HL Deb 27 September 1939 vol 114 cc1161-85

4.59 p.m.

LORD SNELL rose to call attention to the statements on the situation made yesterday on behalf of His Majesty's Government. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the discussions that follow the weekly progress report that we now receive, the aim should not necessarily be to embarrass Ministers by criticisms which circumstances may prevent them from answering effectively. It should, I think, be to emphasize for the benefit of the nation as a whole the sequence of events which have taken place in a rather more emphatic way than the formal official phrases sometimes reveal. Parliament is to-day, as for centuries past it has been, the very focal point of British civilisation, and to it the people of our country look both for inspiration and for guidance.

It is right, therefore, that Parliament, in addition to the official pride which was yesterday expressed in regard to the rescues by the Royal Air Force of the captain and crew of the "Kensington Court," should itself say how moved it was by the beneficent action and enterprise of the members of that Force. If when we were boys we had read of shipwrecked people seeing wonderful eagles from the sky descend upon them to carry them to a place of safety, we should have been thrilled to our bones; but to-day we can only express our very great thanks and admiration for men engaged in such beneficent enterprises. The nation, I am sure, would wish the combined Forces of His Majesty on land, in the air, and on the sea, including the Mercantile Marine and the fishing fleets, to know how greatly what they are doing is appreciated and admired. I hope I may also be permitted to express my own personal admiration and appreciation of those U-Boat captains who, in a hateful duty, remembered the great chivalry of the sea and were courteous and helpful to the victims of their labours. Their act, in comparison with the sinking of the "Athenia," for instance, was as "a good deed in a naughty world," and I am sure our own gallant seamen will always meet such courtesy by reciprocation as far as possible.

There are only one or two points which I desire to mention in regard to the statement that we heard yesterday. I do not propose to say anything in the matter of supply, because my noble friend Lord Addison will have something to say about it later, nor shall I touch upon the question of the Ministry of Information. I desire first of all to say a word about the defence of Warsaw, which, in my judgment, is one of the great events of modern history. With everything in life to lose except honour, those men who are so valiantly defending their native land seem almost lightly to be meeting a death which history will ever remember, and I am sure their story will be told with awe and homage when the act of their aggressors will be just an execrated memory.

I would like to strike a different note in regard to the matter of labour co-operation in present circumstances. I understand that the matter of that relationship is under review, and I shall not speak long upon it. It is necessary to say, however, with all the emphasis that we can give, that the attitude that has so far been adopted has got to be altered. We are not appearing as workers now, cap in hand, on a mere matter of hours or conditions, and the stiff and haughty detachment that we know so well has got to be abandoned. It takes months to thaw the frozen official mind on matters of this kind, but the process must not take too long. That is all I have to say in the matter of criticism of the statement which we welcomed yesterday.

If the House will permit me, at the same time I should like to make a very short comment on the statement made by the noble Marquess in regard to India. The first word is that it is necessary we should not over-estimate the seriousness of the attitude which the Congress Party have felt it right to assume. It was natural that they should wish to take advantage of this crisis to further their own particular political claims. Those claims are not new. They are part of a very old programme, and are claims which are now being merely restated. All of us, I think, have been encouraged by what has happened in India since the Government of India Act was passed. It has shown signs of producing a rising statesmanship and an experience of administration that are going to be of increasing value both to India and the Empire. These will undoubtedly produce episodes, but they will be overcome, and every month of experience that is gained is something to the common advantage. Speaking for my friends on these Benches, we understand the anxiety of the Indian people about their political situation. We have always wished self-government in India to grow, but there is a time, or rather there are times, when to pause in demands is really to progress more quickly than by hurrying on where you cannot see clearly.

I have no sort of right, other than that of an old worker for Indian freedom, to advise Indians at the present time—they are able and loyal and sincere men—but we also have social plans of our own which we have had to suspend, and we shall not forget them when the time comes. But first things have to come first, and so the first thing now, before all of us in every part of the world where free men exist—for we are all in it together—is so to deal with lawless aggression that free men everywhere may feel that they can continue to live in a free world. India will share in these great benefits, and I am sure the Indian people will know in those circumstances what to do. I cannot help feeling, as my last word on this matter, that a very great opportunity is presented at the present time for us to send articulate envoys to India to interpret the present situation, and to explain and reassure the Indians of our interest and our belief in their future. That is all I think I need to say on the statements made yesterday, for which I again thank the two noble Lords who made them.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not attempt to cover any ground which has been dealt with by the noble Earl's statement, but I should like to add a word to what has fallen from the noble Lord who leads the Opposition on the subject of India, because circumstances years ago enabled me to get more first-hand knowledge of Indian affairs than is the lot of most people, and the more knowledge I obtained of those affairs the greater became my admiration and affection for India. Now it was no surprise to me, and I think no surprise to anybody acquainted with the subject, that the voice of India rang out clearly in support of the principles on behalf of which we have been forced into this unhappy war. The attitude of the Indian Princes and the Rulers of States can have been clearly anticipated. We know, and we always have known, the loyalty that they have felt to the King-Emperor and their conviction that the British rule in India is the happiest thing for them, as for the rest of the peninsula; and the class of those engaged in business in India would naturally assume a similar attitude. What is even more striking, the vast millions of the Indian people, the millions of cultivators, amid all the distress and poverty which afflict many of them, feel, I am sure, that on the whole the British dominion in India has been for their good.

But there is also, of course, the political class, to whom the noble Marquess the Secretary of State alluded, and whose position has been touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Snell. Taking the Indian Congress as an example, it must be remembered that that body covers many different shades of opinion, and among those who hold what would be called Congress views there are certainly many who are not essentially opposed to our presence in India, and desire reform rather than revolution. We have all, I think, noted with interest the accounts of the interviews between the Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi, Mr. Gandhi being, as we all know, opposed to demonstrations of force anywhere and in any form. I trust that the outcome of these conversations will be altogether happy. In passing I should like to express a word of sympathy with the Viceroy in the heavy burden of responsibility which at this moment he has to bear.

The noble Marquess alluded to the fact that in some of the more extreme quarters there has been a disposition towards a conditional form of agreement with the policy of the Government—conditional on certain political advantages to be acquired in the future. I can say confidently that all the attempts to secure hypothetical advantages in the event of victory, whether those attempts are made by Allies or possible Allies, or whether they are made by different political elements in this country or in the Empire, are radically mistaken. During the last war there were many instances of proceedings of that kind, from none of which, so far as I know, advantage accrued to those who made the attempts, or indeed to the general cause of the victors or to the establishment of sound results from victory. The fact is that in a great world convulsion such as this nobody can possibly foresee what the repercussions may be on particular countries, or on the political hopes entertained by those who inhabit those different countries. It was wisely said long ago that "Things are what they are, and the consequences will be what they will be. Why then should we deceive ourselves?" All that we can say is that both in the West and in the East, when this storm is over, results may follow about which at this moment it would be foolish to prophesy. All that we can hope is that when peace comes, those possible changes will be considered and dealt with in a sober and quiet atmosphere, and with as little prejudice as possible.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I need not say I share with the noble Marquess who has just sat down a great feeling of sympathy and admiration for the efforts which the Viceroy is making at this moment in his dealing with opinion in India, and I also share with him the hope that in the future any further conditions of change will be considered in an atmosphere of sobriety such as he has described. I also should like to say how greatly I sympathised with the noble Marquess the Secretary of State yesterday when he said we ought to be very grateful for the expressions of loyalty which have come from India, especially from the Princes and certain Mahomedan Prime Ministers whom he mentioned. All that I would most warmly echo, and I hope of course all the bitterness of past years may pass away.

But I ought to add this. When the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition congratulates the country upon the condition of things in India which has arisen out of the Government of India Act, there he places me in rather a difficulty. Since the Act passed, everyone will admit we have done nothing substantial to interfere with its working—of course not. The Act is passed, and it ought to be the hope of everyone that it will work satisfactorily; but I do not agree with the noble Lord in congratulating the country upon the results of the Act. I desire merely to place upon record that there are many of us who are conscious of what we said at the time the Act was passing, and our experience since leads us to differ very respectfully from the Leader of the Opposition in his congratulations.

As to what the special conditions are which the Secretary of State told us had been put forward by members of the Congress Party when he spoke yesterday, frankly I do not know, and I do not know how far they have been published. The noble Lord (Lord Snell) said it is very natural that that sort of plea should be put forward at a moment like this, and so it' is. Everybody foresaw that that would certainly happen. The one thing I should like to say is this, that we did not admire the Act and we do not admire it now, because it was a concession to pressure, and concessions to pressure are a mistake. They are the real author of a great deal of much greater evil which has followed in policy since. Concessions to conviction, yes, but concessions to pressure, no, unless you are so weak that you cannot resist it. Therefore I thought, without desiring once more to embark upon the Indian controversy, I would just like to utter this saving so as to show that the sort of language used by the noble Lord is not universally shared.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, in the very few observations I propose to make in reply to what has been said with regard to the position of India I shall endeavour to steer between the Scylla, if I may so dub the noble Lord opposite, and the Charybdis, if I may so name my noble friend the Marquess of Salisbury. The noble Lord, Lord Snell, said it was natural, though perhaps rather ill-timed, that the leaders of the Congress should take this opportunity of reasserting claims towards a fuller form of self-government than they at present possess. I quite appreciate the fact that it is natural. I know many of the leaders of the Congress movement. They are men who are animated by a burning patriotism, and they do, I think, sometimes a little lose sight, by lifting their eyes to the stars, of the practical difficulties which stand in their way on the ground at their feet. But while I am ready to admit it may be natural that they should take this occasion to re-emphasize their claims, I cannot help expressing the feeling that it is somewhat unfortunate that they should have chosen this time to reassert these claims.

I say that for more reasons than one. The British people are very susceptible to treatment which they regard as honourable and appropriate to a particular occasion. They would be very much more willing when the time comes to listen to claims made to them if they were animated by a spirit of gratitude for assistance rendered at a time of difficulty than if they were animated by a spirit of resentment at the choosing of such an occasion for taking action which may be calculated to be embarrassing to them in a life-and-death struggle. I am sorry for a further reason and it is this. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Snell, said when he pointed out that it was a tremendous advantage to India that there were now a large number of ardent Indian Nationalists who had had the advantage of experience in the actual work of administration. It would be a calamity if such men at this time were to be withdrawn from the Governments in the Provinces. They have shown that they are capable of dealing with the problems which face them in their country, and they have co-operated in an admirable spirit with the Governors with whom they have been associated, and, as I said yesterday, I have nothing but praise for the manner in which, up to now, they have co-operated in carrying through the measures which have been necessitated by the outbreak of war. And so I say that I think the time has been ill-chosen by the leaders of the Congress for a reiteration of their claims.

I am not at the moment in a position to give to your Lordships any further information with regard to the discussions which are taking place between the Governor-General and leaders of opinion. As your Lordships are aware, the Governor-General had a long talk yesterday with Mr. Gandhi once more, and he is proposing to have, indeed I think he may actually be engaged in, a discussion at this moment with Mr. Jinnah, Leader of the All-India Moslem League. It is his intention to discuss matters with other leaders in the course of the next few days, and we can only hope that as the result of a frank and free exchange of views between the Governor-General and the leaders of the political Parties in India, we may find that they will co-operate with us in a task the aim of which they entirely approve, for there is not the smallest doubt that from one end of India to the other there is a growing appreciation of the necessity of uprooting and destroying, once and for all, the form of government which has been responsible for bringing upon mankind this great calamity.

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, I have been asked by my noble friends to invite your Lordships' attention for a short time to other matters arising out of the statement which has been made to us. Before doing so I would like to note a rather startling observation of the noble Marquess who has now left the House. I think he said that it was never right, or had never proved fruitful in big results, "to yield to pressure," or words to that effect. I am very surprised that one with his profound knowledge of history should give utterance to such an observation. I have known Governments yield to pressure lots of times; I have even known this Government yield to pressure lots of times, to the great public advantage, and I can only hope that in the discussions that may be initiated from time to time from an entirely patriotic motive we may stilt find the Government willing to yield somewhat to sensible pressure.

I think we all welcome the statement which was made by the First Lord of the Admiralty yesterday. It was an example, I think, of the wisdom of telling the people something that really can be appreciated as relating to realities. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister of Information will have marked the excellent public effect of that frank and encouraging statement, and I hope that the small number of journalists who appear to be in his Ministry will be able, as a result, to exert a somewhat greater influence than they appear to have exercised hitherto.

But the matter to which I want to invite your Lordships' attention is the position with regard to supplies, partly arising out of the statement of the Prime Minister but chiefly arising out of the statement of the Minister of Supply in another place. I have before me—and I am bound to have it before me—the report of the Minister's statement of the 21st September, and I have to say to your Lordships that my friends, who have given a close study to this question, like myself, are dismayed at the prospect opened up by the Minister's statement. It is on that account that I am addressing you to-day. I would ask your Lordships just for a few minutes to allow me to remind you what it is the Minister has said to us, how he has presented the position. He has told us that the effort of the whole country is needed in furnishing the supplies required. He said, to quote his own words, that the task is for the whole industry and for the whole man-power of the nation. We all agree with that, and what we have to ask ourselves is whether the steps proposed by the Minister are likely to mobilise the man-power of the nation and the whole power of industry in providing what we require.

If your Lordships will remember, the Minister told the other place that he was setting up in various parts of the country a number of controls of raw materials. Now everybody knows that the essential of supplies is making sure that there will be sufficient raw materials to manufacture things with, and I look at that from the point of view not only of what our war industries require, but what essential peace industries require—industries which are essential to the conduct and continuance of the life of the nation. The Minister made mention of a number of schemes that he had initiated whereby he had set up various controls, as they were called, and we are provided with a list of the materials that are to be controlled. I have the list before me—aluminium and so forth. But I want to invite your Lordships' attention to one or two remarkable features of this list. The first is that it makes no mention of oils and fats, and apparently no steps have been taken so far as the list shows to deal with the essential supplies of oils and fats. Now I remember very well in the last war that this was in many respects one of the most critical classes of our raw materials. It is impossible to exaggerate the folly of leaving it out in the first instance, or, in the next instance, of not taking the most comprehensive measures to secure the continuance or augmentation of our supplies. There is not a word about this in the Minister's statement. The whole possibility of our supply of propellant explosives, for example, depends upon it, apart altogether from homely things like cattle cake and soap.

There is nothing in the Minister's statement as to any steps which are to be taken to secure us in this respect, nor is there anything about chemical supplies, except sulphuric acid and fertilisers. There is another remarkable feature about the statement. Aluminium supplies are to be centred at Shrewsbury, hemp and flax at Chester and Dundee, iron and steel in London, jute in Dundee, molasses at Epsom, non-ferrous metals at Rugby, paper at Reading, silk and rayon at Macclesfield, sulphuric acid in Berkeley Square, Bristol, timber at Bristol and wool at Bradford. Well, as a matter of elementary organisation it is impossible to administer that scheme, because everything almost that you may imagine that enters into supply will require not one or two but a dozen of these things in it. Imagine the position of the unfortunate manufacturer who has to supply himself, supposing he is not supplied by the Ministry, which apparently is not proposed. If he wants aluminium, he must send to Shrewsbury, if he wants iron and steel he addresses his communication to Tothill Street, if he wants zinc or tin he addresses his communication to 46, Albert Street, Rugby, and so on. It beggars description as a piece of organisation. It will paralyse our manufacturers from one end of the country to another.

And what does the Minister say about the purpose of this organisation so distributed? He says that the purpose is to ascertain whether any shortage or difficulty is to be expected and then to see that what is available is used to the best advantage. Those are both very praiseworthy purposes, but there is a startling sequel, which throws a light—an unfortunate light, I think—upon the mind of the Minister and the minds of those who are advising him. I should have thought that One of the primary purposes of an organisation of this kind would be not only to eke out what supply we have—which of course is very right and proper—but also to make sure that we can augment our supplies. On the subject of the augmentation of supplies this is what the Minister says: If there is any doubt whether supplies that could be obtained will still come by the normal processes of trade, it will be necessary to step in to see whether some other stimulus to importation is required. I have not heard the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place to-day, although I dare say intelligence has filtered through to this side of the building as to what is happening about Income Tax, but if there is one thing certain, it is that difficulties of exchange will have to be borne in mind. The Minister, however, seems only to think of augmenting supplies by importation. Surely the first method of increasing our supplies is by increasing our home products. I will take one instance which I remember tragically well—that is, sulphuric acid. In the last war we had to set up immense factories to augment our supplies of fuming sulphuric acid because the war time requirements of this particular material were entirely out of accord with peace time requirements. That applies also to lots of other things. But the Minister says nothing about the activities of these various bodies scattered up and down the country in setting to work to augment our supplies. I should have thought that was the first essential.

I would like to carry a little further this examination of the Minister's statement. He defines the various purposes which he considers the Ministry of Supply should serve, and I think on the whole they are very well defined. But then he proceeds to tell us how the Ministry is proposing to tackle its job, and I would like to quote to your Lordships some of his statements. He said that in peace time the Ministry of Supply was the normal departmental machine, and then he went on to say: You cannot instantaneously produce from an empty field or an empty building, munitions of war. Machinery has to be collected, machine tools arranged in their right order, jigs and tools prepared. He went on to say also: In some cases the lag between authority to begin and actual output even in war time cannot be reduced below twelve months.… There is gun production for instance, and there are certain kinds of explosives which cannot be produced within twelve months from the order to begin. If it is possible to do it more quickly of course we shall do so, but that is the advice which is tendered to us. What have these people been doing? We have had a Supply Board long enough. We had an organisation which I thought—I think we all thought—was dealing with these things beforehand.

I hope the Minister is only using picturesque terms when he talks about being confronted with an empty building and having now to set to work to collect machine tools, jigs and all the rest of it. It is quite true, unfortunately true, that there are many things which certainly cannot be produced within twelve months of the starting of a factory—sometimes a good deal longer, It am sorry to say—but these gentlemen are the same people who were in the Supply Board. After all, the Ministry of Supply is simply the Supply Department of the War Office. It is not the Supply Department for the Air Ministry, and it is not the Supply Department for the Admiralty: it is the Supply Department of the War Office glorified by another name, separated from the War Office and called the Ministry of Supply. I think we are entitled to ask in view of this statement of the Minister, what in the world the Supply Board has been doing. The thing that should have occurred to the Board, I should have thought, would have been to make sure of the supplies of material, a liberal supply of jigs, gauges, drawings and all that kind of thing. But the Minister of Supply speaks as if he was beginning from the grass. It is more than a year now since we all agreed that the Territorial Force should be doubled. I suggest that these same gentlemen who constitute the Ministry of Supply should have given thought a long time ago to these questions, and that we should not have the Minister coming down now to the House and emphasizing the necessity of setting about collecting jigs and gauges.

But I think the statement of the Minister requires even a little further probing into. At a certain part of his speech he said that some of the work he was arranging for in the national factories. I am not in the least desirous of introducing any political feeling into it at all; I am sure the noble Lord who is going to reply will accept that. I do not care a bit whether it is a national factory or anybody else's factory; that is immaterial. But it was certain that immensely increased supplies would be required. Everybody knew they would be when we doubled the Territorials and arranged for the Militia, even before the outbreak of war. It is no good calling men to the colours if you cannot arm them when you get them there. It was known a long time ago that the forces to be equipped were vastly greater than the ordinary Army, and it was therefore essential that steps should have been taken to mobilise the industrial resources of the country to produce the equipment required.

Here I come to an even more disappointing part of the Minister's statement, and that deals with how he proposes to mobilise the industrial resources of the country to produce these requirements. What is he proposing to do about it? This is what he says: Honourable Members will appreciate the desirability of ascertaining in the first instance whether the firms in question have real manufacturing capacity or knowledge. Well, it is clearly desirable that we should have complete information as to the manufacturing capacity of our different firms. I think it is true to say that no country in the world has such riches in industrial capacity as we have, and it strikes one as alarming that only now the Minister talks about "ascertaining in the first instance" the capacity of the firms who produce. Then he goes on to say that, anyhow, he is setting up what he describes as a skeleton organisation—those are his words: "in skeleton form"—an area organisation, so to say, to find out what our different engineering firms up and down the country can supply, the parts they can make and so on.

This is what he says: I have great hopes that an area organisation which we have set up, and again of which I will give details"— and I will refer to the details in a minute—will be able to elicit knowledge, say, of the manufacturing resources of our different cities. He wants this organisation—I am quoting again: to keep a close eye on the progress of armament orders and ….. I am hopeful that it will be possible from time to time to have on exhibition in each of these centres"— that is, in these areas— a number of samples of articles of which almost illimitable quantities will inevitably be required, together with full manufacturing instructions, estimates of quantities and indications as to price. That should have been done a year ago, two years ago, and even now the Minister of Supply is only hopeful that from time to time there will be an exhibition of samples.

Really, it is indescribable. I know as a matter of fact that in one great industrial City, Leeds, the manufacturers have a long time since got together and anxiously represented their capacity. The only way, as a matter of fact, of evoking the manufacturing capacities of the different districts is to have organisations in the districts through which the manufacturers, organised labour and others with whom they will associate and who will have a full knowledge of the manufacturing resources of their areas, can be used to help to distribute samples and give help in the hundred and one difficulties which arise in the early stages of manufacture. I remember how in the last war, as a result of many mistakes and much painful experience, we gradually developed an area organisation which all the best employers in the district supported and which helped to produce or to bring into use the immense resources of these different areas. Here we have the Minister at this late stage only "hoping" that he will be able to have samples—drawings. And in order to evoke the immense capacities of our engineering resources, he has appointed to each of these areas an officer.

Well, I have no doubt that they are very good fellows. I have nothing to say against them personally. I do not know anything about them; they are Engineer Rear-Admirals and retired Majors, most of them—I see that one is Engineer Captain Sargent; the others are Rear-Admirals and retired Majors. They may be excellent fellows; I have no doubt they are, but the only way to evoke the response of these proud manufacturing districts is to bring them in themselves, to get the manufacturers in the different areas to associate frankly and fully in the method and to help to bring to our aid the immense resources of these areas. Really, the only thing that occurs to me as I look at this picture as presented by the Minister in Parliament on September 21, either from the point of view of supply of materials or the evoking of manufacturing resources in areas, is that in my judgment the men who designed this scheme ought to be told to go away and play marbles. That is all they are fit for. It is so crazy as to be indescribable; that is what ought to be said about this. I do hope that before very long we shall get something more rational and more efficient, because we want to win this war, and not to have the same blunders as in the last.

There are three things that absolutely stick out as deficient in the Minister's statement. The first is that one sees no sign of a programme. Now the first essential, clearly, is to know what it is you are required to make. There are bits and pieces of programmes, clearly, but nothing like a programme as it should be. It is not enough to say "I want 10,000 machine-guns" or "I want 2,000 eighteen-pounders." That is not enough. That is only the beginning; that has to be resolved into what it means in terms of steel and lead and aluminium and explosives, down to fatty acids, sulphuric acid, T.N.T. and everything else; what it all is in terms of material, manufacturing capacity, shell-filling capacity and all the rest of it. I do not see a glimpse of anything of that in the Minister's statement.

There are in the Minister's statement odd bits and pieces, I agree, but it is not a programme, as it should be, and I came across an interesting illustration in quite a small way this week. Amongst the other group of commodities for which the Ministry is to be responsible is agricultural implements, which the Minister has undertaken to supply. We have got a few tractors, but it never seems to have occurred to the Ministry of Supply that such a thing as a plough is required. At all events they do not seem to have been ordered. The other day we were hunting over the county to find ploughshares. The men were held up because they could not get any. It is a humble thing, but it is a very essential part of a plough. It is no good having a tractor and a plough unless you have got a ploughshare. I remember coming across a similar illustration in the last war. There was suddenly a great shortage of horseshoes, and we had to mobilise all the village blacksmiths up and down the country and get them to do the best they could. They, however, were short of the appropriate metal, and we had to make arrangements about that.

Unless a programme is resolved into its constituents and arrangements made for every constituent to be supplied in proper quantities, then the programme cannot be carried out. I am very glad to see that at last men have been appointed, some of whom bear well-known names, and I was delighted to see that Sir Andrew Duncan had been put in charge of materials. I hope he will have great success, but he has got his work cut out, if we look at the disordered and scattered organisation with which he is faced. It is very disconcerting to see no evidence in the Minister's statement of anything like a thought-out programme and all that it involves.

There is another aspect of the Minister's statement to which I would like to refer—namely, its attitude to organised labour. I can see that he thinks really that organised labour consists of a lot of worthy persons who are all right to haggle about wages and hours of labour, and so on, but, for the rest, well, they do not come into the picture. He says, if we take the actual statement of the Minister, talking about the area organisation, that throughout the whole programme of munitions supply it will be his intention and desire to request the Minister of Labour to provide the machinery for dealing with labour problems. Later on, he goes on to say: It will, in general, be desirable for representatives of the Ministry of Supply to be associated in such discussions. That, of course is better than nothing. The Ministry of Labour is asked to take on the dreadfully difficult discussions which will arise with regard to such technical matters as wages and conditions, and it is quite right that that very efficient Department should undertake the negotiation on these matters; but the Minister of Supply does not seem to have appreciated—I think from his statement perhaps the Prime Minister does—that these great labour organisations should be brought in, and the employers' organisations as well, as an intrinsic part of the machinery, and made the fullest use of. They can give immense help in a hundred different ways entirely apart from questions in dispute as to wages and conditions. These workmen's organisations are controlled by men of great working capacity, and of great experience, and I hope the Government will be willing to treat with, and bring in to their aid, the representatives of organised labour on a basis far better than that indicated by the Minister of Supply in his statement in another place.

I am sorry to have been so critical, but I have not for a long time read a statement of a responsible Minister, on a subject which one understood oneself, which was more completely disconcerting. I can only hope that the noble Lord who is going to reply will be able to present the case better than the Minister of Supply did himself in another place. There is no doubt at all about it, that we have the capacity, if it is used, and if it is mobilised quickly, to equip our men in a manner unequalled by any other force, Our desire is to see that this is done efficiently, without waste and quickly.

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken has certainly made a slashing attach on the Government, in so far as their actions on supply, both for the moment and in the past, are concerned. I think he admitted that there were a few bits of use and good in what we have done, but that was about all he could say in favour of the work of the Departments of State who have been working at this problem of war supply for many years. In fact, the noble Lord seemed to feel that never can this country have gone into a war less adequately prepared, with less thought and talent given to its preparations; whereas I believe that we can perfectly fairly claim, and it will be shown, that we have never gone into a war when our preparations have been so carefully laid or so far completed in peace.

The noble Lord has said that you can do nothing without a programme. That, of course, is obvious. It has been obvious to all of us for some time. We have had a programme for our supply, our production for our Services, for some years, within the limits that we could see from month to month, based on the moneys that have been voted by Parliament. Now that we have gone to war it will be within the recollection of your Lordships that the Prime Minister has stated that our programme is to prepare as rapidly as possible to complete the maximum forces of all arms which we shall require for a war which will last not less than three years, if so may be. I do not think it can be imagined that when the Prime Minister made that statement, that in reality we had no programme, that we had not some conception in our minds as to what military forces we expected, to-day, to-morrow and ultimately, to put in the field, for which we must equip and provide the powder and shot before they can go into the field. I do not think the House will believe that we have not had an air programme, or that the plans have not been conceived for developing it to its maximum extent that the resources of the country will allow, now that we are unfortunately bound to do so. I do not know what the noble Lord means when he says that we have no programme.


I said for the Ministry of Supply.


The Ministry of Supply has its programme, as was implied, as far as could be stated, not in detail, by my right honourable friend the Minister of Supply in another place on September 21. Not only have we got a programme to go on with and to aim at, but we have been working on a programme of preparation for a number of years, as I endeavoured to explain to your Lordships some months ago in introducing the Ministry of Supply Bill. It is not possible that anybody can believe that we have done nothing, that we are now for the first time starting to try to find out what is the capacity of industry that can be applied to war purposes. We have been working on that problem for many years, and a great deal of the most important and valuable work had been largely completed before the outbreak of war. As I think my right honourable friend said in another place, the supply committees created by the organisation that was developed twelve years ago have examined, reported and prepared so that no fewer than 9,000 firms would be ready when necessary to go into munitions. That surely is not nothing. I think it has been a very great step of preparation, which reflects the greatest credit on the Chairman of the Supply Board and those who have worked under him for so many years.

Let me come to the question of raw materials, about which the noble Lord made such exceedingly caustic remarks. Oils and fats are not included in the list given by the Ministry of Supply on September 21. But there is a reason for that. Oils and fats do not come under the Ministry of Supply; they come under the Ministry of Food. The steps that have been taken to augment our supplies of oils and fats under the Committee of Imperial Defence during the past few years have been extensive. The controls are certainly spread over a large number of areas, but in a war of the nature that we are envisaging it is highly undesirable to centralise your controls in one place. Centralisation has been avoided, and the control has been extended to various parts of the country intentionally. We believe it to be the best plan. They have also been placed in centres which are suitable to the spread of the industry which we envisage—jute, for instance, at Dundee, and wool at Bradford, where it was when the noble Lord himself was Minister of Munitions. Of course, the Controllers are not only to see that the stocks of raw materials that we have accumulated are used to the best advantage, but it is also their duty to ensure that those stocks are kept up to the extent that is necessary. It is fully realised that they must do that. It does not necessarily follow that there are a great many of those raw materials which will have to be provided by dollar exchange; they come from various countries where that is not necessary. It is the duty of the Controllers to take a general control and to see that those raw materials are available, and at reasonable prices. I do not believe myself that Sir Andrew Duncan will find that the difficulties and the inefficiency and the unreadiness implied by the noble Lord are really there in fact. At any rate, I hope not.

The noble Lord referred to four points. The first was one I have already mentioned, when he asked why we did not do a great deal more before the war started. That I have dealt with briefly. He also said that the Ministry of Supply ought to be a much more comprehensive authority, covering the Air Ministry. That of course is a very old question, which we have already debated many times in your Lordships' House. But you will remember that I have already stated that the Government intended to create a machinery which could at any moment be expanded to the necessary extent if and when it was required, either in peace or in war; that the decision whether or not this should be done would not be a decision given on some theory, or on some political consideration, or on any consideration other than what was advised by the experts in the country who were responsible for the results that would ensue if you had this amalgamation. If the enormous programme that the Minister of Supply has to carry out for the War Office proves to be such a burden on industry, on man power, on raw materials, and on labour as to cause continual clashes of requirements between the Service Departments and that amalgamation is needed in order to get smoother running and a more effective result in our common object in waging this war to the utmost effect, then the noble Lord may rest assured that amalgamation will take place. But, as I have said before, we have a highly efficient organisation controlling the bulk of our aircraft production, and it has performed, in my opinion, something deserving of far more generous appreciation than has been given to it this afternoon.


I never referred directly or indirectly to the Air Ministry, for I share with the noble Lord admiration of their excellent work.


I thank the noble Lord. I am very glad he has made that statement. I understood there was nothing in the work that had been done in preparing for war for which he really had any admiration. I am only too glad to accept his generous statement about the Air Ministry and the work of those who have worked with them and for them. The noble Lord also spoke about the question of area organisation. I should like to say a few words about that. Let us remember that we have had a period of peace—perhaps a long time ago—but during that time it was the practice of all Defence Departments to have representatives throughout the country. These representatives were responsible for watching the orders placed by the Service Departments and for dealing with such local difficulties as might exist. In so far as the War Office was concerned, which is after all the main problem of the Ministry of Supply, in addition to the permanent resident inspecting staff, officers had been appointed prior to the war in a limited number of areas. In laying down these areas account had to be taken of the necessity for conforming as far as possible with the boundaries that had been laid down for the existing Civil Defence organisations and the divisional organisation of the Ministry of Labour as well as the various industrial organisations and those concerned with other Defence Departments. On the outbreak of war it immediately became necessary not only to appoint representatives of the Ministry of Supply in these areas, but actually to sub-divide the existing areas on account of the increasing volume of work that was foreseen. The duties of these officers, as at present defined, are to get in close touch with local authorities and with representative industrial organisations with a view to settling any local difficulties that may arise, and further with a view to drawing attention to any suitable capacity that might be available or might become available for war work.

The personnel detailed as local representatives of the Ministry of Supply has come very much under severe criticism. It should be evident, however, that their choice for this expansion at short notice was a matter of considerable difficulty, as it was necessary that the representatives should have a working knowledge of requirements, which was a very important factor in the problem which had to be dealt with, and should also have considerable experience and administrative ability. We have had some very critical things said about Engineer Rear-Admirals. I feel perhaps, owing to my own position in the Navy, some diffidence in sticking up for what might be called my own yardarm, but I should like to say a few words in justice to those officers whose capabilities for this purpose have been so severely criticised. It is not the first time, of course, that severe criticism has been made of people in the Services and statements made denying their ability to do anything more than is necessary for their own particular duties on board ship. But I want your Lordships to appreciate that that thought by no means does justice to the very great experience of industry that these distinguished engineer officers have, based on long periods of work in supervising the building of ships, of engines, and of machinery of all types for the Government.

After all, it is that work of naval production that is the basis of everything we have at the present time in supplying any of our Services. The figures that have arisen in this country in developing war material have been to a very great extent created by naval needs, and it is the guidance that has been given by these engineer officers of the Navy in creating this engineering work for naval purposes that has been largely responsible for the wonderful development that has taken place in this country, and which is, I believe, greater than that of any other country in the world. I may take two of the officers who have been so severely criticised. Admiral A has been the Admiralty Officer for the Leeds and Sheffield districts, supervising all Admiralty contracts with armament firms for seven years. An officer who has had that experience cannot be justly accused of having no knowledge whatever of industry. Officer B has been overseer for the Admiralty. And let me remind your Lordships that the Admiralty overseers are not small people who just go to a firm to look on at what is happening. They have to guide by their experience the development of the naval manufacture that is going on, and very often the Admiralty officers are largely the means of ensuring that steps are taken in time to see that material is ready.

I have had to deal with this matter myself for three and a half years when I was Controller of the Navy and had to ensure that delays did not come from the contractor himself through not looking far enough ahead. Officer B has been overseer at John Browns, at Thornycrofts, at Alexander Stephens, at various periods from 1913 to 1919 (six years), and again at Cammel Lairds from 1927 to 1929 during the building of the "Rodney." He has commanded and initiated the Naval Mechanical Training Establishment where the whole of the naval artificers have been trained. I do not think it can be said justly that those officers have not got the knowledge, the administrative ability or the experience to provide what is required in those areas. And remember that those area organisations have got a limited function. Their duty is to overcome difficulties as regards labour, transport, overlapping of work; to see that full use is made of productive capacity; to go round and help the firms concerned; and at least to be able to foresee the requirements of the contractors and the sub-contractors of the Ministry of Supply organisation and act with the utmost rapidity.

As was stated by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply in another place last week, we also hope to create area organisations which will be representative of labour, of equal status, and indeed we shall welcome the collaboration of labour in this united task that lays before us. I do not think that I can do better than to reiterate the points that were made by the Prime Minister and also by the Leader of your Lordships' House yesterday in regard to the immense importance of this matter. I agree with the whole spirit of the remarks of the noble Lord on this problem. I know that he is absolutely right in emphasizing the enormous importance of getting the most complete and willing and friendly collaboration between the two great sides of industry. I would emphasize once more the statements that were made yesterday by the Prime Minister. The whole force of our industry has now to be marshalled, directly or indirectly, to war needs. If we are successfully to accomplish this, the co-operation of the workpeople themselves is the first essential. The Government are ready and anxious to take any steps that may be necessary to secure their good will. We are wishful that organised labour should approve the general scheme of expansion that we have framed, and we shall be glad to consider any proposals made to us, because the support of the employers and the workers' organisations is essential if we are to defeat our common enemy.

As your Lordships know, there are discussions now proceeding of a most important and naturally somewhat delicate nature between the Minister of Labour, the Trades Union Congress and the British Employers' Federation. These discussions have been concerned with the joint machinery through which the trade unions and the employers' organisations can co-operate in the consideration and settlement of questions affecting labour conditions and supply, and at the conference to which the Prime Minister referred the procedure for the achievement of this object will clearly be an important question for decision. At the present moment, however, the special question of the relationship of the trade unions with the Ministry of Supply, which is part of the larger question, has been raised and, as the Prime Minister has said, we shall be very glad to consider any proposals which may be made to us for the purpose of securing the co-operation of all parties in industry with the Ministry. I understand that the Trades Union Congress General Council has met to-day, and they may wish to have a further talk on this most important subject. If that is so, I can assure your Lordships that the Government will most gladly welcome it.