§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved by Lord Llewellin on Thursday last—namely, to resolve, That this House is of the opinion that there is urgent need for an acceleration of the present rate of demobilization of the Armed Forces of the Crown and of the turnover of factories from war to peace production.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, the terms of the Motion include not only demobilization of the Forces but also the turnover of factories from war to peace production. That second aspect was dealt with somewhat fully by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, in his very comprehensive speech. He illustrated it by many instances, and I do not propose to trouble your Lordships with any observations at all on that portion of the Motion, but will limit myself entirely to the question of the demobilization of the Forces. First of all, I would desire to remind your Lordships of the many aspects of our national life which are being affected by the slowness of demobilization and by the widespread discontents among the people, which are intensified by the consequences of the shortage of labour, which in turn is largely the result of the slowness of demobilization. Housing, for example, has priority in the minds of 1015 most of us. When we consider the needs of the present hour, the difficulties of housing, the need for the provision of prefabricated and ordinary houses, and the restoration of houses destroyed or partially destroyed during the war, we realize that all these things depend upon the supply of labour. The deficiencies that at present exist are due primarily to labour shortage, and that in turn is due to the slowness of demobilization.
We had a debate for two days last week on the housing question, and we had a statement by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel; but I am sure that many of your Lordships who heard that statement shared the feeling that I myself entertained—that it was on the whole disappointing when referring to the actual results obtained. Your Lordships will remember that, in giving statistics of what had been achieved in various parts of this sphere, the figures were mainly in hundreds, whereas what is required is thousands, and indeed tens of thousands, and even, in prospect, hundreds of thousands.
Then there is the problem of overcrowding in London and other cities, the lack of accommodation, the shortage of hotels. The discomfort and difficulties caused by all this are partly due, no doubt, to the fact that great numbers of premises of all kinds have been requisitioned by the various Government Departments, and they are very slow to derequisition those premises. Tenacity has always been a virtue of the British Army; the bulldog, which never lets go, is the symbol of the British soldier; but tenacity when shown by the War Office in the form of an intense reluctance to give up the hotels and other premises which it has requisitioned ceases to be a virtue and becomes a serious inconvenience.
Again, consider the discomfort and injury to health and to well-being inflicted on the feminine half of the population during these long years of war through the difficulties in obtaining domestic supplies—the queueing at the shops, the time that is occupied day by day, and so on. You see middle-aged and elderly women day by day carrying their heavy bags and baskets of home supplies, to the injury of their health and frequently to their physical exhaustion. This is causing 1016 a great strain upon the health of the women of our country. It is due partly to the insufficient number of shop assistants, and partly to the cessation of deliveries by the shopkeepers. Consider how disproportionate the saving has been compared with the burden imposed. A hundred women in a neighbourhood have each to go to their supplying shops, have each to wait in a queue and come back with their domestic supplies, while a single girl with a motor van and half a gallon of petrol would be able to supply all that is needed. To paraphrase a famous sentence of the late Prime Minister, "Seldom have so many borne so much to save so little." That again is due primarily to shortage of labour, and shortage of labour is due to the slowness of demobilization.
The difficulties of transport by rail and by bus, which cause the greatest inconvenience to a large part of the population, are again a matter of the shortage of labour. The controls that have to be exercised, to the dissatisfaction of a great many people, but which are recognized to be necessary, are due to the danger of soaring prices and possible inflation, because the supply is inadequate to meet the potential demand. Why is it inadequate? It is due to shortage of labour, again due in great measure to slowness of demobilization. The potential dangers of the foreign exchange position, the risk of a further depreciation of the pound, the necessity to concentrate a large part of our manufacture upon exports, again impose a deficiency on our home supplies. If labour has to be devoted to exports, it cannot be devoted to home supplies, and thus the fact that the drive for the export trade is so burdensome to the country at the present time is in part due to shortage of labour.
Consider also the financial position of the country and the high rates of taxation. This taxation was uncomplainingly borne during all the years of war for the sake of the great object in view, but it is now continuing almost unchanged. The reduction in expenditure has been exceedingly small in recent months, and the reduction in taxation almost negligible. Why is that? It is because we go on paying, week by week, millions of men and women of all grades in the Forces, with a mere pretence at occupying them. We keep in the Forces people who are eager to get back to their 1017 homes and to be united to their families; they are kept in idleness on full pay, at the cost of the taxpayers and to their own indignation. It is compulsory unemployment, and their pay is really the "dole" in uniform.
I would remind your Lordships of all these issues—housing, rationing and queues, transport, the lack of consumer goods, the difficulty of supplying sufficient exports, the question of foreign exchange, taxation, and the injury to the men themselves. All these are due to shortage of labour; and shortage of labour, I repeat, is due to the slowness of demobilization. Government spokesmen have given us figures which, at first sight, seem impressive of the numbers of releases since the war ended, and, indeed, since this Government came into power there has been a slight acceleration. Of course, there have been releases. Millions of persons were drawn into the Forces to fight the Germans and the Japanese, and, with our Allies, they have achieved their object. The German and Japanese Armies, Navies and Air Forces have been dissolved or destroyed and have disappeared, and naturally the Forces raised by us for the purposes of the war should be released. I suggest, though, that the figures we should concentrate our attention upon are not the figures of releases but the figures of retentions. It is those figures which I would quote now to your Lordships.
Government statements that have been made on this subject disclose that at the end of the war—the date taken was June 18 of this year—there were in the three Forces taken together, 5,136,000 men and women, or just over five millions. At December 31 of this year it is anticipated that there will be 3,842,000, or dose upon four millions. Eight months after the end of the German war and six months after the ending of the Japanese war three out of the four men and women who have been drawn into the Forces are still there! Three-quarters will still, be under arms at the end of this year. By the middle of next year, June 3o, 1946, it is anticipated that the Forces will number 2,232,000. Think of it, thirteen months after the end of the German war 2,200,000 in round figures, will be retained, and 2,900,000 releases—only rather more than half of the total—will have taken place. Nearly half of the total will have 1018 been retained after the lapse of that long period. If at any date before the war or during the war anyone had suggested that when the war had been over for a year we should still have 2,250,000 people under arms the idea would have been scouted as an absurd and exaggerated prognostication.
We do not yet know what is likely to be the permanent military, naval and air force establishment of this country. We discussed that matter in this House a few days ago, and it was generally agreed that it would not be possible at the present date to give any definite and reliable estimate of what the requirements of the country would be when the present period has passed away. Certainly, I think we should all be resolved that the Forces should not be insufficient for the purposes for which they would be needed. The first of those purposes is that we may take our share in the occupation of the late enemy countries; the second is to provide the kind of force that has always been necessary for the police work to be performed by the British Army, Navy and, in recent years, Air Force; the third is to supply the British contingent to the Force or Corps which is to be at the command of the United Nations Organization. Last, and not least important, of these purposes, is that of providing against possible risks in respect of our own defence if the United Nations Organization were found not to succeed in its great purposes.
Undoubtedly the invention of the atomic bomb will not dispense with military, naval, or air forces. It is clearly quite a delusion that it should do so. At the present time there are in progress military operations or preparations to forestall the necessity of military operations in Palestine and Java, and even when the United Nations Organization comes into full operation it might be necessary at any moment to take repressive action in some country threatening aggression. But no one would suggest that any of those cases could be dealt with by dropping atomic bombs and wiping out masses of the population. Such a course would arouse the greatest possible resentment and would intensify violence rather than intimidate those who were disposed towards it. Consequently, it is clear that there must be, for a long time to come, a very considerable force 1019 maintained—unhappily at the expense of the taxpayers of this country—and making a demand on our man-power. How big the Forces may be cannot yet be ascertained, but we have very high authority for the view that the figures I have quoted for the Forces to be maintained at the end of this year and at the end of next year are very excessive; the authority of no less a person than the late Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill. As Minister of Defence, and prime conductor of military, naval and air force operations he had unrivalled experience and he speaks with unrivalled authority. He has always been the protagonist of fully adequate defence for this country and he is not likely to understate the needs of the future.
But he said, speaking in a debate in another place, in October last, that unless the Government contemplated the possibility of having to go into another major war within the next five years (and if that were so we ought not to have demobilization at all)—and that is not the expectation that any of us have in our minds—the figures which he would give (and he presented a careful review of the requirements of each of the three Services in turn), led him to this conclusion; and here I quote his words:I have no hesitation in saying that the Government's measures fall far below what is both possible and necessary.That referred to measures for demobilization. Mr. Churchill further declared that the figure of 3,800,000 contemplated for December 31 of this year, meant in his view that no fewer than 2,225,000 were redundant. Two millions, that is an immense figure. What a difference it would make to the labour force in this country if those people were released, and how far it would enable us to proceed towards a solution of those domestic problems to which I have referred. With regard to the target for next year he, himself, would contemplate a figure of 1,550,000 which, he said, should be reached much earlier than is now contemplated. I do not know how the Government have arrived at the figures which they have presented to the nation. Presumably, they have done so on the advice of their Military, Naval and Air Force chiefs—the chiefs of the three Services. But responsibility must, in the long run, rest with the Government, for 1020 Service Chiefs always put their figures high. They must do so in order to safeguard themselves. It is for the civilian authority in the State ultimately to say what the requirements of the country and the Commonwealth are.
If it is true, as Mr. Churchill says, that these very high figures of retentions are unnecessary and injurious, the next question is, are they unavoidable? The Government may say: "We agree that the figures are much too high, but they cannot be reduced for two reasons; one is the difficulty of transport and the other is the working of the Bevin scheme of demobilization." With regard to transport no one in this House can form any valid opinion without full knowledge of the facts. When Lord Leathers was Minister of War Transport we felt great confidence that the matter would be handled with the maximum of efficiency. Under the present administration we do not know that. We have no reason to think that it is not efficient, but we do not know that it is. We can only judge by results, and the results are that the troops are being brought home very, very slowly. We invite the Government to give a justification of this. If they say that transport is inadequate, they should give facts, definite facts. There is no reason for secrecy now and they should explain why it is that they cannot bring men home much more rapidly than has hitherto been the case.
With regard to the Bevin scheme resting upon age and service, there is general agreement that it secures a large measure of equal justice and prevents great discontent amongst the Forces if they have no reason to think that any among them are given privileges over any others. A man out in the Far East or wherever he may be, may endure waiting for month after month if he is told that it is unavoidable and if he finds that everyone else is in the same position as himself. Privileges for some would undoubtedly increase and embitter the grievances of others. There is a little-known eighteenth Century poet who wrote:I can endure my own despair,But not another's hope.There is this point in the working of the Bevin scheme to which I think attention has not been drawn; at all events I have never seen any reference to it. That is, that many of the men who are most 1021 needed in industry are kept now for the very reason that they have been the men who were most needed in industry. During recruitment all through the war, key-men in the factories, workshops and industries in general were deferred and the deferment was renewed at intervals of six months. A man in charge of the workshop or a valuable foreman was kept for six months, again for half a year and then for another half year. The more valuable he was, the longer he was deferred. The effect of that was that that man had eventually to be taken into the Forces, and now, under the principle of age and service, he is in one of the most postponed classes. The consequence is that the principle of reserving for industry its most valuable men works out in exactly the opposite direction. The more valuable a man was (and he was kept in industry for that reason), the longer he will be kept in the Forces and the slower will be his return to ordinary life. I happened to be talking to a leading London builder who drew my attention to this fact. He said that he, in his own case, had been unable to get back many of his best men and had had to put IT with inferior labour because he had been allowed to retain his best men in his business for building houses for a long time before they had been called up. That should surely be taken into account in administering the Bevin scheme.
Then again, there are some in the Army, perhaps a small minority but: perhaps in the total a substantial number, who do not want to be released at present. They have got no work to go to; they are uncertain as to their future. They like serving in the Army, the Navy or the Air Force. Would it be possible for them to volunteer? Could they be invited and perhaps given financial inducement to stay willingly in the Army with the result that a larger number of releases could be speeded up, to take the places of those these men would have filled?
But all these things are not our business; these detailed matters are the business of the Executive. All we can do is to state a case, to press for action to meet it, and then it is for the Government to say whether the case is a good one and, if they say it is not a bad one, to explain their failure to accomplish results. The noble Lord who is going to reply to me is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for War and is therefore a member 1022 of the Army Council, and in a position of great responsibility and influence in these matters, although no doubt the principle of the course to be taken is a matter for Cabinet 'decision. Nevertheless, within the limits of a Cabinet decision there is room for a great deal of ingenuity, and a need for energy on the part of the Service Departments. A change of Government from time to time is one of the advantages of the British constitutional system in that it very often brings fresh minds to bear on problems instead of minds which we might possibly describe as stale ones. There are disadvantages, however, in a Coalition, in that members of the new Government are to some extent those who have already committed themselves as members of the previous Government and a freshness of view may perhaps be lacking. That does not apply to the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, who is a new arrival, so new an arrival in the Government that he is not likely to 'have been already bureaucratized. In a mood of 'expectancy, cautious expectancy, even dubious expectancy, we await the statement he is about to make.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
My Lords, may I just make an intervention in the debate? In the early part of the noble Viscount's speech in talking about derequisitioning—I am speaking as an ex-Army officer—he referred entirely to the guilt of the Army. I think it should be mentioned that the question of derequisitioning relates to all three Services. He mentioned afterwards the other two Services in his original statement which will be quoted in the Official Report and will be published. I think he really meant that the guilt lay not only with the Army but with all three Services together. I should like an assurance on that point.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I am obliged to, the noble Lord for correcting an inadvertence for I know that both the Admiralty and the Air Force are guilty of retaining premises in various parts of the country. I am obliged to the noble Lord for correcting my omission.
§ 3.9 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
My Lords, I want to emphasize what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin; and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and others because I am in very close touch with some very large industrial under- 1023 takings and I have opportunities of seeing what a disastrous effect the dead hand policy of the Government is having on industry. No one will deny the importance of the rapid resuscitation of our export trade. The exhortations of the Government in this respect are almost superfluous and receive a ready response from the great majority of those engaged in industry. The tremendous difficulties of carrying it into effect in this post-war transitional period are obvious to your Lordships. In many cases they seem to be almost insuperable, hedged about, as they are, by many difficulties beyond our control. Everybody is doing his best to surmount them, and it seems senseless to enhance these difficulties by such a short-sighted and unhelpful policy as that which the Government have adopted in regard to demobilization.
As the noble Viscount has just said, although the war in Europe has been over for about six months, and the war with Japan for over four months, so far as the companies with which I am connected are concerned, less than 3 per cent. of the called-up personnel have so far been released—or at least returned to us. There may, of course, be further numbers on demobilization leave, but we have only received about 3 per cent., and, as far as I can find out, that is the kind of figure that can be applied to industry as a whole. At the same time, the labour position is being worsened, day by day, by the call-up of the younger men and apprentices who, until now, have been deferred. This means that industry, during the delicate period of change-over from war to peace, has to rely, very largely, on the older men. Grand old workmen, certainly, most of them are, and they have done a splendid job in the war, but they are physically capable of fulfilling not much more than half a younger man's task.
Another great handicap from which we are suffering is the lack of specialists. That release of key-men cannot be speeded up seems incomprehensible. I saw in the Press yesterday that a little over a quarter of the key personnel applied for under Class B had so far been released, and I must say I am not at all surprised because I know, from bitter experience, how difficult it is to get the 1024 specialists released from the Services. As has already been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, releases under this category are not popular with the men because they lose some of their demobilization amenities, and, therefore, those in the lower release groups prefer to wait their turn in the normal way. But, apart from this, the terms of release under Class B are so extremely narrow, as regards qualifications, and so on, that very few men, indeed, seem to fall within them. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, when he replies in a moment, will tell us something about Class B, and whether its conditions could not be made less rigid and restrictive so that we could attain a very much greater flow of men who could fill the specialists' positions. At the moment there is a great dearth of these, and even though the men have only previously had a brief training in such positions, after all, a half-trained or quarter-trained man is better than none at all.
I am not going into the question of how many men we should retain under arms during the present highly unsettled state of the world, because I am not qualified to do so. Like the noble Viscount, I am in favour of maintaining the maximum number which Chiefs of Staff consider to be essential for peace and safety. But we all know there are a great many officers and men serving at home to whom the Service Departments are finding the very greatest difficulty in allocating work to keep them barely occupied. We see them wherever we go, all over the country, engaged on fatigue tasks, and as the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, says, thoroughly browned off and bored. And yet, day by day, more and more young men, on the very threshold of their industrial careers, are being called up to join the ranks of this vast unemployed Army.
I have talked to a great many young men who have not been long in the Services, thwarted in their training, perhaps, through the closing down of various training schemes after months of keenness and hard work, with little prospects of promotion in a shrinking Service, and without the driving power behind them that comes while war is on. I am bound to say I am very struck by how deeply the iron of bitter disappointment and frustration has entered into the souls of these young men 1025 —there are thousands of them in all the Services—which is doing a great deal of harm to their moral characters. These are the young men upon whom we have to rely for the rehabilitation of Britain, the very same young men who have got to compete in the markets of the world with those other manufacturing countries who are getting such a magnificent start with regard to demobilization, and in other respects. For goodness' sake, let us do our very best to equip them for that task at the very earliest moment.
If I may have the noble Lord's attention for one moment, I am told that there are certain vocational schemes started by the Services. That is all to the good, but I would like to know how wide they go. Do they embody technical training and commercial training? Who are the teachers, and are they qualified teachers? Can those schemes be widened? Of course, they cannot be wide enough to embrace all these young men, but the wider they are the better. Why are not the Government releasing more students from the Forces? Our universities and technical schools, at this period of our history, ought to be crammed to overflowing, and every teacher ought to be pressed into commission. Apprentice schemes in all our works ought to be doubled, and even trebled, and they should be made sacrosanct from the depredations of the Service Departments. It is true that students are being released who have been fortunate and clever enough to win scholarships and exhibitions, but it seems to me to be rather illogical to release a student to take up his scholarship and, at the same time, to refuse further deferment to an apprentice in the last year or two of his apprenticeship. That apprentice has worked bard, night and day, at the bench and in the technical school for years past, and is within grasp of the fruits of his labour. It seems very hard on him.
It would also seem here that there are many thousands of officers and men serving overseas whose release could be speeded up. Many units, we know, have been divorced from their weapons; tank men from their armour, gunners from their guns, sailors from their ships, airmen from their aircraft, and so on. These men cannot possibly be of any use as offensive or defensive units, and, therefore, their retention cannot possibly 1026 be justified on grounds of security. We all know, as the noble Lord has pointed out, that there are vast difficulties in the way of the transportation of these men back home, particularly respecting those serving in the Far East. But I think that the Government are so busily engaged in trying to be strictly fair to those men serving overseas, who at present cannot be got home, that they are succeeding very well in being fair to no one, and imposing great hardships on everyone, whether they be serving at home or abroad. Two wrongs do not make a right, and I think the time has come for the Government to review their policy in the light of the common-sense view which, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has pointed out, must be held by those serving in the far corners of the world whose release may be delayed by uncontrollable circumstances.
I will make one final point, very briefly, before I sit down. Apart from the vast labour entailed by the alteration of factories and workshops from war to peace, a great many of them, as your Lordships know, are worn out and out of date after six gruelling years of war during which we have had little or no opportunity of maintaining normal and necessary repairs and renewals, and the plants have had to be kept at work day and night, day in and day out. I can assure your Lordships that manufacturers are not being slow to put their house in order, however great the difficulties are. Most of them have got vast schemes of reconstruction and rehabilitation, either already started or else ready to start as soon as the necessary licences can be obtained. All these schemes are being very greatly hindered and delayed by labour shortage, and particularly by the shortage of specialists, due to the Government's dilatory demobilization policy, and grave loss of production is already being incurred. Your Lordships will realize that even in the best circumstances these works of reconstruction interfere very considerably with the normal routine and production of the factory, and that it is most essential to complete them without undue delay. Therefore it is a matter of importance that the necessary releases from the Forces should be accelerated before the great volume of this work reaches its peak; otherwise damage will be done to our national pro- 1027 ductive power from which it may take years and years to recover.
Whatever may be the ultimate future of the ownership of some of these industries—and we learnt something about that yesterday afternoon—it is quite clear that if we are to exist as an industrial nation, they must be put in good order at the very earliest moment. If the Government play their part wisely, I personally have the greatest possible faith in the future of British industry, where still the greatest manufacturing genius in the world is to be found. But it is quite clear that it will need all the assistance it can get to build up its strength before it has to face the full blast of the bitter east wind of foreign competition. Certainly it owes no bouquets to the present Government in regard to the demobilization policy, which imposes hardship on industrialists and Service men alike and, furthermore, commends itself to not one single section of the British public.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (LORD NATHAN)
My Lords, when I listened last Thursday to the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, on this Motion, I could not help contrasting that in some degree with the debate on the previous day, opened by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, for it seemed to me that the two debates might well have been inverted and that it would have been more logical had we been "off with the old" before we were "on with the new." But yet there was this in common between the two occasions. Those who spoke on the Motion of the noble Viscount put forward the suggestion that an effort should be made on the part of the Forces to invite the men to remain in the Forces towards the building up of a post-war Army, and, if I understood aright something that fell from the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, this afternoon, he also is of the opinion that it would be helpful if a statement to that effect were made, so that those in the Forces may know what the future may have for them. In a sense it is a little inconsistent with that that the whole burden of the debate both on Thursday and to-day has been in regard to the necessity for diminishing the Armed Forces as speedily as maybe.
1028 It may perhaps be helpful that I should say this, in the light of what was said both last Wednesday and Thursday: that of course the Government are now proceeding with the consideration of the structure of the post-war Army. While no decision has yet been taken as to the size, structure, composition or shape of the post-war Army, it is hoped by the middle of next month—the 15th December is the date at which we aim, and this applies to all the Forces—that it will be possible to make a statement on the terms and conditions of service for other ranks, giving information which will be helpful to those who are considering whether or not to make their future career in the Forces. The terms and conditions as they affect officers are expected to follow without any great delay.
The main burden of the speeches made by Lord Llewellin and Viscount Samuel have been that the demobilization has been too slow and the ultimate figure in the programme before the public is too high. As I listened to Lord Samuel's speech, when he referred to the fact that the German war had been over for so many months and the Japanese war for so many fewer months, I could not help remembering that after all it is only thirty-seven weeks since the Allied Armies were battling on the Rhine and the battle for Germany had not even begun on the soil of Germany. It is only thirty-seven weeks since that battle was at its height and all the Forces of the Allies were most heavily engaged. It seems to me that what is remarkable in the time that has since passed and the short period that His Majesty's Government have held office, is not how little but how much has been achieved. His Majesty's Government share with those who have spoken, and with all those who hold similar opinions, the view that it is of the first importance that the industrial force available in this country should become as large as possible, as soon as possible. Upon that there is no difference between us, and the aim of His Majesty's Government is to ensure that end, but always subject to there remaining in the Armed Forces of the Crown sufficient to meet our foreseeable commitments, including, of course, our commitments to the World Organization.
Now what was the position of His Majesty's Government when, at the end of the Japanese war, within a few days of 1029 entering upon office, they were confronted with the necessity of considering the problems and the processes of demobilization? Their first task was to ascertain what was the appropriate objective at which to aim. It is true, of course, as both Lord Llewellin and Lord Samuel have said, that the Government have sought the advice of their trusted counsellors, the Chiefs of Staff; but it is equally true that, having weighed, assessed and evaluated the advice given them by the Chiefs of Staff, they have accepted and do accept the sole and full responsibility for the decisions taken. The Government both recognize and accept that responsibility. The target could only be arrived at by a species of crystal gazing. The Chiefs of Staff, in advising the Government, and the Government, in evaluating that advice, were in the position of having to form sonic opinion, on the very morrow of the finish of the war with Japan, as to the target which should be set before the Government and the Services. They arrived at the figure to which Lord Samuel has referred, a figure which will mean a run down in the Armed Forces by no negligible amount, a run down from rather more than five millions to a little more than two millions in the period to the 30th June of next year. That is a diminution of the Armed Forces of the Crown by sonic three million during that period.
It must not be assumed that that target is necessarily related to the strength of the post-war Armed Forces of the Crown. It was a figure which was ascertained after the end of the Japanese war, taking into account our commitments, actual and potential, so far as they were foreseeable. It is a figure to which the demobilization scheme has so far been directed, but it is not, of course, a final figure. It is scarcely necessary for me to say that that target is at all times under review and the time cannot be too far distant when a decision will be taken as to what figure should be substituted. There, again, however, it is a question of crystal gazing, having regard to the situation which has developed since August of this year and having regard to all those matters which any Government must take into account, in-chiding our obligations to the United Nations Organization. In a sense the position, when the decision comes to be given, will be rather like that which arises when an appeal comes before the Court of 1030 Criminal Appeal; while the appellant hopes that the sentence may be lower, it is, of course, always possible that it may be higher. It is the hope of His Majesty's Government that it may be possible without too great a delay to put forward a lower target. I hope I have made it clear that whatever that target may be, whether it be higher or lower, it is dependent upon the circumstances existing at the time.
The noble Earl, Lord Dudley, made, as indeed did Lord Samuel, a broad attack upon the demobilization scheme as such; nor was Lord Llewellin silent upon that point. There are certain criteria by which any demobilization scheme must be judged, and I will put them in this way. Is it a scheme which has about it the qualities both of smoothness and of swiftness? Has it a smooth passage with the troops, and by means of it have the troops a smooth passage into civilian life?
§ LORD NATHAN
A smooth and swift passage. When the noble Earl and others suggest that this scheme should be revised, let me remind the noble Lords that we have aimed, as indeed our predecessors in office have aimed, at establishing at the end of this war a system which will not be exposed to the same criticisms and which will not give rise to the same difficulties as those which arose at the end of the last war. It is essential that the release scheme should be firmly established on a principle which is easily understandable and which is accepted by the men in the Forces, both those at home and those overseas. Judged by that criterion this scheme is successful, because it is accepted as being fair, When the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, referred to his journey with a Canadian airman and a British soldier and compared the position of the British soldier with that of the Canadian airman about to return home to be released, I think he did the British scheme less than justice. He did not point out to your Lordships that the Canadians work on a points system instead of on an age and service scheme as we do, and that where a man is in the right age group he may very well be released with three and a half years service or less. There is no comparison between the Canadian airman and the British soldier (apart altogether from the fact that the Canadian Air 1031 Force has very different commitments to those facing the British Army), in this sense: that you may find many British soldiers who will be released with less than three and a half years service and who thus have an advantage over the Canadian friend of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. It is an argument based upon a generalization from a particular instance which has no validity in fact.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
if the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt, may I say that any British soldier, if he is to be released after less than three and a half years, has got to be pretty old?
§ LORD NATHAN
Some of them were pretty old. There were the volunteers and the Territorials, of whom the noble Lord himself is a distinguished example.
§ LORD NATHAN
The question of the age of the Canadian seems to me to be irrelevant. The point made by the noble Lord was that a Canadian airman could get out of the Canadian Air Force after three and a half years service and a British soldier could not get out of the British Army within the same period. That would be a complete misconception.
The machinery which operates the de-mobilization scheme has been thoroughly run in and is working extremely well. I have seen it myself in more than one place and I would say to your Lordships, with a due sense of responsibility, that it is a model of efficiency. Its capacity is sufficiently elastic to enable it to cope with any peak release which may arise due to fluctuation from time to time. The average number passing through the dispersal centres was stated in October of this year by the Minister of Labour to be 43,000 a week. By October it had risen to 80,000 a week and from now to the end of the year there will be 85,000 weekly, or 12,000 a day, passing through the centres. There is a limit, of course, to the capacity of the record offices and the pay offices, and also of the clothing depots, but the scheme is working well. So far as the system of documentation at release centres is concerned, which is the key to the whole release system, those centres, any one of them, can work on the footing of 60 men an hour or a man a minute.
1032 I said that it was essential that the scheme should be both smooth and swift. The release target by June 30 you already know. To October 15, which is the latest date at my disposal, 543,000 odd had been released, as against a target of 548,000. There was therefore a deficiency of only one per cent. I ought to say this. The reason why more was not done, why a higher figure was not reached earlier, was the inevitable time-lag of eight or nine weeks between the taking of a decision to speed up release and the reflection of that decision in the actual releases themselves.
It would be a mistake. however, to relate the actual releases to the figure of those immediately available for; industry, because, as your Lordships are aware, not only have those who come out of the Services by the ordinary, general system of release 56 days' release leave, but they have an additional leave of one day for every month spent abroad, so that it is quite possible that in large numbers of cases men already released may be on leave for a period of between ninety and a hundred days. There is therefore a considerable time-lag between the moment at which the release is effected and the moment at which a man will be available for industry, if he decides to spend on leave the whole of the time given to him for that purpose. Indeed, it is probably true that at this moment there are 300,000 men already released who are on leave, and who, as their leave works off, will take their place in industry. While over half a million had been released by the middle of last month, just under a million remain to be released between that date and the end of this year. I am assured by all the Services that despite all the difficulties of transport which we have had to face, and of which some noble Lords opposite are aware, and despite all other difficulties, we shall fulfil that programme by December 31.
Noble Lords will naturally say: "What of next year?" I believe that I can fairly say this in relation to the programme announced by the Minister of Labour, that if nothing unforeseen happens, if no new commitments arise, if existing commitments are not extended, if there is no breakdown in shipping nor any diversion of shipping which might, for instance, be necessitated by the developments in Java; if everything goes according to plan, then all the Services 1033 will do better than appears from the programme which has, been submitted to the public. It is expected that the Army will have fulfilled its part of the programme at a date later, indeed, than March 31, the date propounded by Mr. Churchill in the recent debate in another place, but appreciably earlier than the target date of June 30. The Royal Navy also anticipate being ahead of schedule, while the Royal Air Force expect to be up to schedule, in spite of four new groups, as already announced, having been added to their programme in the Minister of Labour's statement in October. It may be that our anticipations are optimistic, in a sense; it may be that situations will arise which may postpone their fulfilment in the way that we should wish; but, as matters stand at the moment, that is the prospect which we envisage.
Noble Lords may ask, and I think I have asked, why demobilization cannot be made speedier even within the target which we have set ourselves. Let me give an indication of some of the reasons. It is not now, as matters have developed, so much a question of transport. Difficulties were anticipated with regard to transport which I am glad to say have been overcome, and, unless there is some unexpected breakdown there, transport is not a factor which we need necessarily take into account within the limits of the programme which we have set ourselves. But I see, as matters stand, no prospect of extending the amount of transport likely to be available in the immediate future. The mere physical situation, the mechanical position, requires that a period of eight or nine weeks should elapse before a decision can be made effective as regards the release at all events of those in the oversea theatres in the East. Many men cannot be released until their replacements have arrived. Their replacements may be technical or they may not. But, if they are technical, then the period may be somewhat longer, because we have to train the technical replacements here. We are suffering in some degree from our own virtues. In the early days of the war, it was often held against the Army—and no doubt against the other Services too, but I know against the Army—that it had an unhappy knack of getting round pegs into square holes. The Army, therefore, set itself to get round pegs 1034 into round holes, by re-sorting, and it was highly successful in getting the right men into the right place.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves this question of the speeding up of demobilization, I should like to ask him whether he can give the answer to the question which many people are asking, which is why large numbers of young men all over the world are being kept with nothing to do. I know the answer, but I should like to see whether the noble Lord's answer agrees.
§ LORD NATHAN
My Lords, I am sure that it would be better if the noble Viscount would give the answer, but per-Imps he will allow me to develop my argument, and I think he will find that I shall be dealing with the question to which he refers.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
The answer is palpable. There are large numbers of men who have had to be retained for the work which has to be done, especially in the Air Force. These other men may be one or two groups down, and they cannot be released, although they have nothing to do, until under the original basic principle of the scheme the other men who are busy can be released.
§ LORD NATHAN
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount. There are large numbers of replacements who have to be sent not after special training, but merely, so to speak, as replacements of bodies, from this country overseas, so that the young men not yet coming forward for release may replace the older men overseas who are awaiting release. Of course, it is the case, as must happen in any great Imperial base such as these islands have become during the past months, that there are considerable numbers of men who at the moment are not as fully engaged as they would be if we were still absorbed in the full welter of war. Many of them are either men who have only a short period yet to elapse before their date for age-service release arrives, and who it is scarcely worth while to train for a new arm, or those who are to leave after long service overseas—again men who await release—of whom also it may be said that it is scarcely worth while training them for a new arm, in a large degree for the reason that the noble Viscount 1035 has mentioned. It is implicit in the age-service scheme, or in the Bevin scheme as it is called, that men in one group shall not, in a general sense, be released before men in the previous group have been released. That is the key of the whole situation. It is upon that that the whole of demobilization rests, and through it that the scheme has resulted in its attracting to itself the favour and the good will of the soldiers themselves. Although it must necessarily happen that there are large numbers waiting, it would be a grave mistake to think, as the noble Viscount said—and I am sure that many of the men concerned would resent it very much—that they were being kept under a system of compulsory unemployment. Would the men in Surabaya like to be told, in the position in which they are now, awaiting maybe the call to face dangers and difficulties, that they are suffering compulsory unemployment?
§ LORD NATHAN
Would those who are now endeavouring to maintain civil order in Palestine agree if they were told that whilst they were waiting before being dispatched to the place where, in the performance of their duty, they may have to face considerable hazards, they were in receipt of the "dole" in uniform? I do not think so, I believe they would resent it very much. Most of those who are not fully engaged upon military duties recognize that the occasion may arise when they will be required. They may be required here or—
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord to ask him this question, for it really is most important to get this clear? I understand the position in which the Government say they do not know whether we may not want larger Forces in Surabaya or somewhere else, or for other military services, and therefore they cannot release at the moment as many as they would like because of this potentially urgent military necessity. But that was not the point put by the noble Viscount. His point—with which I thought the Under-Secretary of State agreed—was that we have to keep people in a particular group, or some men in a particular group, in the Air Force because they are needed to do a particular job in the Air Force; and 1036 we cannot release other men who are in a higher group than these, although there is not now the least need for them for any purpose at all. If that is so then are not those people being kept on a basis of being in an army of unemployment?
§ LORD NATHAN
I have conceded to the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and I now concede to the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, that there- are, and there inevitably must be —it is implicit in the Bevin scheme that there should be—an appreciable number of men who, at any particular moment of time, may not be fully employed on military duties. But I would add that all or most of those who are not so employed are available for work for the civil authority, and large numbers of them have been doing work on behalf of, and at the instance of,—
§ LORD NATHAN
Last year and again this year men have been engaged, for instance, in assisting the Ministry of Fuel and Power by supplementing the labour force available for the delivery of coal.
§ LORD NATHAN
It is service which requires to be done as part of national service. This is a method of using the services of these men whilst at the same time preserving the Bevin scheme, the age-service scheme, and also of seeing that these men are performing work which is of public service. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, referred in particular to the Class B scheme of release. The original idea was, of course, that there should be block releases on classification. But the classification appeared, in some instances, when the time arrived to put it into operation, not perhaps as satisfactory as it was hoped that it would be. For instance, when teachers were required it was found that all kind of teachers came under the same classification. Teachers of dancing and teachers of shorthand were included as well as school teachers. It followed, that the system was adopted of putting forward, in some cases block releases by names, either names available to the Service Departments or names 1037 made available to the Ministry in question by employers.
I think that possibly noble Lords might be interested to know what the result has been. Let me take coal-mining. In the case of coal-mining, the Minister of Labour, or the Minister of Fuel and Power, put forward a demand for, I think, some 17,000 releases from the Forces under Class B. Of these some 13,000 odd came through the War Office.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
May I ask what happened to the other 4,000, between the Minister of Fuel and Power and the War Office?
§ LORD NATHAN
The 17,000 were from the whole of the Services, the 13,000 came through the War Office. I think it is rather interesting to observe how the acceleration in the A releases affects the B releases. Some 1,622 of those 13,000 odd had already been released, and indeed it has become clear, in the light of experience, that the quicker the general releases under Class A the more reluctant are specialists under Class B to take advantage of the facilities offered to them under Class B
Now take draughtsmen. My noble friend Lord Llewellin referred, in the course of his observations on Thursday, to the difficulty which certain engineering firms—I think he mentioned one in particular—
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
Might I interrupt the noble Lord once again? I was hoping that before leaving Class B he would tell us how many of those 13,000 soldiers had got out under Class B?
§ LORD NATHAN
Let me proceed. Already there are released under Class A some 1,622. Those were already released under Class A before the Class B names came through. There were dead or discharged 785. Regular soldiers to whom the scheme does not apply numbered 438. Under the heading "unidentifiable" comes a total of 302. I can tell you the numbers of B authorizations sent forward which may fall within the categories I have given to the noble Lord, but I cannot tell the noble Lord how many of this particular 13,000 will ultimately find their way into the coal-mining industry, partly because many of them have not made up their minds. That is a point which I wish to put to the noble Lord. I have already 1038 explained that as the A releases are accelerated there is a disinclination on the part of men to take advantage of the Class B releases. There is the human factor to take into account. When the soldier receives a notification that he may be released if he will (because it is entirely voluntary under Class B, what happens in practice is that he writes Nome and he says to his wife or his mother: "Here is a bet. I have been offered my B release under such and such conditions but my A release may come off at such and such a time, and if the A releases are accelerated I may be freed from the disadvantages of the B scheme and be an entirely free man under the other scheme. What is the housing position like? Can I go to where I may be sent?" Months elapse before the answer is received and very often the answer is negative and I am bound to tell the noble Lord that the results of the B release are disappointing.
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
Surely that is a powerful argument for the revision of the whole scheme. That is exactly what we said. The scheme does not work.
§ LORD NATHAN
There can be no valid reason for the fundamental alteration of a scheme which has been adopted by two successive Governments and which has commended itself to the Forces, the Armed Forces of the Crown and on the whole—
Quite true, but the general principle of the scheme commended itself to two Governments under totally different conditions. That is the whole point. The time has come when the Government ought to consider modification of this scheme. All, those of us here who were members of the last Government agreed to the principle of the Bevin scheme. But that is not now. It is inherent in the whole of the speech of the noble Lord that whatever happens no alteration will be considered in the fundamental basis of this scheme. If certain troops are needed in Surabaya, to a great extent troops in the same group must wait until the others have been released.
§ LORD NATHAN
I think the noble Viscount opposite knows better. He knows as well as I do that before troops 1039 are sent to any active theatre those whose release is likely to take place within a limited period of time are taken out. I should like to give the House the figures with regard to the building trade—
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
Before we leave the coal miners—the noble Lord gave us the figures under the A scheme, the dead, the discharged and the Regular soldiers; cannot he tell us how many come out under the B scheme? Does not anybody know?
§ LORD NATHAN
I will certainly let the noble Lord know the figure. Whether a particular man goes into a coal mine and comes out of the Army, is a matte, on which I cannot give an answer.
§ LORD NATHAN
We have authorized the release of 13,000. I was explaining to the noble Lord that the question with regard to the particular man is one I cannot answer. I cannot answer it now, but perhaps before I sit down I shall be able to give him the information. Perhaps I shall be more fortunate so far as the building trade is concerned. The Services are anxious to facilitate releases so far as may be. There was a demand made by the, Ministry of Labour for 55,000 men from the building trades. In order to ensure so far as may be that these men might be forthcoming, the War Office authorized the release of 103,000. Those who refused amounted to 20,000, and here is the figure which I think the noble Lord is waiting for, the total actually released from the Forces to the end of October was 20,000 and from the Army 16,621.
As regards the difference between these figures the position is either that they have refused or that they are still considering. Then, of course, there is the third class of individual specialists, and I think that has some bearing on the point raised by the noble Viscount and certainly by the noble Lord opposite on Thursday, as to the draughtsmen. I am now in-a position to give the figures about coal mines. There were 1,044 coal miners released in Class 8 up to October 31 from those for whom authorizations had been given.
§ LORD NATHAN
That is the number up to October 31, but it must not be assumed that many more will not accept release. The noble Earl waves his hand and shrugs in disdain, but remember the time it takes physically before a decision can be reached by the individual. We shall no doubt know a little later what the effective numbers have been.
Let me go back to the point about the draughtsmen in whom the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, showed interest. I think this also relates to the point which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, had in mind. If the industry to which the noble Lord opposite refers is one which is engaged upon work of reconstruction of national importance, let his friend make application' to the Department concerned, which I assume will be the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Supply. If the Ministry of Supply supports the view that this is a business of national importance, he will put forward an application under Class B and it will be authorized by the Service Department concerned. If the draughtsman 'agrees to come out he will certainly be released at once wherever he may be, whatever quarter of the globe he may be in.
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
My point is that the qualification limits are far too narrow. The refusals are made all the time because the individual for whom you ask has not got the necessary qualifications. These should be made very much wider. The men have not been long enough in that particular post, and so on. A hail-trained man is better than none at all.
§ LORD NATHAN
The noble Lord can satisfy the Ministry, in which he may be in relation, that the man be wants is necessary for the purposes of the business, and that that business is necessary and essential for the purposes of national reconstruction. He must, of course, make his case for the withdrawal of any individual. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will reply at the end of the debate, and I do not think you would wish me to deal with some of the other points raised by the noble Lords who have spoken beyond, perhaps, making a reference to derequisitioning—the importance of which I do not underestimate — which was stressed by the noble Viscount opposite, and to one or two of the specific 1041 points put to me by noble Lords opposite who might think me discourteous if I die not reply to them.
The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, raised a question with regard to what I would call the turning of tyres into tractors. He quoted a case of a factory where then were 35,000 square feet of space occupied by the storage of tyres, and he told your Lordships that this firm wanted that space for the purpose of manufacturing tractors. They could not have the space because it was being used by the War Office for storage. I have looked into the point, and I think I have been able to identify the firm I would say to the noble Lord that the world does move along at a pretty smart pace, and that events have overtaken him. The planned release of these premises would have been in March next year, but in view of the representations of the firm to which my noble friend referred, and on obtaining a licence from the Ministry of Labour for the manufacture of 200 or 300 tractors, arrangements were made by the War Office to vacate the premises by November 30. Indeed, on November 8—a week before the noble Lord made his speech—a letter of thanks had already been received from the firm for the consideration extended to them.
Perhaps I might say, in that connexion, that it is hoped that, of the imposing total of 150,000,000 square feet of storage space now, or until recently, occupied by the Government, the whole of it will be cleared, under a phased plan, by the end of next year. On a phased plan, it has already been reduced, I think, to, 135,000,000 square feet, and a further 35,000,000 square feet are already under clearance. The whole matter of storage space has been put into the hands of Genera Lindsell, a very distinguished soldier, who has been brought from India for the special purpose of dealing with this matter.
§ LORD NATHAN
I understand that the greater part of it is. I should like to give some information to the noble Viscount who raised the question of de-requisitioning. At the end of January, 1945, there were 54,000 properties, of all types, held under requisition by the War Department. I am speaking here 1042 solely of the War Department. About half of those were small dwelling houses, schools and colleges which have always had priority for, derequisitioning when derequisitioning became possible. By January 1, 1946, there will be a reduction of 34,000 premises of all classes, and, in general terms, only 6,000 small houses, 150 schools and 14,000 other properties will then remain under requisition. By April 1946, it is anticipated that, virtually, all small houses and fiats will have been derequisitioned, together with the great majority of the remaining schools. There are priority plans for the derequisitioning of small houses and flats, in particular, and, as soon as they have been cleared, it will be necessary, of course, to consider the question of hotels, boarding houses, guest houses, and camps.
Of hotels, boarding houses and guest houses, at the end of September there were 1,706 under requisition. Arrangements have been made for clearing this commitment, and by the end of February next year—in three months' time—there will be reduction to a total of not more than 250 of this type of establishment. A large proportion of hotels due for attention are occupied by pay offices and record offices which are, of course, essential for carrying out the work of release, of which we have been speaking to-day. Apart from the hotels, there are holiday camps and restaurants, of which there were 68 and 155, respectively, at the end of September. These will be reduced to 16 and 24 by the end of February, 1946. There remains the general figure of 14,000 other properties which still have to be derequisitioned. I am not able, to-day, to give any further figures. for these, but the progressive reduction which has occurred over the past year will be maintained throughout the next six months. Every effort is being made to utilize all War Department accommodation to the utmost, but, of course, there are questions of geography which cannot be overcome, and the number of camps which have been put up during the war have not been able to be fully maintained owing to the shortage of labour and material, and their useful life is virtually ended. I thought the noble Viscount would be interested to have that information which bears, with some precision, upon the point he raised with regard to derequisition.
§ LORD NATHAN
According to my recollection, it is a house of twelve rooms, or under. If I should be mistaken in that, I will let the noble Viscount know, but I feel sure I am correct.
§ LORD WOOLTON
The noble Lord is having a very difficult time, but it seems to me that to have 6,000 houses requisitioned by the War Office at this time is a tremendous lot. Cannot the noble Lord promise us something earlier than April for the release of these, because it would be a great relief to the public?
§ LORD NATHAN
Nobody appreciates more than I do that releases should take place as early as possible. Small houses are required for small groups of people. There are small groups of A.T.S. in various parts of the country, and also a large number of offices which have to be accommodated either in a small house or in a large house, and it is in the interests of the public purse that they should be in small houses. On this question of release, it is necessary to have the quartering commandant or the land officer in the neighbourhood, on the spot, and he is afforded accommodation for his office, living purposes, and staff, in one of these small houses. A larger house is not wanted, and, as soon as the work of release has been concluded in the neighbourhood for which he is responsible, his house will become available. No one is more eager than the War Office to release properties as soon as possible, and I thought, in the light of the figures I have given, I should have received a word of commendation from the noble Lord who raised the question.
May I ask the noble Lord to consider, also, whether he cannot increase the size of the small house to, say, fourteen or fifteen rooms? There are a large number of firms who want to get offices, and are precluded from getting these buildings derequisitioned, because the size is being kept down to twelve rooms. Numbers of houses of thirteen or fourteen rooms would be perfectly satisfactory.
§ LORD NATHAN
I am always very willing to give way to any noble Lord who has a question to put, as I think I 1044 have shown, but this is covering a rather wide field. Perhaps I can try to reply to the noble Viscount in one sentence. The small house has been given first priority because it has been felt that it was the small house which was required to be released first. If you enlarge the size of the house so as to make it available for office premises, you defeat part of the object for which the priority was established. The speeches made in support of this Motion have covered a very wide field and I regret I have not been able to deal with all the points which have been raised, but I hope I have said sufficient to indicate to your Lordships that His Majesty's Government are fully alive to the importance—indeed, I will say the vital importance—of this problem and its correct solution, and are sparing no effort to achieve that object.
§ 4.22 p.m.
My Lords, I am in entire agreement with what has been said from this side of the House and I find myself somewhat embarrassed through most of the points I was going to raise having been already covered. There is one point, however, which I think deserves stressing a little more, and that is the point about endeavouring to be fair to all and being fair to none. We have been told that roughly half the numbers in the Forces are in this country and half are overseas. I see no point in having the lot "browned off" when you can at least satisfy a portion. May I elaborate that a little more? When once you are out, you are out, and you soon forget all the troubles you have been in; but when the demobilization process has taken a long time and you come back to queues, no houses, restrictions and all the rest of it, the grudge lasts, and you get people in a bad state of mind for a longer period instead of some people in a bad state of mind for a short period. The vital thing, to my mind, is time, and there is one method whereby the time-lag which has been mentioned—that is, the fifty-six days' leave—could be eliminated, so as to get people back into industry at least that much sooner. I see no reason why the demobilization leave should not be given to men in this country in advance —that is to say, fifty-six days in advance of the date on which they are to be demobilized. That would at least have 1045 two advantages. One is that their demobilization benefits would not be aggregated with their wages for the purposes of Income Tax, which is the case at the moment and which is preventing men from taking on jobs during their leave. The other advantage is that they would get straight back to work, which is where we want them.
I must again mention the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, about the order in which men entered the Forces. I apologize for doing so, but I was myself in the category concerned and I give that as my reason for returning to the matter. The majority of men in the building trade were fully employed on constructional work until early in 1942, and it was not until then that they were permitted to volunteer for any branch of the Services. At that date those of us who could volunteer did so. That means that men of my own age and a great many younger than myself are now between groups 30 and 40. Those groups, 10 far as anyone can see, will not be reached until midsummer next year. Therefore it appears to me that the only solution to the building trade problem is the B release—I do not know if there is any significance in that title, but some people think so. That, as has been remarked, and it does not need any emphasis on my part, is a thoroughly unpopular thing. We had some harrowing details of the difficulties involved. To meet anybody who has actually been released under the B scheme is a pretty rare thing, but I do happen to have done that in one case. I think it might be of interest to your Lordships to hear what junior officers and this man had to say on the subject and how he was released under that scheme.
This lad is younger than myself. He was in Germany. Before the war he was an agricultural student, but he happened to be filling in time before he was called up, and was employed by his father, who is an engineer, as a chainman. I may explain that a chainman is a man who holds the other end of the tape when you are measuring. He did that for a period of two or three months. One evening, at five o'clock, he was suddenly sent for by his Company Commander, who said: "You are to be released under the B scheme as an architect." He replied: "But I am not an architect." The officer 1046 said: "That does not matter. Here it is on the paper. You are to be released under the B scheme as an architect, if you accept. Do you accept?" The man said: "I want to think this over." "No," answered the officer, "you must reply now, because I have to reply tomorrow." There is the point my Lords—reply to-morrow." The man said: "Well, if somebody says I am an architect, yes. Anything to get out." That is the only fellow I know who has been released under the B scheme. It is perfectly true; it is not a good yarn.
To come to a little more serious matter, is it not fairly obvious that the B scheme has not worked? If you want to make it work, I can tell you exactly how to do it. All you need to do is to increase your bid. The only reason men will not accept is that it is not financially to their advantage to do so. That is the hard and fast fact. That is one aspect of it. Here is another. We hear harrowing stories of the difficulties of working the B scheme. I must say that I think the Quartermaster's Department has a lot to do with this. That Department, when talking about the officer's armchair, says: "Chair, reclining, officer's." When they try to get men out under the B scheme they shuffle among their papers, amongst which are those of a lot of people who are dead, and 'hunt up the particulars. There are thousands of clerks working 'day and night trying to get out those details. Then they try to find out where these men are, as they have been posted to various places, and eventually a man who has no intention of accepting is offered release under the B scheme. It appears to me that a more sensible way of doing this would be to call for volunteers under the B scheme in all units, send back the names of the men willing to come out and choose from those men. Surely that would speed up matters.
I must refer to another matter which has been mentioned, though I am sorry I cannot remember which noble Lord raised it. It seems to me that if technical direction were available a great deal better use could be made of the labour which we now have. It is the direction which is lacking and that direction is in the Forces. Largely—very often, at any rate—the man has risen and become an officer. Officers are at a very great disadvantage in getting out as compared 1047 with other ranks. That may be right or it may be wrong, but it is nevertheless the fact. It is that direction which is needed to make use of the existing labour.
A lot has been said about the difficulty of forecasting the size of the Services in the future. I entirely agree with that and so does everyone. There are, however, two facts which must be apparent. One is that the Armed Forces will not be smaller than they were before the war and the other is that the Government must know what is left of the pre-war permanent Army. They have, therefore, a margin on which they can work. There are many old men—I admit I am speaking from experience only in my own unit—who would elect to stay on in the Services at the present time without worrying about terms. They are better off where they are now and they know it. They would stay, but they are being turned out now and young men, who have a job to do, are being kept on. The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, said, quite rightly, that the demobilization machine was now nicely run in. I would like to say that the normal thing which an engineer does, after running a machine in, is to have a go at speed trials. Cannot we have some speed trials with this demobilization scheme?
I now wish to talk on rather a restricted field—namely, the position of the Royal Marine Engineers. They are a small technical unit. Their other ranks are composed entirely of building trade operatives and their officers are all architects, engineers, surveyors and so on. They are all technical men. Among the large majority of those officers and men there is a feeling that they are at a disadvantage. I do not know whether this is true, but what I want to do is to get an answer from His Majesty's Government. They feel they are doing next to nothing except contract work for the Admiralty, work which is normally done by civilian labour. As far as we know, the only cost that is returned—anyway from the actual sites—is the cost of material. No cost of labour is returned from the sites that we know of. If that is so, the Admiralty are getting away with the cost of labour, which is being charged—as far as we know again —presumably to the Service Vote. The feeling is that the Admiralty are sitting back, rubbing their hands and saying: 1048 "This is a good thing; the longer it goes on the better." That is the feeling. I hope it is not true and if so I hope I shall be corrected, because it is having a very bad effect on the morale of these men.
When I was in that unit we were told, unofficially anyway, that we were barred from any class B release. If you bar an entire engineering unit it seems to me you are barring just the kind of men you want to get out. I do not know if that is so, but that is the feeling. Certainly, to my knowledge, at the time I left only one man had been released under Class B. I know of one case where an architect, who was very closely associated with Howard House, was refused release and sent out to Australia, where he is now. That occurred after VJ Day. Right throughout the war all the staff work of the Royal Marine Engineers was carried out by a very gallant old gentleman who had the China ribbon up. As a matter of fact, if you wanted to get on his right side you said, "What is that decoration?" and he was very pleased to tell you. That gallant old gentleman carried on, with the assistance of one junior officer, right through until after VE Day. He was over seventy, but he was fully capable of doing the job and he did do a good job. He was turned out neck and crop in spite of volunteering to stay on; he was not even allowed the courtesy of calling himself "Colonel." A complete new staff was drafted on to the Royal Marine Engineers; certainly seven, and I believe nine, officers replaced that gallant old gentleman. There may have been a very good reason for that but I do not know what it is and I should be very glad to be told. That sort of thing is not convincing to the men in the unit who think they are not getting a fair deal in demobilization.
I think I have already said quite enough, but I would like to tell you that the only means by which I managed to extricate myself from that predicament—I was in release group 31—was to say I wished to come to your Lordships' House and that I believed I could do so. After a period of two months' consideration they decided there was no method whereby they could stop me, and I am afraid I am here. For every two months I sit here I "tick up" one release group, so I do not know how I am going to get out.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
My. Lords, when the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition interrupted the speech of the Under-Secretary of State for War, he pointed out that the Bevin scheme was conceived and launched during the period of the German war and was accepted as a valid scheme impartially and widely at that time; but I conceive it would be surprising indeed if a scheme that was initiated at that time could go on into peace without some modification, and possibly some radical modification. We have since the Japanese war seen the abrupt termination of Lend-Lease and this country has now to face, rather bleakly, the task of earning its own living. We are going through, we hope a short, but anyway an acute period of shortage. One of the scarcest resources in this country is man-power. Parliament, I believe, has a duty most vigilantly to watch the Government and their policy in relation to those resources. When I listened to the noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for War I found no hope that the Government intended to speed up demobilization; I found complacency and I found that they considered the scheme adequate in every way. Like the Bible, it was written and could not be rewritten.
There is a wide measure of agreement that we must have adequate Forces to fulfil our commitments. It is agreed that the man-power for our industry is inadequate, inadequate to fulfil the crying needs of the export trade, of housing, of the re-equipment of our factories and our mines, and of providing an increased quantity of consumption goods for the long-suffering civilian population. We have now heard that the Armed Forces next June are to be somewhere in the region of 2,750,000 men. I should like to ask the Government whether they can tell us their estimate of the total labour force, including those engaged in the Armed Forces, at that time. It has been fairly reliably stated—though I am open to correction—that the labour force of men and women at that time will be about 19,800,000. That is very nearly the same figure as the figure at which it stood in June, 1939; but think of the claims now made upon that labour force as compared with the claims in 1039! We have to maintain larger Armed 1050 Forces; we have six years of arrears to make up in housing and re-equipment; we have to increase our export trade, we are told, by 50 per cent.; and, if my figure is correct, we are to do it with the same labour force.
Now, 2,750,000 men is an imposing figure, but will it really provide us wits an adequate Force, well balanced and integrated? Will it not be rather the residue of those great Armed Forces which we raised to win the war? The application of the Bevin scheme, the age plus length of service principle, must throw out of balance the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, unless releases are held back out of all due proportion. I cannot help thinking, therefore, that although we shall have, unless releases are speeded up, a large number of men under arms —some of them in a state of suspended animation and virtual unemployment, whatever the noble Lord may say—we shall not have the security which should be provided by our Forces.
It seems to me that we ought to call upon the Government to make decisions now in two important fields. We have had a crumb of reassurance from the noble Lord, that the Government intend to announce the terms of service for other ranks in the Regular Forces. I think he was a little less precise in his statement than that, as a matter of fact.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
Terms and conditions, in a month's time, and it is to be hoped that the terms for officers will follow at a date not very much later. We must take comfort where we find it, but I say that we should have had decisions already on two important matters. The first is that of conscription, and the second is that of the terms, of service of both officers and men. I should like, with your Lordships' permission, to read a letter winch I have received from a Regular officer now commanding troops in Germany, because I think that it shows very strikingly the state of mind of those officers and the facts as they present themselves to men on the spot. He writes:However well-meaning the Government's policy may be, they are at the moment losing very rapidly all the best people, both officers and other ranks, for two reasons. No policy for pay or conditions of service has been produced, although the war has been over six months. You cannot expect people to 1051 stay on blindly. Secondly, there is the eternal question of wives in this theatre. Most people have been virtually separated from their wives for the past six years, and unless there is some likelihood of wives being permitted they will not sign on. It is no good the Powers that Be producing a wonderful scheme for a post-war Army in six months' time. The damage is being done daily, because most of the people we want are in early age groups. The plea of ' youth to the fore ' holds little appeal, as a lance-corporal, however competent, cannot be made a good company-sergeant-major in a day.I think that those words depict more forcibly than could any poor words of mine the true state of affairs that faces our Forces now. We are losing every day, with every group that goes out, the flower of our future Army. It is important that we should have at this critical time Forces of the highest quality and of the highest efficiency. If we can build up within a reasonable time an Army and Navy and Air Force of that kind, I believe that we can fulfil our commitments with a much smaller Force than that adumbrated by the Government. And so I would press for two things: speedier demobilization, and decisions now which will place our Services on a proper footing.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD JOWITT)
My Lords, I might perhaps usefully occupy your Lordships' time for a few minutes only in dealing with some of the points which have been made in the last two very interesting speeches. I want to put this to your Lordships. We have worked out a plan, and to that plan we are adhering. Criticism from your Lordships' House has been on two diametrically opposite lines. On the one hand, the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, said that it was a policy of "drift, drift, drift." That is to say, he says that we are not steering by the compass at all, but just letting ourselves be blown wherever the wind happens to blow us. On the other hand, the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, said that we were adhering too rigidly to a plan, and that we were foolish not to alter our plan and make it more flexible to deal with the situation as it emerges from day to day. Both those criticisms cannot be right; they rule each other out altogether, and your Lordships must really choose which horse to back. Is it that we are drifting and have no plan at all, or is it, on the other hand, that we are adhering much too rigidly to the plan which we have?
1052 I submit that we are taking the proper course in adhering to the plan commonly called the Bevin plan, because the Bevin plan has certain very great advantages. On the other hand, I am very conscious of the need, the clamant need, to get back more workers for our industry. If I am asked whether we are going to speed up demobilization, I would ask your Lordships to consider this figure. We have had a machine which was slow to start, I quite agree; disappointingly slow, I quite agree. Our total releases down to October 31 were 711,000. Our target for the end of the year, two months later, is, as your Lordships know, over 1,500,000. I believe that we are going to reach that target, and therefore in the two months, November and December, we have to discharge the difference between those two figures, which is roughly of the order of 800,000. If I take the period as eight weeks—it is rather longer, but it eases my arithmetic to take it as eight weeks—that gives a weekly average of 100,000, or a daily average of 14,000. If we do achieve that figure, a weekly average of 100,000, that is pretty speedy; I do not think it could be suggested that we could improve on that.
Now that is all very well, but do let us consider this. Are you going to have these men coming back in a sort of unregulated scramble, or are you going to try to get them back in an orderly and regulated way? The noble Earl, Lord Dudley, said—and we all know it to be true—that there are many of our factories which have to be re-tooled and modernized before they can be effectively used, and, at the present moment, the labour you want for those factories is that labour which is able to do the retooling and modernizing; it is not the labour that will come to those factories when they have been re-tooled. We must not imagine that the greatest good will be done if we try to get out the greatest number of men without any sort of regard to what is going to happen to them when they come out of the Army. I would ask that we should concentrate on an orderly and regulated method, and if we do make good that target and discharge 800,000 men between now and the end of the year, I am quite certain that that will be as many as industry can digest for the time being. Then, of course, for the next six months, down to June 30 next year, we have to discharge rather more than 1053 another 1,500,000 men. So we bring down our Armed Forces from approximately 5,250,000 — or rather less, in fact—to 2,200,000 or thereabouts.
Now I want to say that our limiting factor is not transport. The limiting factor is what Armed Forces shall we want by the end of June next year? It is too early yet to say what we shall need, but we cannot consider cutting down and allowing demobilization to go on to an unlimited extent. We must have regard to our possible needs and we must have regard to the situation in various parts of the world. And, though I hope that time will prove that the figure of 2,200,000 is excessive, we are not prepared at the, present time to say that it is so. It must always be remembered that if you want accurately to measure demobilization you must not merely subtract from 5,250,000 the figure 2,200,000, because, of course, the latter figure will have been swollen by the new intake. That surely is right. That is our limiting factor at the present time, and I have yet to hear any of your Lordships definitely pledge yourselves to the view that the world situation is so clear and so easy that we ought, at the present time, to prepare our plans for cutting down further than that. I hope, naturally, that we shall be able to go down further than that.
Next, may I say something about the speech of Lord De L'Isle with regard to our labour force? I have not the figures but my recollection is from what I have heard—and I have heard them quoted before—that his figures are right. The lesson they show, I think, is this. We shall have hereafter to use our labour more effectively and we must try to increase our output. We must modernize our plan, and our methods, and also try to, see that more of our labour does go into production. There was nothing that impressed any of us more, in looking at the figures of, the call-up in the time of the Coalition Government, than to find what an overwhelming proportion of men came, not from production, but from distribution. I feel certain that in the future, if we are going to achieve all we want to do, we must get a larger number of men into production, and we must see that those men in production are so placed and sc circumstanced, and the factories so tooled and machined, that a far greater output can be obtained. That, I believe, is one 1054 of the problems before us, and for that reason I would say, do not let us get into an unregulated scramble in this matter.
We do not look upon the Bevin scheme as part of the law of the Medes and Persian's which cannot possibly be altered. Of course it can, and we should indeed be foolish if we did not learn, in the light Of experience, what we ought to learn. But in view of the feeling there was after the last war about demobilization, of the suspicion of the soldiers with regard to what were called key-men—as many of your Lordships will recollect—are we not right to take no risks of that happening again? We have a scheme which, at any rate, has this merit; that it commends itself to the Armed Forces. I suggest that His Majesty's Government would be foolish to jettison that scheme unless there is any really very serious case for so doing. At the present moment I do not think that there is such a case. I concede at once that for the few months that the machine has been operating it has worked disappointingly slowly. But now the machine is properly "revved up" I believe it is going to work—as I said before—quite as fast, and give us quite as large a number of men as industry can absorb. In these circumstances, I am not prepared, at the present time, to say that any drastic amendment in the Bevin scheme is necessary.
Now as to Class B. That figure was fixed very carefully. We came to the conclusion in the old days—and I think that conclusion was right—that at no time should B releases exceed, as a maximum, 10 per cent. of the A releases. Your Lordships all know why we came to that conclusion. The reason was that we were advised that unless we did so the soldiers would not think that the scheme was fair. At the present moment the position is that up to the 31st October Class B releases were 39,000, and they were gaining impetus rapidly.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
People who have come out. As your Lordships know, we estimate the number of the men who are to come out—you must allow me a little latitude about this—as something in the region of 150,000, that being about 10 per cent. of the Class A releases by the end of the year. If you look at the 1055 figure of 39,000 representing those who have come out you will find that a very large proportion have come out in the last fortnight, or rather the fortnight which finished at the end of October. I do not know, but I am hopeful that, again in the B scheme, we shall be able to carry out our programme and to get our number by the end of the year. It does not depend on us, of course, but on whether the requisite number of men are willing to come out. But, as I say, we hope that we shall be able to carry out that programme in the six or seven weeks which are left to us before the end of the year.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
May I remind the noble and learned Lord of one point which was put several times and which has not been dealt with so far? He has just said that it depends an the men whether an adequate number will come out. May I submit that a man's decision may well depend on whether it is going to pay him to come out or not? Surely there could be no breach of the Bevin scheme or of anything else if the Government would say, in order to give assurance to the men: "We will pay you your fifty-six clays pay which the other man gets under the A releases. We will pay you that when you come out instead of deferring it."
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
May I ask, before the Lord Chancellor replies to that question, whether, in reference to the figures which he was good enough to give on releases under the Class B scheme, he can tell us what the number of applications has been? I think they have been in the region of 150,000.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I think it is 140,000—something of that order. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, that the more you pay, the more attractive you make it, the more ready the man will be to accept it. With the scheme remaining as it is, I think we shall get the number we are asking for by the end of the year. To carry that out means a very great improvement on the early figures of both A and B, if we are going to be able to speed up releases between now and the end of the year.
On quite a different topic altogether, I was asked a question—I think it was by the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven 1056 —with regard to the Royal Marine Engineers. I am told that the Royal Marine Engineers are an integral part of the Royal Marines. That is to say, therefore, that they are an integral part of the Armed Forces of the Crown and it is therefore right that their pay and allowances should be charged against Vote 1. The estimates for their work which come under Vote 10 take cognizance of the fact that their pay and allowances is not a charge against Vote to. That is the position and I think that the assurance which the noble Lord wants is that these matters in no way prejudice their position with regard to discharge and demobilization—in no way whatever. They are coming out in accordance with the scheme. I can see that the noble Lord is sent a more detailed answer because this is a rather specialized point with which I do not want to detain the House, but so far as demobilization is concerned these matters in no way prejudicially affect that branch of the Service of which he has been speaking.
I thank the noble and learned Lord and I hope that he will send me the information.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, as I raised this matter before the House last Thursday, perhaps you will bear with me at the end of the debate. I think you will probably all consider that it has been worth while discussing this highly important subject in this House. For myself, I should like the Government, and those members of it who are here to-day, to go away and think about two further topics. For myself I think perhaps that the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, was rather optimistic as to the numbers in Class B who were going to get out at the end of the year. The figures which the noble Lord the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for War gave us were, I think, extremely disappointing both with regard to mining and the building industry. Of 103,000 people whose releases have been approved by the War Office in the building industry we have got only 16,600 and of 13,000 miners we have got only 1,044. That seems to me to be extremely poor working of the release of Class B men. I do not suggest that the man should not be under some kind of control until his proper release group time comes round, because I think that is only fair 1057 to other people in the same group. If a man is released in Class B he should still be under some obligation.
I see no reason at all—neither of the noble Lords who replied for the Government dealt with the point—why the amount of the gratuity (and I should like to see it paid as a gratuity and not as wages), could not be made the same for those who come out under Class B as for those who come out under Class A. At present the Class B release man gets twenty-one days leave as against fifty-six for the Class A man. When, as the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, said, a man writes home to his wife and asks her which the better bet, obviously the scales will be weighted in favour of the bet by which he gets fifty-six days instead of twenty-one. There is no reason why he should spend the fifty-six days on holiday. He might say—and I know one or two instances with some of my old Territorial friends who have been demobilized—"I should like a fortnight's holiday with my wife and family and after that I am ready to go back to work." What we must look upon is that we want to get these people back into the essential trades, and all these people are in essential trades or they would not be in Class B. My reason for saying that I would prefer payment as a gratuity and not as wages is that think that if it were paid in that way it might not be liable to pay-as-you-earn Income Tax. That might encourage the man to go directly to work, which is, after all, in the interests of the country.
I should like to deal for a moment with Class A. The figures given us by the noble and learned Lord on stepping aside from the Woolsack, were 80,000, or approximately that, perhaps 100,000 a week. If I have got the figures right, and I did them as roughly as the noble and learned Lord did his, on the million and a half up to June we reduce to a rate of demobilization of only 60,000 or thereabouts every week, down from 100,000. I am not at the moment questioning this figure and the size of the Forces at the end of June, but it is a simple thing, when industry, agriculture, and the distributive trade are needing people, to keep on at the rate of 100,000 a week through next year and not drop to this, figure of 60,000. Your machine has shown that it can do it apparently, and there seems to me no possible reason why 1058 it should not be done. There cannot be a strategic reason, because otherwise you would not go below that figure when you come to your end of June figure. I hope that the Government will look at these two points further; I think they are both reasonable.
I must say that I really thought that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for War had acquired that sort of complacency which often goes with that corridor along which the Army Council live. What we want with regard to this scheme is a spirit of discontent with its slowness of working, and we should see that wherever it can be improved and quickened for the sake of the men in the Forces and their relatives at home, and for the sake of the whole prosperity of this country, it should be speeded up. I hope that the Motion which I have raised in your Lordships' House will have some effect in stirring all people who live in this and similar corridors in our own Government Departments, and with that cherished hope in my breast I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.