was advanced that because the pressure of poverty and unemployment directed men to labour, we must not complain against this form of direction. The direction arising from poverty has been abolished because a Labour Government has come into power, and it is argued that you must, forsooth, agree to a new compulsion because you have abolished the original. That argument will not avail—and certainly will not avail in the General Election campaign.

The Minister told us that the number of cases of objection to the Control of Engagement Order is very few. Strangely enough, two have occurred in my own Division. I give them briefly. A coal-miner felt that he was not strong enough physically to continue to work in the pits. Incidentally, I worked in the pits myself for 10 years. As is often the custom in Lancashire, this miner wanted to start a poultry run. He applied for the right to leave the mining industry. What happened? Before he could be allowed to leave, the Minister employed a doctor to examine him, and in the end it was not the employer, the Coal Board, or the Ministry of Labour which determined whether he could come out: it was the medical certificate that sealed his fate. His request was granted—but we must note how this Control of Engagement Order and the direction of labour work out in actual practice.

Take the other case. A man leaves a pit in my constituency. He then enters the Fighting Services and when he comes out of the Army he gets a job in an engineering shop in the Midlands. He works there for some years, comes back to my Division, and because he once worked in a pit he is directed into two pits. He refuses to work in either. Lo and behold, the Minister of Labour suddenly finds that when he worked in a pit it was a clay pit not under the control of the Coal Board. Consequently, the Control of Engagement Order did not apply to him and he is now an engineer. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour, what is the cost to the Ministry of Labour of the doctors who certify whether people shall work in coal mining or not.

I have spoken in this House on the rights of man on several occasions and, unfortunately, I have had to criticise my own colleagues in so doing. I am much encouraged by two events. During the war I stood almost alone against the foul policy of unconditional surrender, and the House of Commons almost howled me down. A few years later, however, I find that a new House of Commons agrees with me. I then challenged military conscription and my own Labour colleagues disagreed with me. Now. however, even our military commanders are doubting whether military conscription is worth while imposing at all. While thanking my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour for what he has said, let me add that if we press the matter a little further, the Control of Engagement Order itself will come to an end.

It has been said on the other side of the House, and I challenge that statement, that direction of labour is part and parcel of Socialism. It is not. Every single "ism" is determined in the end by the interpretation put upon it by the "ists," and I object to the interpretation that is implied by some of our own people that because there is a Socialist State there must of necessity be control and direction of labour. As one who pleaded for Socialism long before many Members in this House were born, I wish to make it clear once again that I support the ownership and control of every material thing necessary for the life of the nation, but I have always presumed, from Keir Hardie downwards—and if he were here tonight he would most certainly support my point of view—that the adoption of Socialist principles would provide more freedom for the workman than capitalism. And if Socialism does not mean that it will fail, and a new generation will arise in this land to establish a society where personal freedom is paramount.

I have been in Germany since the occupation. Our Government controls part of Germany. I do not think that a Control of Engagement Order is imposed in Germany. Just imagine a people we defeated in war being more free to chose their jobs than our own people who conquered them.

Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)

On a point of Order. I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, who speech I desire to enjoy, but could you consider, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, giving instructions that the loud speaker system be amplified a little. I do not know whether it is owing to the failure of the current, but it is very difficult to hear.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is a matter, I think, which can be left to the authorities concerned.

Mr. Rhys Davies

I hope the hon. Gentleman is not serious about my voice. I thought I had mastered the art of making myself heard long ago. I hope hon. Gentlemen on both sides will forgive my pursuing this point about the interpretation of Socialism. I hope I shall not be thought to be blaspheming when I say that the Architect of this universe planned and regulated the world. He made the earth, moon and stars, divided the earth from the waters and so forth—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

This is the Control of Engagement Order which has nothing to do with the sun or the moon.

Mr. Rhys Davies

That was what I was coming to. But the Almighty never imposed a Control of Engagements Order. He made man free, and I am here to say once more that whatever Government is in power, my voice, for what it is worth, will be raised in favour of the rights of the man to choose his own job and determine his own fate.

1.25 a.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

The hon. Gentleman, and I assure him that I had no difficulty in hearing him, indicated with complete justification that he would always raise his voice when these issues were under discussion. He did not on this occasion indicate the rather more material consideration, how he proposed to cast his vote. On the last occasion this matter was before the House he gave a very clear indication of his attitude: I can say in passing, having helped to build this Labour Party, that if we sat on the other side of the House tonight and a Tory Minister did what my right hon. Friend is proposing, every Labour Member would go into the Division Lobby against it. And he added with considerable cogency: I should like to say one thing more. I have been in politics and in this House for a long time, and I have long ago decided that what is wrong when we are in Opposition cannot be right when we are the Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December, 1948; Vol. 459, c. 20.] I hope that those hon. Members opposite who have not spoken tonight, and I believe there are some who agree with what has been so eloquently said by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), will be equally prepared to carry to the logical conclusion the sentiments he expressed on the last occasion.

A visitor from another planet would have been a little surprised at our proceedings tonight. [An HON. MEMBER: "He would be out of Order."] I can assure the hon. Member that a visitor from another planet, not being within the jurisdiction, could not possibly be out of Order. We are dealing with a grave social and economic question, not in the discussion of a Parliamentary Bill, but simply on the initiative of the Opposition to annul a piece of delegated legislation. Whatever hon. Members may think of the merits or demerits of the matter, none will dispute that it is a grave and important one. It seems to me a gross abuse of the powers of delegated legislation that such a matter should be dealt with in this way. It carries the inevitable consequence that, whereas we spent an hour and a half earlier discussing the location of a plane tree in Parliament Square, a matter of this kind has to be discussed in the middle of the night. That is the wrong way to deal with a matter of this gravity.

The Minister of Labour said he had heard nothing but the old arguments and the old speeches. Whether that be true or not, one is entitled to make the comment that the right hon. Gentleman himself even now did not grasp the two points some of us have been putting for three years: first, that compulsion is an extremely inefficient method of effecting the necessary re-distribution of labour; and secondly, that even if it were efficient, it is subject to considerable moral disadvantages. He did not address himself to either argument but the right hon. Gentleman made an announcement of considerable importance about abandoning the ring fence round agriculture and mining

The report of the Ministry of Labour for last year issued last month informs us that of the 302 directions which were issued during the course of the year, no fewer than 288 were for the purpose of maintaining this ring fence round agriculture and mining. Now the right hon. Gentleman is abandoning that. We are surely entitled to ask him why it is necessary to retain, for the sake of apparently no more than 14 directions a year, this elaborate structure of compulsion. Is it really worth while to face all the difficulties and rouse all the antagonisms which this system inevitably will arouse for the sake of directing 14 people in the course of a year? Clearly it is not. Before this Debate closes I want to get from the right hon. Gentleman some clear indication of what it is that he really has in mind.

I would like to read a few lines from his report for 1948 at page 21. Having given the figures which I have quoted, the right hon. Gentleman goes on: The slight extent to which it is necessary to use the power of direction to induce persons to go to essential work was evidence of the success of the policy of relying upon persuasion in the first instance and of reserving the power of direction for use only in the rare cases where persuasion failed. What I want to know is whether the right hon. Gentleman is using the word "per- suasion" perfectly frankly and in its normal significance? Does his use of persuasion mean one person equally situated persuading by reason another to do something which he wishes him to do, or does he by persuasion mean a suave and carefully concealed threat that if the advice is not accepted an act of a coercive nature will follow? That is what we want to know.

The right hon. Gentleman has again and again denied there is any coercion behind this persuasion, but if that is true, if that is the essence of the matter, surely the right hon. Gentleman is not going to maintain all this elaborate machinery for the sake of directing 14 unfortunate persons in the course of a year? Must it not be the case that when the right hon. Gentleman used the word "persuasion" in that report, he used it in the sense in which it is used in many totalitarian countries, in the same sense in which the Jews were persuaded voluntarily to hand over their property in Nazi Germany—the polite request masking the power behind the request. It is surely wrong for the right hon. Gentleman not to be frank about this. Which of these two alternatives is he pursuing in maintaining these powers? To direct 14 people a year or as a power in reserve to back the persuasion of his officers if their eloquence for any reason in any case should happen to fail?

There is another point on which I think we should say something before we part with this order. The right hon. Gentleman said he had no intention of making this order permanent. He said very much the same thing when he introduced it two years ago, in column 1361 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 3rd November, 1947. Let us test it. He told the House that this is the last time he can use this power under the present Act. The right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council said at Blackpool in May that it was the Government's intention to introduce a new Supplies and Services Act on a permanent basis. Is it intended to include in that Act power to make orders of this kind?

If it is intended deliberately to take powers to do this again, then the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that he does not intend to make the order permanent has not very much value. Surely it is a test of the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman and of the Government's intentions in this matter, whether or not they are intending to take permanent power to make orders of this kind in a new Supplies and Services Act. Surely we are entitled to be told that. I am glad to see the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) in his place. He and I had a controversy in the columns of "The Times" on this very issue some months ago. The hon. Member for King's Norton was confident that no power of this kind would be included in the future Act. I sincerely hope that on this point, at least, the hon. Member is right. I am sure that he will not take it amiss if I say that one wishes to have assurances of this sort of thing not from an acolyte however zealous but from the high priest; one must have an assurance from the Government. Until we are told that if this Government has power to pass a permanent Act it will exclude any power to make orders of this kind, no assurance about the absence of any intention to make the order permanent is worth the HANSARD in which it was reported.

The right hon. Gentleman told us that this weapon of compulsion was used to get people into the right places, and that it had been successful. The facts as stated in the Economic Surveys, which the right hon. Gentleman's own Government published, do not confirm that. Each year we have had the manpower targets, impressive figures indicating the Government's intention, as to the redistribution of manpower: how it has fared with these targets at the end of the year. Every time, and in every vital industry, the Government have failed to reach the targets.

Let me give an example which comes to mind through the speech of the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), in connection with the mining industry. In the figures which were produced for the mining industry in 1947 the target for the end of that year was 730,000 men on the colliery books. At the end of 1948, a year later, it had only reached 726,000. If one takes the figures from the Ministry of Labour Gazette one sees that at the beginning of September this year it had fallen to 717,000, and that at the end of the month it had fallen a further 4,000. When, three years after setting the target he has not only failed to achieve it, but sees the projectile moving directly away from the target, how can the right hon. Gentleman say that this is a successful method?

I believe that the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring is right when he says that the ring fence around this industry has proved to be a deterrent to recruiting; that it has discouraged people from going into an industry which, if they found they did not like it, they would be unable to leave. I believe it is because that fact has now come to his own understanding that the right hon. Gentleman is proposing to abandon it on 1st January. Will not the right hon. Gentleman follow that to its logical conclusion? If people are deterred from entering a particular industry because of the ring fence, may they not also be deterred from leaving perhaps an unessential job because they may find themselves not free to choose the next job to which they will go?

Surely the principle which I believe the right hon. Gentleman is tacitly accepting now with regard to ring fence industries applies equally to others. If he appreciates that freedom in the redistribution of labour is not only morally right, but the most efficient way, cannot he apply the same principle when he comes to the rest of the order? If he does that he will change the whole psychological atmosphere. It will allow those who desire to change a job to do so in freedom; it will give more flexibility of labour, and it will give greater opportunities to re-distribute labour into industries in which it is sorely needed. No one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman the failure which this method of the direction of labour has been, judging by the targets which he and his own Government have set. Surely, after three years' experience of that failure it will have occurred to him that there must be something wrong in the method he has used. He will be running no risk in abandoning a method which has failed if he seeks now to apply the principle of freer distribution of labour.

The hon. Member for South Hammersmith (Mr. W. T. Williams), who is not now in his place, said he did not think that when the word "freedom" was used by Tories, the Tories were sincere in its use. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman used that line of argument. All of us in this House are entitled to believe that each other's views upon public matters are wrong or unsound or illogical, but to deny to an hon. Member, as the hon. Gentleman did, sincerity of conviction upon an issue of this kind is not only unnecessarily offensive, but it is an extraordinarily dangerous line of Parliamentary argument. I would assure the hon. Member for South Hammersmith if he were here—I hope he will read it in HANSARD tomorrow—that I personally feel on this issue as strongly as I have ever felt on any issue in my life. I believe a great many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in all quarters of the House feel the same.

We feel it is utterly wrong in these circumstances to do what is done here—to deprive the people of the right to select the work by which they seek to earn their living. It is not an answer to say there have been and are other limitations upon that right. All we are seeking to achieve is to give to the people the right to seek the work of their choice without legal interference by the State. We are under no illusion that that confers absolute freedom. Absolute freedom is probably not to be found on this side of the grave. What we are seeking to do is to remove any legal barrier in the way of those who desire, however foolish it may be, to try

Division No. 307.] AYES [1.46 a.m.
Acland, Sir Richard Dobbie, W. Kinley, J.
Adams, Richard (Balham) Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly) Lavers, S.
Albu, A. H. Evans, Albert (Islington, W.) Levy, B. W.
Attewell, H. C. Evans, John (Ogmore) Lewis, J. (Bolton)
Baird, J. Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury) McGovern, J.
Barton, C. Ewart, R. McLeavy, F.
Bechervaise, A. E. Farthing, W. J. Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)
Beswick, F. Field, Capt. W. J. Mellish, R. J.
Bing, G. H. C. Forman, J. C. Mitchison, G. R.
Blenkinsop, A. Freeman, J. (Watford) Monslow, W.
Blyton, W. R. Freeman, Peter (Newport) Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)
Bottomley, A. G. Gibson, C. W. Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)
Bowden, H. W. Gilzean, A. Neal, H. (Claycross)
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Glanville, J. E. (Consett) Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)
Bramall, E. A. Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood) O'Brien, T.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Grey, C. F. Paget, R. T.
Brown, T. J. (Ince) Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side) Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
Burden, T. W. Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R. Palmer, A. M. F.
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.) Hannan, W. (Maryhill) Pargiter, G. A.
Callaghan, James Haworth, J. Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)
Carmichael, James Herbison, Miss M. Paton, J. (Norwich)
Collindridge, F. Hewitson, Capt. M. Pearson, A.
Collins, V. J. Holman, P. Popplewell, E.
Cook, T. F. Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth) Porter. E. (Warrington)
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.) Houghton, Douglas Pritt, D. N.
Crossman, R. H. S. Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.) Proctor, W. T.
Cullen, Mrs. Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.) Pryde, D. J.
Daggar, G. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Pursey, Comdr. H.
Davies, Edward (Burslem) Jeger, G. (Winchester) Randall, H. E.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield) Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool) Ranger, J.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin) Rhodes, H.
Deer, G. Keenan, W. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
Delargy, H. J. Kenyon, C. Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)

out their abilities and capacities in the work of their own choice. I cannot put it better than in some words which I should like to quote to the House: Any sort of compulsion on the individual in his choice of a civilian job in peacetime involves an infringement of essential human liberty, which is utterly incompatible with the views of democracy and Socialism.

Those words are those of the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and he used them in his recent book "The Socialist Case." He expressed himself with that lucidity and clarity of expression which we have learned to expect from him, and I am sure the words were sincerely written. I am sure they are true, and I ask hon. Members opposite, such as the hon. Member for South Hammersmith, who cannot be persuaded by any arguments from Tory mouths, to bear in mind when they go into the Division Lobby the fine, expressive, logical and cogent words of the Economic Secretary to the Treasury.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury(Mr. Whiteley) rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question put, "That the Question be now put."

The House divided: Ayes, 131; Noes, 69.

Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) Stubbs, A. E. Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Ross, William (Kilmarnock) Sylvester, G. O. Whiteley. Rt. Hon. W.
Royle, C. Symonds, A. L. Wilkes, L.
Segal, Dr. S. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth) Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Sharp, Granville Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare) Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Simmons, C. J. Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin) Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Skeffington, A. M. Ungoed-Thomas, L. Wills, Mrs. E. A.
Skinnard, F. W. Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst) Woods, G. S.
Smith, C. (Colchester) Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow. E.)
Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank Watkins, T. E. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Steele, T. Webb, M. (Bradford, C.) Mr. Snow and Mr. Wilkins.
Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.) Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Galbraith, T. G. D, (Hillhead) Odey, G. W.
Amory, D. Heathcoat Comma-Duncan, Col. A. Orr-Ewing, I. L.
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge) Pitman, I. J.
Baldwin, A. E. Henderson, John (Cathcart) Prescott, Stanley
Barlow, Sir J. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.
Bennett, Sir P. Hogg, Hon. O. Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells) Hope, Lord J. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Bowen, R. Howard, Hon. A Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Bower, N. Hurd, A. Strauss, Henry (English Universities)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W. Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. Langford-Holt, J. Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Byers, Frank Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)
Carson, E. McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S. Touche, G. C.
Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow) McKie, J. H. (Galloway) Turton, R. H.
Darling, Sir W. Y. Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley) Walker-Smith, D.
Digby, S. Wingfield Maitland, Comdr. J. W. Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Manningham-Buller, R. E. White, Sir D. (Fareham)
Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith) Marshall, D. (Bodmin) Williams, C. (Torquay)
Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond) Maude, J. C. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Duthie, W. S. Mellor, Sir J. York, C.
Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale) Neven-Spence, Sir B.
Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M. Nicholson, G. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok) Nutting, Anthony Mr. Studholme and Major Conant.

Question put accordingly, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Order dated 5th December, 1949, entitled the Control of Engagement (Amendment) Order (S.I., 1949.

Division No. 308.] AYES [1.52 a.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead) Odey, G. W.
Amory, D. Heathcoat Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. Orr-Ewing, I. L
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge) Pitman, I. J.
Baldwin, A. E. Henderson, John (Cathcart) Prescott, Stanley
Barlow, Sir J. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.
Bennett, Sir P. Hogg, Hon. Q. Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)
Boles, Lt.-Col. O. C. (Wells) Hope, Lord J. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Bowen, R. Howard, Hon. A. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Bower, N. Hurd, A. Strauss, Henry (English Universities)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W. Studholme, H. G.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. Langford-Holl, J. Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)
Byers, Frank Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Carson, E. McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. [...] Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)
Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow) McKie, J. H. (Galloway) Touche, G. C.
Darling, Sir W. Y. Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley) Turton, R. H.
Digby, S. Wingfield Maitland, Comdr. J. W. Walker-Smith, D.
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Manningham-Buller, R. E. White, Sir D. (Fareham)
Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith) Marshall, D. (Bodmin) Williams, C. (Torquay)
Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond) Maude, J. C. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Duthie, W. S. Mellor, Sir J. York, C.
Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale) Neven-Spence, Sir B
Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M. Nicholson, G. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok) Nutting, Anthony Major Conant and Colonel Wheatley
Acland, Sir Richard Beswick, F. Bramall, E. A.
Adams, Richard (Balham) Bing, G. H. C. Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.
Albu, A. H. Blenkinsop, A. Brown, T. J. (Ince)
Attewell, H. C. Blyton, W. R. Burden, T. W.
Baird, J. Bottomley, A. G. Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)
Barton, C. Bowden, H. W. Callaghan, James
Bechervaise, A. E. Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Carmichael, James

No. 2251), a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th December, be annulled."

The House divided: Ayes, 69; Noes, 131.

Collindridge, F. Hughes, H. D, (W'lverh'pton, W.) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
Collins, V. J. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)
Cook, T. F. Jeger, G. (Winchester) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.) Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool) Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
Crossman, R. H. S. Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin) Royle, C.
Cullen, Mrs. Keenan, W. Segal, Dr. S.
Daggar, G. Kenyon, C. Sharp, Granville
Davies, Edward (Burslem) Kinley, J. Simmons, C. J.
Davies, Ernest (Enheld) Lavers, S. Skeffington, A. M.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Levy, B. W. Skinnard, F. W.
Deer, G. Lewis, J. (Bolton) Smith, C. (Colchester)
Delargy, H. J. McGovern, J. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Dobbie, W. McLeavy, F. Steele, T.
Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield) Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Evans, Albert (Islington, W.) Mellish, R. J. Stubbs, A. E.
Evans, John (Ogmore) Mitchison, G. R. Sylvester, G. O.
Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury) Monslow, W. Symonds, A. L.
Ewart, R. Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.) Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Farthing, W. J. Morris, P. (Swansea, W.) Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Field, Capt. W. J. Neal, H. (Claycross) Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Forman, J. C. Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.) Ungoed-Thomas, L.
Freeman, J. (Watford) O'Brien, T. Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Freeman, Peter (Newport) Paget, R, T. Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Gibson, C. W. Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury) Watkins, T. E.
Gilzean, A. Palmer, A. M. F. Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
Glanville, J. E. (Consett) Pargiter, G. A. Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood) Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe) Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Grey, C. F. Paton, J. (Norwich) Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side) Pearson, A. Wilkes, L.
Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R. Popplewell, E. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Hannan, W. (Maryhill) Porter, E. (Warrington) Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Haworth, J. Pritt, D. N. Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Herbison, Miss M. Proctor, W. T. Willis, E.
Hewitson, Capt. M. Pryde, D. J. Woods, G. S.
Holman, P. Pursey, Comdr. H.
Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth) Randall, H. E. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Houghton, Douglas Ranger, J. Mr. Snow and Mr. Wilkins.
Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.) Rhodes, H.