HC Deb 21 February 1952 vol 496 cc481-501

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £50,000,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1952, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Supply for the supply of munitions, aircraft, common-user and other articles and atomic energy and for research and development, inspection, storage, disposal and capital and ancillary services related thereto; for administrative services in connection with the iron and steel, non-ferrous and light metals and engineering industries; for the operation of the Royal Ordnance Factories and official car services; and for miscellaneous supplies and services.

Mr. Edelman (Coventry, North)

On a point of order. For the convenience of the House, would it be possible for Votes 1 and 2 to be discussed together?

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

Not on a Supplementary Estimate. They must be taken separately.

6.9 p.m.

The Minister of Supply (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

This Supplementary Estimate contains two distinct elements. The first consists of excess expenditure of some £51,300,000, which is offset by savings amounting to £53 million. The second element consists of a deficiency in the appropriations-in-aid amounting to some £52 million. Perhaps the most interesting part of the Supplementary Estimate is that dealing with these expected deficiencies in the appropriations-in-aid because it reveals the progress of the deliveries of equipment and armaments to the three Services by the Ministry of Supply.

The deficiencies in the appropriations-in-aid in fact provide a rough and ready measure of the extent to which the defence production programme of the Ministry of Supply has fallen behind schedule. The short-fall in the deliveries by the Ministry of Supply to the three Services amounts to £21 million during the present financial year, which is the equivalent of about 7 per cent. of the original estimate of deliveries to them of £315 million.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Lambeth, Vauxhall)

Will the Minister say where he gets the £21 million from?

Mr. Sandys

I quite understand the right hon. Gentleman's difficulty. The explanation is this. If he looks at page 71 of the book the right hon. Gentleman will see that Sub-head Z: Appropriations in Aid, Production Receipts (1) (a), (b) and (c), shows the expected deficiencies in deliveries to the Admiralty, War Office and Air Ministry. If he adds these together he will find they amount to £36 million. Of this £36 million, £15 million is a refund due to the Service Departments because there was an over payment in the previous year. So we have to deduct £15 million from £36 million, which leaves £21 million. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman drew my attention to it, because it is not shown in the printed figures.

We must not, however, forget that the original Estimates for the financial year 1951–52 were drawn up on the basis of the £3,600 million re-armament programme, and took no account of the decision to increase that programme to £4,700 million. In fact, the late Minister of Defence explained to the House that the adoption of this larger programme would involve additional expenditure for defence during the current year of the order of £150 million. The proportion of this increased figure applicable to deliveries to the Services by the Ministry of Supply may be taken as being about £55 million.

In order, therefore, to strike a balance we must add this £55 million to the original estimate of £315 million. This gives us a total of £370 million. That represents the value of the deliveries which should have been made this year to the three Services by the Ministry of Supply in order to fulfil the requirements of the £4,700 million re-armament programme. This target of £370 million must be compared with the figure of actual deliveries, which we expect will be about £294 million by the end of the financial year. This shows an estimated overall shortfall of £76 million, or about one fifth.

6.15 p.m.

This is not, of course, the occasion for me to go into details of production, but I thought that the Committee would like to have these figures, which enable the Supplementary Estimate which I am now moving to be seen in its proper perspective. I now propose to give the Committee some detailed information about these Supplementary Estimates under the various Sub-heads under which they appear in the printed book.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for clarifying certain points, and it is exceedingly interesting. He told us that the Ministry of Supply's deliveries to the Services should have been £370 million under the enlarged programme, but that, in point of fact, they will be only £294 million. I think that that is roughly what the right hon. Gentleman said. But where do the £50 million go on the goods, bought mostly abroad, and in respect of which we are now being asked to pass Supplementary Estimates—clothing, machine tools, and so on? Are they already taken into account in the £294 million, or should they be added to the £294 million?

Mr. Sandys

Clothing deliveries, which are an important item, are included in the £294 million.

I now turn to Sub-head A which deals with salaries and wages. The original Estimate was £6,671,000. We are now asking for an additional £750,000. This is required to meet approved pay increases, increased overtime working, and the wages of additional staff. The pay increases and the increased overtime together account for two-thirds of the Supplementary Estimate. that is to say, about £500,000.

As regards Sub-head B.2, Stores, Materials and Services for Research and Experimental Establishments, the original Estimate was £13 million. We are now asking for an additional £1 million. This is to meet increased expenditure mainly due to two factors: first, the general rise in prices; and secondly to the welcome acceleration which is taking place in the research and development programme, particularly in the very important sphere of guided weapons. This Supplementary Estimate also makes provision for the purchase of additional raw materials for atomic energy.

I come now to Sub-head B.4, Loan for the Production of Uranium. The original Estimate was for £1 million. We are asking for an additional sum of £800,000. This Estimate provides for a loan to five South African gold mining companies to enable them to erect special treatment plant to recover uranium from gold ore. The original Estimate had to be submitted to the Committee before precise information was available about the cost of this plant and the progress which was likely to be made in erecting it during the current financial year. It was not until late in the year that a reliable Estimate of £1,800,000 was obtained. That is the reason for the Supplementary Estimate.

I come now to Sub-head C, Royal Ordnance Factories. The original Estimate was for £30 million and we are asking for an additional sum of £4 million. This increase is due mainly to the expansion in the production of the Royal Ordnance Factories which resulted from the adoption of the £4,700 million programme. The expanded programme necessitated the purchase of more materials, and, as the Committee knows, the prices of these materials have been going up steadily throughout the year. A small part of the excess expenditure is due to increases in pay and overtime working in the Ordnance Factories.

I come now to Sub-head F.1, Clothing and Textiles. The original Estimate was for £38 million, and the additional sum for which we now ask is £37½ million. In fact, we are asking for the original Estimate to be very nearly doubled. This is the biggest item in the Supplementary Estimate now before the Committee. There are several reasons for this very large increase in expenditure. In the first place, the original Estimate was based on the £3,600 million programme and the expansion of the programme to £4,700 million involved an increase of £12 million under the heading of clothing and textiles. The second factor is that the price we have had to pay for cloth and textiles has risen very considerably during the year. There has also been a considerable rise in the cost of making up the clothing. Let me quote to the Committee just two examples. Greatcoats which a year ago cost £3 12s. now cost £4 13s. Certain standard blankets cost £4 a year ago, whereas we now have to pay over £5 for them.

Another major factor in this increase of expenditure has been the changing situation in the textile industry. Early last year it looked as though there might be considerable difficulty in placing the large volume of orders to meet the re-armament programme. For this reason, and also because of the favourable balance of payments in E.P.U., the late Government placed large orders for textiles and clothing on the Continent, although prices there were slightly higher than in this country.

However, by the autumn there were clear signs that a slump was taking place in the textile and clothing industries. We therefore decided in November to place no further orders for textiles and clothing abroad, except in rare cases where the article was urgently needed by the Services and could not be supplied in the time required by firms in the United Kingdom.

At the same time, as a matter of policy the Government decided to place all the orders it could as quickly as possible so as to make some contribution towards relieving the unemployment which was developing in this industry. A proportion of these new orders will, in fact, be delivered during the present financial year and will have to be paid for before the end of March. That is another factor which increases the Supplementary Estimate for clothing and textiles.

The Committee may also like to know that about £3 million of the Supplementary Estimate under this sub-head arises from the supply of improved winter clothing to our troops in Korea. The main Estimates for 1951–52 had already been submitted before the requirements and specifications for this improved winter clothing were received. Expenditure on it has therefore, to be included as a Supplementary Estimate.

The last sub-head, M.3, deals with machine tools. The original Estimate was for £30 million and we are asking for an additional sum of £7¼ million. This sub-head provides for the purchase abroad of machine tools for the defence programme, both for Government factories and for contractors who are working on defence contracts. In the case of the contractors, the machine tools are either leased or sold outright. This Supplementary Estimate is almost entirely due to the decision to expand the re-armament programme from £3,600 million to the £4,700 million.

This expansion of the programme has necessitated the purchase of a great number of additional machine tools which are, to a large extent, required for the accelerated programme of aircraft production. Out of 19,000 machine tools ordered from abroad 3,800 have already arrived. Others are expected to arrive shortly and will have to be paid for during the present financial year.

I think I have probably said enough to introduce this Supplementary Estimate. If hon. Members require more information or explanations, the Parliamentary Secretary or I will be glad to reply later in the debate.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

We are grateful to the Minister of Supply for the very full and clear explanation he has given to the Committee about these Supplementary Estimates. We on this side of the Committee do not propose to challenge these Estimates. They arise mostly from the policies and projects initiated by the previous Government, and as all those policies and projects were good, naturally their consequences are good too. I do not know what some of my colleagues feel about it, but certainly I do not want to criticise these Supplementary Estimates in a hostile way, although there are one or two questions I should like to ask in further explanation of the reasons given by the Minister for these Estimates. No doubt my colleagues also have some other questions they would like to ask.

6.30 p.m.

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving the Committee the figures about the short-fall of deliveries to the Services during the present financial year. I must say that I was considerably surprised at the size of the short-fall. The right hon. Gentleman told us that we should, theoretically, have delivered to the Services goods to the equivalent of £370 million this year, instead of which these deliveries will amount to only £294 million. That is all the more surprising as that £294 million apparently includes, in view of the answer given by the Minister to my inquiry when I interrupted him, the very substantial additional amount of clothing, textiles and machine tools ordered during the course of the year, and not anticipated when the original Estimates were put forward. So the short-fall is a substantial one, and I do not know whether it is possible, when the Parliamentary Secretary comes to reply, for him to tell us whether in fact this short-fall means that the programme is as much behind hand as would appear from those figures.

We always realised at the time, as I think my colleagues in the Government stated, that that programme when we launched it was a target, and we realised that it would be quite impossible to fulfil it unless all sorts of things happened—that we got the materials and machine tools as and when we wanted them. We have not got them, and it follows from that that there is bound to be some short-fall.

Does it mean—and I should like an explanation of this matter if the Minister can possibly give it—that this shortfall, substantial as it is, indicates a considerable fall-down in the programme; or does it mean that most of those goods that should have been delivered by the end of the financial year will be delivered to the Services within the next three or six months? I realise that it is impossible to give a precise answer to that question, but if the Minister can give the Committee some indication of that time-lag, it would give the Committee and the country some idea of the extent of the short-fall of the armament programme.

There were various questions that I wanted to ask the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary about these Supplementary Estimates, but his explanation has covered most of them, and therefore there are not many matters on which I need take up the time of the Committee. There are two, however. He told us that the organisation set up by myself when I was Minister of Supply for buying abroad clothing and textiles and other bits of equipment required by our armament factories—machine tools and so on—had been, or so I gathered, curtailed in view of the change in the European Payments Union position of this country, and in view of the fact that in the textile industry of this country there is now a certain amount of spare capacity and it is more desirable to buy our clothing and textiles from them than abroad.

At the time that the organisation was launched—and it was quite a considerable one with offices in many towns in Europe—it looked as if the Services might be in a very serious situation indeed, and quite unable to buy the clothing and textiles which they urgently needed because our own industry was fully engaged and, indeed, was doing an equally important service to the country by exporting large quantities of goods, and we did not want to interfere with those exports.

Now, I gather, because the situation is changed, there has been a change of policy on the part of the Minister. I should like to know whether this organisation has merely been curtailed or closed down. Do we still maintain these offices in the various countries of Europe which started off a very important and a very good job indeed in buying the various goods we required? I think that it would be of some interest to the Committee if the Parliamentary Secretary could tell us broadly from which countries and to what extent the clothing and textiles amounting to £37½ million were bought during the period that the European Purchasing Commission was in operation.

It was one of our purposes in launching this organisation to see that so far as possible the purchases should go to those countries where there was substantial unemployment, as obviously we would be doing something to stabilise and strengthen Western Europe by giving the countries where there was unemployment a useful and important job to do and would, at the same time, be strengthening our armament programme in a very marked way. If the hon. Gentleman can give us any information of the sources from which these clothing and textile purchases came I should be grateful.

There are several questions which I should like to ask about machine tools. I am glad to see that we are buying £7¼ million of machine tools above those originally anticipated to accelerate the defence programme. The provision of machine tools was always one of the greatest anxieties of my Ministry when I was in charge of it, because the progress of the armament programme depended largely on the flow of an adequate number of machine tools from abroad to this country, and, indeed, it would have dislocated very seriously not only our armament programme but a large part of our economy if the anticipated number of machine tools had not arrived in this country and in time.

Thanks to the arrangements made by the Ministry and particularly the industrial officer we brought into the Ministry, Mr. Rawson, who did a very good job, and the civil servants who worked with him, we were enabled to make valuable arrangements with the United States administration for the delivery of machine tools to this country for the armament programmes, and we also bought substantial numbers from Europe.

At the time when the last Government came to an end, there was anxiety created by various statements made in the United States and other events which made us not quite so certain as we had been before that we were in fact going to get those machine tools when they were required and when they had been promised, and it looked as if the growing armament programme of the United States might affect our order books and might even arrest, in spite of the promise given us, particularly by Mr. C. E. Wilson when he was over here, the flow of some of the machine tools which we urgently require.

I do not know what has happened since. I think the Committee would like to know whether the Supplementary Estimate for machine tools to the value of £7¼ million indicates either that machine tools are flowing and likely to flow to this country from the United States during this quarter and next year to the extent that we anticipate and require if our armament programme is not entirely to be dislocated with great loss of resources, or whether there is in fact developing a serious short-fall in the delivery of these machine tools.

The position will no doubt be known to the Minister. If he is unable to answer this question immediately and can let us know on some subsequent occasion, I shall understand his difficulty. I should very much like to know the position, as it is, in my view, very important indeed, and has a considerable effect not only on our armament programme but on the economy of the nation.

These are the only questions that I want to raise, but, as I said earlier, I know the details of this matter possibly better than many Members of the Committee and therefore my inquisitiveness and curiosity is partly allayed because I know so many of the facts; but there may be Members on this side not so familiar with the policies underlying the Supplementary Estimates or the facts which developed, anyhow to the end of the previous Government, who may want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary many more questions than I have put to him.

Mr. Edelman

I could not help feeling as I listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), the former Minister of Supply, that he was being rather over-generous to the present Minister of Supply, and I also could not help feeling that he was being rather over-generous to himself. To the extent that he accepts responsibility for the consequences of his activities in this Estimate, I should like to draw his attention, as well as the attention of the present Minister of Supply, to some of the dangers and menaces expressed in the Estimate.

Throughout industry today—by "industry" I mean not only the trade unionists but also the employers—there is great anxiety and concern about the present direction of the Ministry of Supply. To deal with past history, I need only refer to the matter of clothing and textiles and the placing of substantial orders abroad at a time when it should not have been difficult to foresee that conditions might arise in which it would be necessary to stimulate employment in our textile industry by means of an injection such as re-armament could afford.

I want to speak more particularly of the engineering and motor industries, which are directly affected by the Estimate. The Ministry of Supply has decided that the production of motor cars should be curtailed, and the result is that skilled men are being thrown out of employment.

The Deputy-Chairman

That subject is not relevant to the Estimate.

Mr. Edelman

I suggest that it is relevant, in the sense that at the present time the Ministry of Supply is calling for more money in order to improve its administrative staff, and I am about to suggest that the difficulty which arises today in the engineering industry is due to the inadequacy of the Minister and those associated with him in not placing the orders which should have provided work for the men who have now been displaced because of the Ministry's policy. I submit that in that sense the subject is directly relevant to the Estimate.

I want to ask the Minister whether orders have been given to engineering and motor firms which would enable them within a reasonable time to absorb the men who have been thrown out of work by his Department's policy. Whereas on the one hand, by a deliberate decision of the Government—I am not suggesting that it is a decision merely of the Ministry of Supply; it is a deliberate decision of the Government—

The Deputy-Chairman

I do not see how the hon. Member can relate the general issue of unemployment, or unemployment in a particular trade, to the items in the Estimate. The general question of unemployment cannot be discussed on the Estimate.

Mr. Edelman

I am suggesting that the reason why the Ministry has not been able to deliver to the Services the goods which were covered in the original Estimates is that the Ministry has not succeeded in placing the orders for the equipment which the Services require. That is due to lack of planning on the part of the Ministry, and that is why there is such confusion throughout the engineering industry today. That is directly the reason why employers and workers are complaining about the chaos which clearly exists in the Ministry. They are complaining about the anti-planning of the Ministry of Supply—

The Deputy-Chairman

There may be many complaints, but they cannot be discussed on this Estimate. All we can discuss are the additional sums of money which are being sought in the Estimate.

Mr. Edelman

I wish to suggest to the Committee that it is directly as a result of that that we should consider very carefully whether we ought to provide more money for the Ministry's administrative service.

The Deputy-Chairman

That is clearly out of order. All that the Committee can discuss are the additional sums which are asked for in the Estimate.

Mr. Edelman

That is precisely the point to which I am applying myself. Under Item A (Salaries and Wages (Headquarters, etc.)) the sum of £750,000 is required. I am suggesting that until we have an assurance from the present Minister that the planning of the orders for the equipment required for the Services will be more efficient and more successful, the Committee should consider very carefully whether it ought to vote that sum of money. I suggest that it is relevant to consider the efficiency or inefficiency of those who have been concerned with the placing of orders for equipment for the Armed Services. The Supplementary Estimate shows clearly that the orders have not been placed.

6.45 p.m.

To illustrate whether orders have or have not been placed, there are in the Midlands—I speak of the Midlands generally and not of my own constituency —large factories which have not enough work simply because the Ministry did not place the orders to keep the factories in production. It is because the orders were not placed that on page 70 of the Supplementary Estimates we have a long list of products, such as airframes, aero-engines, armament and vehicles—

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member cannot discuss the items on page 70. We are discussing additional sums which are required. The hon. Member must confine himself to the amounts which are asked for.

Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)

. On a point of order. Is it not in order for my hon. Friend to discuss the appropriations-in-aid on page 71? They were referred to extensively by the Minister, who gave a long account to show how the expected deficiencies had arisen. My hon. Friend is referring to some of the reasons why the deficiencies occurred.

The Deputy-Chairman

I understood that the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) was referring to items on page 70. If the hon. Member is drawing attention to appropriations-in-aid, that is in order, but he cannot discuss the items on page 70.

Mr. Edelman

I apologise for not having made myself clear. I want to talk about the deficiencies which have arisen and the reasons why those deficiencies have arisen. The major reason has been that, because of his inherent hostility to planning, the Minister has not placed orders which would have provided equipment. Therefore, contracts have not been placed with major factories up and down the country which would otherwise have had the skilled men to enable them to supply the equipment, and, consequently, the equipment which the Ministry seeks and the country needs has not been made available. The consequences which have flowed from the present direction of the Ministry has been disastrous, not only to the arms programme, but also in the sense that substantial and grievous unemployment has been caused.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

I wish to refer to the question of machine tools. I want to offer a word or two of advice to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary. The Minister has told us what we can expect. We have already spent an enormous amount of money which we can ill afford, and the Minister is now asking for a further substantial amount to buy machine tools. I do not quarrel with that, for the machine tools are necessary for our re-armament programme, but I want him to be very certain that the machine tools are used for the job they are designed to do and will not have to be scrapped.

When we are spending the taxpayer's money to this extent, it is important that the machine tools shall be available for a dual purpose, and not a single purpose. They must be available for an immediate change-over to the production of consumer goods in the Royal Ordnance factories and also in private enterprise factories. This will enable us to keep in work those who are being thrown out of work in certain circumstances.

I stress that as a result of our experience in the last war. At the end of the war we found ourselves with an enormous amount of very valuable machinery which was not of much service to the community at large for the production of civilian goods. I know that I am almost out of order, but I wanted to offer a word of advice, and neither the right hon. Gentleman nor his Parliamentary Secretary have much technical experience. They have a very able staff behind them, but even that staff can often spend very quickly an enormous amount of the taxpayers' money by not having a long-term policy and by being rather panicky about immediate needs.

I hope the submission that I have made will be taken note of and so far as is practicable—I know the difficulties—this money will be spent in such a way that after we have done with the creation of instruments of destruction we can start once again to create things which will enable us to enjoy life.

Mr. Foot

There are two points I should like to make, and they are concerned with this item of Appropriations-in-Aid on page 71. The importance of this item was stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman), and if, in fact, unemployment has begun to rear its head because of the failure to place orders for which money has been provided under the Estimates, then we should have some further explanation of how this has arisen.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) called attention to the figures, which are staggering because the total which was given to the Ministry of Supply at the beginning of the financial year to provide materials was roughly £370 million and the actual sum spent is £290 million. There is a very big short-fall there, and this has been stressed all the more because I understand that one of the figures given by the Minister of Supply as an expected deficiency was, I think, £56 million. Therefore, a very large proportion of the extra amount which the Ministry were expected to use when the original Estimate was passed has not, in fact, been spent.

If it is possible, the Minister of Supply ought to give us a more detailed explanation than he has done of the exact kind of materials and provisions for Her Majesty's Forces that have not been supplied. We ought to be able to judge the different reasons which may have contributed to that state of affairs. Every hon. Member will agree that the figures are staggering in this respect, and we ought to be told what are the particular items which the Ministry of Supply expected to supply to the Army, amounting to some £19 million, which they have not been able to provide, and the same for the Admiralty and other Services.

If we could be told the different kinds of commodities and items under these various Estimates which have not been supplied, it would help us to arrive at a conclusion on the subject. As much as £56 million which was to be spent has not been spent. That sum would have made a big difference to our Budget discussions last year. If we had had that £56 million for expenditure on other things, it would have resulted in a different position from that which we discussed. I think we ought to have from the Minister an explanation which goes further than the information already given.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

I wonder whether the Minister will confirm my view that the deficiencies shown in the appropriations in aid are not necessarily money that is left over, but arise from the fact that during the year orders have been placed which have not yet been completed. They may well be completed during the coming year. I make that point because during the coming weeks, when we are discussing the re-armament programme, it will be very important for us to get clear in our minds the difficulties of fitting into the financial year a programme of production which involves placing such orders as these and also involves an act of faith about the completion of those orders. It seems to me that there has been a great deal of misunderstanding on this particular point, and it would help if the Minister cleared it up.

I do not want to take up very much of the Committee's time, but I want to turn now to one specific item which deals with clothing and textiles. I do not apologise for detaining the Committee on this point, because my constituency is concerned with the production of clothing. The industries engaged in that trade have run into difficult times during the last few months, and there is a tendency for unemployment and under-production to ensue. As I understand it, orders for clothing were placed abroad last year when it was not possible for those orders to be executed in this country within the specified time, because our productive capacity was being used to its maximum. Therefore, my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) was forced to go outside this country if we were to get this clothing within the period in which it was wanted.

The situation has changed now and I want to know whether the Minister is watching this problem very closely. I am quite sure that he is aware of the difficulty, and I hope he is sufficiently interested in it to have the interests of Dudley in mind. In my constituency there are highly competent workmen who could be absorbed in this trade if there were further orders. A sum of £37½ million is to be spent, and it may be that of the £19¾ million for clothing a little could be spent in Dudley. I know that I am getting out of order, and I shall not pursue that matter further. I am not going to trespass on the generosity or the time of the Committee, and if the Minister can give me an assurance that the clothing interests of Dudley are being looked after, I shall be happy, as will the Fighting Services, because they can be quite sure that they will get high-class material at very reasonable prices.

Mr. Shurmer

I do not know whether I shall be out of order in saying what I propose to say, but in the City of Birmingham we have a thousand and one trades, and the delay in placing orders among the small factories—

The Deputy-Chairman

I am afaid that the hon. Member is getting beyond the scope of this Supplementary Estimate.

Mr. Shurmer

I was dealing with the question of the delay in placing these orders.

The Deputy-Chairman

That is out of order on this Supplementary Estimate. Mr. Low.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. A. R. W. Low)

I shall do my best to answer the questions that have been raised from all parts of the Committee, but in answering some of the issues put from behind the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) I shall have to take into account the fairly sharp criticism of his administration rather than of the administration of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply.

The first point made was on the important matter of what exactly this shortfall means. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) put the point in a way which I found congenial to myself, as it is difficult to understand. The short-fall is taking into account the fact that we are dealing with annual Estimates, and, of course, it is right to say that orders have been placed for all this equipment and a great deal more, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. That point I shall come to in a moment. What we mean by short-fall is a lag or delay in delivery.

In the course of his very clear statement my right hon. Friend was asked by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall about the amount of clothing that was taken into account in the receipts and estimates shown in the Supplementary Estimate. The right hon. Gentleman will notice that the full figure of £38 million in this Supplementary Estimate refers to both clothing and textiles. He would not, I am sure, expect all of that to be delivered to the Services. All the clothing that was for delivery to the Services is taken into account in the receipts shown in item Z. Is that clear to the right hon. Gentleman?

7.0 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary might clarify it a bit more. Does he mean that we have spent more in getting raw materials, cloth for example, and that it has not all been delivered to the services because it has not all been made up? If that is so, is it possible to divide the £37½ million, which is so colossal? Perhaps we could be told that £30 million of it is material that has been purchased and is likely to be made up and delivered in clothing of such a condition as the Services want it during the next six months. Unless we have some such division of the figure, it is difficult to understand the significance of the £37½ million.

Mr. Low

I was just going to give the division. It is that £15 million of the increased expenditure on clothing is covered by the deliveries of clothing to the Services in this current year and is included in the figure of £294 million which my right hon. Friend has mentioned. The balance of the Supplementary Estimate for clothing and textiles is not due for delivery this year and is not therefore included in the £294 million. That should make the position exactly clear.

I come to the point taken by the hon. Member for Coventry. North (Mr. Edelman) and the hon. Member for Devon- port (Mr. Foot), in which they charged the Ministry of Supply with not having placed enough orders and therefore with being responsible for unemployment. I do not think that it needs me to remind the Committee that that charge, if it were really meant to be taken fully seriously, is against the right hon. Member for Vauxhall. Perhaps I can clear up the position by stating that we have placed orders already to the approximate value of £1,200 million Out of £1,600 million of requisitions to be received under the three years' programme of £4,700 million. I do not think it can be said that there is any lag in the placing of orders.

Mr. Edelman

My charge is certainly not against my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss). My charge is against the present Government. It is that today the two programmes, the civilian and the armament programmes, are out of phase. The civilian programme, by the decision of the present Government, is being tapered off at too sharp a speed, whereas the armament programme has not been entered into upon a sufficiently large scale. The result is that men are being thrown out of work on the civil side and are not being taken on upon the armament side at all.

Mr. Low

I should be out of order if I replied to that interruption and if I referred to anything which is not going to be delivered to the Services this year. We have to pay regard to the rules of order. I must return to the Supplementary Estimate.

Mr. Wigg

The Parliamentary Secretary has mentioned £1,200 million for orders already placed. Would he be kind enough to tell us how much of that has been placed by the present Government?

Mr. Low

I cannot answer that question directly, but it is quite a substantial figure.

I now pass to machine tools, points about which were made by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones). I am glad that he paid a tribute to Mr. Rawson. My right hon. Friend and I would like to join in it. We recognise as much as he does that so much depends upon the arrival of these machine tools from abroad, and particularly from the United States. The hon. Member for Rotherham put the point that we should try to see that of the machine tools that we have to pay for through these Estimates and others, as few as possible are of the specialist type and as many as possible are of a type useful for normal industrial production.

I note that point, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that some parts of armament production depend upon specialist tools and that the availability of specialist tools governs both the speed and the economic manufacture of the things that have to be produced.

Mr. Jack Jones

I said I realised there was difficulty about specialist tools but that there was an enormous amount of capital expenditure on tools which could have been used in other ways.

Mr. Low

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said.

The only other point concerns clothing. The right hon. Gentleman asked me in particular about the European Purchasing Commission. The future of that body is now under consideration. Its organisation is being curtailed. So far we have placed orders for clothing and bought clothing and textiles from the following countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Holland and Italy, and a small quantity from Switzerland. That is the position about clothing. I do not think I should be in order if I widened my reply about the European Purchasing Commission. I have tried to answer the main points put to the Committee and I hope the Committee will now feel able to accept this Vote.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman can deal with the points I made and the question which I asked him and which he has not touched upon at all. When he talked about the short-fall, I suggested that the figure of the short-fall did not mean very much unless it were accompanied by some sort of estimate of the length of time of the short-fall. Is £75 million a short-fall which will last for a year or 18 months, or one which it is hoped will be overcome within three or six months. On the answer to that question really depends our estimate of the extent to which the original re-armament programme is falling down.

Mr. Low

Production under the programme is going on all the time. As I explained to the Committee, the short-fall is really a delay in delivery under that programme but there is no immediate prospect that we shall catch up the time that we have lost. Meanwhile production goes ahead.

Mr. Strauss

Can the Parliamentary Secretary give us an average figure? I know it cannot be done exactly but is it possible to do it even broadly?

Mr. Low

I have not even tried to do it because the figure would be very misleading.

Mr. Wigg

The Parliamentary Secretary has not replied to me about clothing. He was rather nice-minded and punctilious about being in order and I must follow his excellent example. I hope that the Committee are aware of the difficulties in the clothing trade and that they will bear the needs of the various areas in mind.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

Before the hon. Gentleman replies, will he bear another point in mind? At the moment the development areas are foreseeing the danger of a trade recession. There is already substantial unemployment in some parts of the development areas. In these areas there are clothing factories which are often run by large enterprises. If there is any contraction of trade in the clothing industry, those factories may well be closed because, from a purely commercial and business point of view—

The Deputy-Chairman


Mr. Willey

The point I am pursuing is that the Minister is asking for some extra money with which to buy clothing for the Forces. I was asking a question to make sure that he will spend it in the best possible way.

Mr. Low

Perhaps I should clear up that last point. We are asking for extra money to pay for clothing that is being produced and will be delivered. That is why I was under some difficulty in answering the point put by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). However, I can give him the assurance that we are paying the closest attention to the placing of clothing contracts, and in the course of his speech at the beginning of this short debate, my right hon. Friend made clear our policy in this respect.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £50,000,000, be granted to Her Majesty to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1952, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Supply for the supply of munitions, aircraft, common-user and other articles and atomic energy and for research and development, inspection, storage, disposal and capital and ancillary services related thereto; for administrative services in connection with the iron and steel, non-ferrous and light metals and engineering industries; for the operation of the Royal Ordnance Factories and official car services; and for miscellaneous supplies and services.