HL Deb 23 October 1956 vol 199 cc909-34

2.42 p.m.

LORD MACDONALD OF GWAENYSGOR rose to call attention to the report issued on March 9, 1956, by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research on Automation; to ask what action Her Majesty's Government propose to take on the report; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am quite sure that I shall be acting in accordance with the wishes of all your Lordships if at the outset I express our appreciation of the work of the Committee responsible for this Report. It was not an easy task which they had to carry outߞI would call it a most onerous and formidable taskߞbut they have executed it with great success, and I am sure that everyone concerned is delighted with the fruits of their industry and is grateful to them.

At the same time I think I shall be expressing the wishes of your Lordships if I refer to the noble Viscount. Lord Hailsham, who is to reply to this debate. When I first put this Motion on the Order Paper, he was a Back Bencher, though I must confess that many of us on this side of the House thought that he was of the calibre and of the stature of a Front Bencher. We are very pleased to extend our congratulations to him and our warmest felicitations. I think the fact that he is winding up the debate makes the debate much more interesting. Of one thing we may be quite sure the reply will lack neither colour nor calibre, and I would add that I feel certain it will lack neither vigour nor vitality.

This question of automation has been before the country for many months. In recent months it has been before almost every conference held in connection with any Party or any industry, and also before religious conferences. Yes. even at religious conferences it has been thought worth while to put this subject high on the agenda. I can well understand that, for it reflects every phase of life. What these conferences have done ߞand, as I say, they have been conferences of all kindsߞis to clarify the situation very much. There was undoubtedly confusion, and confusion usually results in doubts and fears, anxieties and suspicion. In this particular instance I feel that: at first no-one was really sure what: was meant by this term "automation." And no-one was sure what was going to happen; how it would affect the social life of the country. The conferences to which I have referred have helped immensely to remove confusion, arid as a result have given people a much more accurate conception of what automation means to the life of this country.

It is not for me to go into any details this afternoon. I have found (and I dare-say this has been the experience of others of your Lordships who have followed the same course) that the study of this Report demands both time and application. Anyone who hopes to get a grasp of it certainly needs both time and powers of application to read the original Report. I must say that for my part I found that it was not very easy. It was very fine, very helpful and very clarifying, but not easy to understand. I went through it, with considerable effort, from first to last, and as a result got a much better conception of the problem of automation. I would submit, however, that whoever is responsible for bringing out an abridged version is deserving of our gratitude. I found it much easier reading, and I Think, if anything, it is equally beneficial. It is entitled Automation in Perspective.

Here we have, in various places, definitions. An effort has been made to differentiate between mechanisation and automation. Personally, I have never seen the need for differentiating between mechanisation and automation. I have always felt (I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Bennett of Edgbaston, would agree with this) that automation was simply mechanisation carried a step further, carried into a new sphere, and that whereas mechanisation dealt with the manual worker, and displaced him and put him into a new kind of work, automation is inclined more to deal with the man who works the machines. That is my reading of this term.

It is clear that automation will enable industry to give greater output. "Productivity" is a word which is much used nowadays, and I feel sure that we shall get more productivity as the result of automation, if rightly handled. I want to emphasise those last wordsߞ"if rightly handled". First of all we must get a right attitude on the part of all those who will be involved in industry, on either side, and on the part of those dependent on industryߞwhich means all the people in the country. Those responsible in the initial stages are the managements. They have a very difficult task to perform. They are carrying on business in competition with other people. Someone has to consider the questions: "Can we maintain the pace as we are? Do not we need more mechanisation? Would not introducing automation help us?" Someone has to consider those questions and give replies. I do not envy the person who has to reply. He has to reply as regards date and rate: two very difficult matters. He has also a very big responsibility regarding the workers.

What will be their attitude? Let me make this plain, from my own point of view and speaking from experience. The attitude of the management determines very largely the attitude of the workers. If the management takes the wrong attitude from the beginning, there is little hope of the workers taking the right attitude. I would not say that managements have not made the right approach to this question of automation. I think that managements generally realise that they are doing a big thing and that it is essential to carry the workers with them. On the whole they have discharged that side of their responsibility exceptionally well. It is not easy, for managements are in competition with each other. There must be a certain element of secrecy. The question when to disclose a top secret to the workers' representatives is one which is not easy to decide. I should be amazed if any managements thought they ought not to disclose secrets; but when and how to disclose them is not an easy matter to decide and it throws a great responsibility on the shoulders of the managements concerned. On the question of automation I would beg managements right through the country to keep that uppermost in their minds. If they inform, at the right time and in the right way, the workers in the industry, I am sure that they will be ready to play their part in the change over to automation. That will be a big help. If that is not done there will be a big hindrance.

This pamphlet Automation in Perspective, to which I have referred, has a few things to say about managements. On the top of page 18 I read this: In general automation calls on managements to be more forward looking than before. Some conservative managements may slow down its progress because they doubt its value and are slow to meet its challenge. Scepticism of new and radical developments in technique is natural and healthy up to a point, especially when it causes the economic problems to be discussed at length. If scepticism is to be overcome, scientists and technologists will have to make clear both what is technically possible in automation and what that means for industry. If they fail the conservatism of some managements may keep the rate of technical change below what is economically desirable.

There we have summarised the view of those who carried out the investigations necessary to make this Report. That is their view. They do not speak of this as being an easy matter. They say that it is very difficult to separate the problems of dealing with management and dealing with manpower which are involved. Those responsible, they say, have appreciated that difficulty. To separate entirely the problem of dealing with the management attitude and not to touch the workers' attitude during that treatment is next to impossible. That was realised by those responsible for the Report, with the result that we find them, when dealing with management, referring to the manpower aspect of the problem.

I quote again from the Report, because I find it very illuminating. The Report says: The obvious conclusion is that a firm can avoid serious labour problems by looking at its manpower needs well ahead of any change. It can estimate the likely surplus of labour (if any) and see how much of it can be employed in other departments or can replace labour lost through retirement and resignation. It may also avoid difficulties by working out its training schemes well in advance of need. By careful planning of this kind it can reduce the threat of redundancy and temper the fear of it. If, in addition, the firm consults the trade unions in advance of each step and keeps the labour force informed as to how automation will affect it, it should generally be able to install the new machinery without serious disturbance. If it is necessary, though, frankly, I do not think it is, I would call the attention of every management of the country to these two paragraphs in the Report.

There is also the question of financing these changes, which will not be easy. Mechanisation is expensive. I happen to be in the coal industry, and I ant delighted to notice that my noble friend Lord Hall is to add a few words lacer, because few people know more about mechanisation in the coal industry than he does. When he and I first went into the industry mechanisation was almost unknown. We saw it introduced, stage by stage, through our working life in the industry, and therefore we can speak with some experience of how the worker views introduction of machinery which might replace him and his workmates or might create difficulties for them. Automation is even more costly than the mechanisation that has taken place so far. The big firms may not find it difficult to obtain the necessary capital, although they might find some other difficulties. Some of the smaller firms engaged in these industries. however, will find difficulty.

I am not certain of the extent to which one can look to the Government for assistance to private enterprise concerns who are unable to automate to the extent the Government think they ought to do in the national interest. After all, on this issue the Government cannot stand on the sidelines. The future of the country is very much involved. What must be remembered is that automation is taking place on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and I am not sure that even more automation is not taking place on the other side than on the democratic side. No Government can afford to overlook that. At the moment, we in this country are running two racesߞthe armaments race and the automation raceߞand it is very important that we win both. It may be possible, in trying to win both, that: one can be used to help the other. It is not for me, to-day in particular, to go into the question of the cost of the defence of our country. I, for oneߞand I think that here I speak also for the rest of my colleaguesߞdo not begrudge a penny piece that is necessary in the defence of our country, but it may be possible to help win the automation race by arranging in a particular way expenditure on the armaments race. I know that it is difficult, but if we do not get the rate of automation we need in order to stand up to the countries that are automating behind the Iron Curtain, we may not win.

I do not wish to introduce political issues, but I do not think that we can keep them out. As your Lordships can well understand, the U.S.S.R. are automating as quickly as we arc (I have some figures here which I will not quote), and while doing that they are also making some nice references to easing off in the armaments race. I would say that the country that wins the automation race may win through entirely, because if this country, which depends so muchߞindeed almost entirelyߞon exports. were to fail in this race, and if our standard of living dropped. it would be possible for the Communists to win through. They may be long-sighted enough to see that by relentlessly pursuing this automation race, in order to handicap the democratic countries so that they may be unable to finance their social services, so causing the workers to become discontented, there is the possibility of their winning through better by winning the automation race than by pursuing the armaments race. Moreover, in the armaments race we have good and reliable colleagues helping us, whereas in the automation race those colleagues are competitors of ours. I think that automation has to be looked at from that angle.

On this question of our being able to get the full rate of automation, while I am not one who would suggest a subsidy to private enterprise I feel that we must look at the question of financing those firms which are unable to automate at the rate the Government consider necessary in order to hold our own in the automation race for trade and exports.

As I have said, the attitude of management is vitally important. I would say that they have it in their hands largely to determine the workers' attitude. If they pursue the right, wise and statesmanlike attitude from the first time it dawns on management that they ought to do something about automation, if they take the workers' leaders into their confidence from the beginning, I am sure that it will immensely help the workers in adopting the right attitude. What is the workers' attitude? I can speak as an individual who spends a great deal of time amongst the workers, but I thought it best to get in touch with the Trades Union Congress. They have just had their annual conference, where the question of automation was discussed, and the Labour Party have just had their conferenceߞas also have the Conservative Party, at Llandudno. I wrote to the T.U.C. to ask them where they stood on this Reportߞno more. I did not want to go any further, because I know that they will be meeting the Government on this question: they must do so. Here are a few sentences from the reply I received. One document enclosed was, they said: a summary of the recent Department of Scientific and Industrial Research Report, the main conclusions of which, the General Council were glad to note, are very much in line with their own views on the subject.… In the opinion of the General Council it is important that close and detailed attention continues to be paid to technological developments in industry and commerce, and that discussion be encouraged at all levels of the Trade Union Movement. With this in mind it is proposed to produce, later in the year, a discussion pamphlet on Automation. That pamphlet has now been circulated. It shows the attitude of the T.U.C., an organisation which speaks for the workers. It is hinted sometimes that it does not, but I tell your Lordships, frankly, that it does, particularly on this issue.

Naturally, the individual worker is concerned. Can we expect him to be other than concerned? I saw a letter in The Times some time ago from a man who is entitled to write on this issue, Mr. Paul Cherrington, the Warden of Urchfont Manor Residential College for Adult Education, near Devizes. Listen to what he said about the individual worker, in whose place we have to try to put ourselves: Even for a man who has been used to being on a week's notice it cannot be easy to co-operate in a reorganisation which may mean giving up a job which he has had for some years, leaving a house he is buying by instalments, moving his children to another school and cutting all his local ties. It may entail a move to a part of the country he dislikes, to a job less to his taste and not as well paid. And it cannot be easy for him to explain to his wife that all this is in the national interest. I should not care for the job of the union official who is expected to persuade him to go quietly.

There is a further sentence that I should like to read to your Lordships. It says: We must devise "— and by "we" he means not only the workers and employers in industry, and not only the Government, but all of us— and announce a positive policy of rewards to men for moving from certain jobs to certain other ones, and this policy must be very well communicated by people who have an accurate notion of what the worker is thinking about. If we do not take vigorous action of this sort very soon, the crippling disputes and the miserable ends to them are likely to create a distrust of management and government which will be as harmful to us as the restrictive practices and the bad feelings which arc the flotsam washed up by the storms of the 'thirties.

Those two sentences from that letter convey the attitude of the individual worker, and the writer is concerned as to that. Imagine what happened in Birmingham, when a number of men went to the coal industry. As I have already indicated, I happen to know that industry well, and it is a terrible thing to ask a man to go down into the mine when he has spent so much of his life acquiring the skill necessary to carry out some other job. As I say, it is a terrible thing: but there it is.

What is felt on the labour side is this. In the transition period there will be difficulties and there will be burdens to be borne. But we feel it is unfair to ask a few hundred, or a few thousand, individuals to bear an extra share of those burdens. It should be possible to hammer out a scheme, by consultation among the employers, the workers and the Government, to see to it that no section has to bear more than its share of the burdens that in the transitional period are inevitable. As regards the Governmentߞand, as I have already indicated, I do not think they are entitled to sit on the sidelines hereߞI would say that they have adopted a fairly intelligent, reasonable and justifiable attitude towards this question. It is difficult for the Minister of Labour to jump in, without much notice, and say that some sections of the unemployed shall be treated differently from others. That is a matter where you have to hammer out high-grade policy, and you can do that only by consulting those responsible on both sides of industry, along with the Ministry of Labour, representing the Government. I have already indicated where it might be done on one side, but I see that the supply of materials is sometimes in danger, and I feel sure that the Government could do much in that direction.

What I am more concerned about to-day, however, is that the Government should take the steps necessary to see to it that the skilled labour is available right through industry. Again, let me say that I think they have done well. Anyone who looks at Appendix V will see that much has been done on the side of research and in trying to train the necessary men to shoulder automation; and that needs some doing. I shall leave my noble friend Lord Hall to deal, in the main, with the technological side of this subject, but I should like to put this to the Government. Research is most important. We have here in Appendix V as many as six lists of what needs to be done, and in the opposite column is shown what is being done. I would ask the Government whether they cannot do more, because it is vital that the skilled manߞand he needs to be skilled to carry out this automationߞis there when the job is there arid not for the job to be there before the skilled man is.

There is one footnote to which I should like to direct the attention of the noble Viscount who is to reply, which says: These projects have been sponsored by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and financed with conditional aid funds derived from United States economic aid.

There was a rumour earlier in the summer that this source of income may dry up. I do not know whether the noble Viscount can tell us, but, if so, I should like to know whether it has dried up or whether it is continuing. If it has dried up, will the Government make up the loss from funds to be provided by the Ministry of Labour and National Service? I do not think we can afford to lose these funds: and if, for some reason or other, the conditional economic aid funds from the United States are no longer forthcoming, we shall need to provide them from elsewhere.

I have done my best, as quickly as I can, to present what I think is the position regarding automation The more this question is discussed, the better. It is going to make a great difference to our social life. I feel that possibly in twenty or thirty years' time it will create a substantially increased amount of leisure, and we need to consider, at the same time, how to enable our people to make the best use of that leisure. Sometimes I feel that spare time is more difficult to handle than spare money, and we must keep in mind that sooner or later automation of necessity will create much more leisure. However, that is looking to the future. What I ask to-day is for this Report to be considered in its entirety; for an appreciation of the work which needs to be put into it; and for the Government to tell us what they propose to do to help forward this important matter of automation. I beg to move for Papers.

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that the noble Lord who has just sat clown has done us a great service in bringing this matter forward, and I should like to congratulate him on the way he has put the case. I was struck by the fairness with which he balanced the difficulties on both sides. I entirely agree with him, as I hope to show, that the view and attitude of the worker is quite as important-4 not more soߞ-as anything else in the way we approach this subject. I am pleased to hare listened to the noble Lord, and also to have the opportunity of following him.

As he suggested, in the last few months there has been a distinct change in the way this question of automation is being approached, and the earlier hysteria now seems to have died out. A short time ago, the Press, broadcasters, writers of articles and preachers were all emphasising one aspect of this, and there seemed at that time to be a great deal of misunderstanding, amounting almost to hysteria. As the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, has said, as a result of conferences and discussions, and as people begin to realise a little more what this really means, the comments now made are much more understanding. This word "automation" is an awkward word. Like many omnibus words that have come from America, it tries to cram too much meaning into a small space. What we must realiseߞand I do not think the public has realised itߞis that this is merely a new word; it is not a new technique. It is from the failure to appreciate that fact that a good deal of misunderstanding has arisen.

There have been two extreme views about automation. One has been that it is a new device which is bound to work for mass unemployment. The other has been expressed by those who write and speak as if it were a completely new technique which, in some miraculous way, was going to improve our standard of living almost overnight. of course, both of those views are wrong. In industry the word is generally used to cover mechanisation and automatic control. I have no doubt that when the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, comes to speak, he will give us a definition dealing with the mining side, and I shall not touch on that aspect but will stick to what I know. We in industry arc used to automation and regard it as the extended adoption of methods that have been in use ever since industry began. Of late years we have seen individual operation of machinery. travelling belts, line production and line-up machines to give flow production. We have seen multi-spindle and multi-purpose tools and latterly we have seen transfer machines. It is a long. continuous process. one that has been going on almost as long as industry has been in existence. Even electronics, of which people speak with bated breath, have been known in industry for a generation. Perhaps some of your Lordships will remember going to exhibitions such as we had in Birmingham many years ago, before the war, when we were struck with the invisible ray which opened and shut doors as we crossed a space. That was a long time ago, and we have been working on such matters ever since.

If this new word. "automation." had not come from the United States, and had not been taken up by the Press and given such publicity, progress would probably have continued in our British wayߞslow, steady and sure. But there was this introduction of a word to explaina process which had been developed in the United States in one particular factory to do one particular job. The word was taken up, and we have had a spate of discussion which might have been avoided had that word not come over. We should just have carried on as we were doing all the while.

I have said before, and I repeat it, that there has been a steady shift from skill on finishing a job to skill on producing the machines to do the work. Years ago, craftsmen used to prepare articles by their own skill. To-day, people buy machine-made products that are not produced by the skill of the worker. That skill has been shifted from producing single articles to producing marvellous machines which enable thousands of articles to be turned out. Whereas, formerly, these professionally produced articles were found only in the homes of the wealthy, to-day they arc to be found, many of them, in the cottages, because the skill which was used to produce one has now gone into the machines to produce thousands. Do not run away with the idea that we are losing ourcraftsmanshipߞthat is completely untrue. There is more craftsmanship to-day than ever there was in our industry; but it is being properly applied, instead of, in my view, being wasted. Of course, it is nice to have a hand-made article, and to know that it is hand-made. Not long ago a colleague of mine looked at an article and said, "It is hand-made. Is it not marvellous. By the look of it you would think it was machine-made." It was so beautifully made that he thought it must have been made by a machine. I mention that only in passing.

The most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, who spoke at the Trades Union Congress dedication service, said something which was very striking. He said: The real danger of automation was that it limited still more the range in which a man could exercise his own initiative and craftsmanship and personal effort, which were what really gave men satisfaction and happiness. I absolutely agree with the last paragraph— that is what gives a man satisfaction and happiness. But to suggest that automation is going to hinder that overlooks one fact. We are looking all the while at the operator on the floor of the shop, and we are forgetting the man who has made that operator's work possible: the skill which is not seen when you look just al the operator working the machines.

In order to check this, I went round some works and I discussed some of these new processes with the operators. Instead of finding that they had lost interest, I found that their interest had been increased. They were extremely keen on these new methods and new machines. I went further than that: I discussed it with the people who were responsible in the research departments for these machines, and the teams whose sole work is to develop new processes of work and to put pilot plants through. I went to see the toolmakers who are making the accurate tools in order that the machines can be built. What did I find? I found that those young men were intensely enthusiastic and were taking a great interest in the work they were doing, so much so that the difficulty was to get away from them. They seemed to think that I was going into the business. I wanted to go and see something else.

You may say that those people are few and far between, but that is not correct. I made inquiries and I found that the number of those employed on this work of research, toolmaking and pilot plants had greatly increased from what it was before the war. Although there may be a diminution in some employment, there has been a vast increase in other ways Many people seem to think only of the machine-minders; but if you go into a well-set-up works you will see the large number of men who have to be kept on toolmaking, making what are called the jigs and fittings. The common idea is that you buy a machine tool, put it down, offer the work to it and let it go. That is not so. You purchase a machine tool, but it is months before you can use it, and thousands of pounds have to be spent in making special equipment to enable the unskilled worker to use the machine. The maintenance is considerable, and the cost, which means the labour, is very heavy.

I should like, your Lordships to picture for a moment an automatic factory. One or two people put the material in at the top, and one or two people at the bottom take the finished articles out. There are such factoriesߞI have read of themߞmaking, I believe. crankshafts. There are others making similar articles in America, and even in this country there are food-making machines which feed material in at the front and box it into cartons, without any handling. But, you will say, those are few and far between. But wait a moment. Have you ever considered the chemical factories and the refineries? l was looking through the photographs in The Times the other day of the Queen Mother visiting Calder Hall. There was a vast plant, and I could see only three people. I have been round chemical works and have had to look for a worker. There are a few men in cubby holes, working controllers, but there seemed to be nobody else about.

Your Lordships may say, "Look at that! No work." But wait a minute. Think of the vast amount of labour that has been put in before that plant ever started. The same applies to refineries. An enormoes amount of work has been done in order that those few people can be left to carry on. You may say, That is work done, and now the men are out of employment." Do not believe it. They are employed on putting up more refineries and more chemical factories. 'There arc schemes of development in hand which are held up for only one reason: there are not enough people to put them into operation. The work is going on at a pace which is settled by the number of people available.

Take the D.S.I.R. Report, to which the noble Lord has referred. I have read it through. I do not suppose many people have done so, but in view of this debate I took the trouble to read itߞnice bedside reading, I must say! What struck meߞand perhaps others noticed itߞwas that often during the discussions the people who compiled this Report referred to the very considerable expense which is necessary to do these things. What does that mean? It means that a vast amount of labour has to be expended before you call start to use these things. When you analyse it, practically everything comes down eventually to labour. We speak of "material,' but what is material? Material is labour at third, fourth and fifth hand. Everything that grows needs labour, everything that is mined needs labour, everything that is fabricated needs labour. We do not make all these things of gold and precious metals; they are the common things of life, and they are mostly labour. Automation will need a vast amount of labour to make it work. Somebody may say: "There are profits." But if you take the profits which are in these things you will find that they are negligible compared with the cost of the total labour involved in all these processes.

I come to the point which the noble Lord who moved the Motion made, the problem of the changeover. Let us hope it will be reasonable and gradual so that it can be done as it has been in the past. But I agree with the noble Lord: it is a difficult problem. Movement to-day has become increasingly difficult. There is the housing problem, to which the noble Lord referred: there are the schooling, the friendships, the breaking up of homes. Therefore, we have to do all we can to soften the blowߞbecause it will be a blow to some people. But we cannot stop progress and "stay put." By consultation, co-operation and forward planning, we have to do everything we can to make this changeover as easy as possible for those on whom it will fall, because, as I say, we as a nation cannot afford to say that we are satisfied with where we are and that we intend to stop.

I have read I do not know whether other noble Lords haveߞfanciful articles in the Press of what will happen in the next "twenty, thirty, or forty years on," as the song goes. That is all fancy. But we can look back at what happened in the last fifty years, and that is a fact. There is the motor industry, with which I have been connected for the last fifty years. It is over fifty years ago since I entered the motor industry where I have been making the fittings that go into the vehicles. A few months after I entered the industry I married, and, although I was in the motor industry, I went to my wedding in a four-wheeler and I drove on my honeymoon in a handsom cab. When I went to London on business, I travelled around in horse buses. You and I have seen a complete change in the whole of our national life. It was the era of the horse, and there was a good deal of opposition from the people whose livelihood depended upon the breeding or the handling of horses. There was a considerable upset to the ancillary trades. Walsall, a neighbouring town to mine, had to change over from making saddleries to other leather goods, but they did it.

London changed over gradually from horse buses to motor buses. I know because I was supplying equipment, and I had to go out in the early morning to see it off from the garages and be there at midday to see the bus repairer about the troubles, of which there were plenty. They were not very pleasant vehicles in which to travel. They improved steadily and were developed. Look at the London streets to-day, with their buses. I saw the first taxis come on to the London streets; they were French made, but we got used to them. Look at the number of them to-day. The carts that used to go round are now replaced by lorries. The butcher boys used to drive round in traps drawn by high-stepping horses and were a curse and a nuisance. To-day they are replaced by similar boys who drive about too fast in vans. We have seen the change; we have seen it all happen little by little, and there has been a complete change and replacement of masses of people from one place to another. Go a little further hack and think of our forefathers and the opposition there was from the horse and the coach people to the railway. But the railway came. If it had not come, where should we have been?

And it is not only in these industries. We have seen the motor industry grow, and out of it has come the aeroplane industry. Although during the war when aircraft were overhead we may have cursed the man who invented the petrol engine, we have seen an enormous advance and a great increase in the employment of the people who make these articles. Look at the electricity industry which was very small when I was a boy. In Birmingham we had oil lamps and the streets were lit by inefficient fishtail burners. Look at the lighting of the streets to-day. Council houses in small towns now use electric light, and use electricity for all sorts of other purposes besides light. When I left school I had a year's training at one of the largest commercial houses in Birmingham, the screwmaking firms of Nettlefold's. That was one of the most up-to-date places in Birmingham; yet it had no telephone in the premises when I went there, just before the end of the last century. They were very up to date: they had a telegraph from their offices to their works on the outskirts, but there was no telephone. When the merchants in Birming-ham wanted special deliveries or to give instructions, they had to send a messenger boy round with them. So one could go on and picture the changes which one has seen come over the life of the people, with radio, television, cinemas and all the other things.

If that is the storyߞand I think your Lordships will agree that is a fair one of what has happened in the last fifty years, bringing an enormous improvement in the standard of living and a large increase in employmentߞwhat is the next fifty years going to bring? Is it fanciful to suggest that, with the birth of the atomic age and with the development of electronics and new methods of travel and all the work in which the scientists are engaged, we shall make an equal change in the next fifty years? We must remember that if we do not take our part in that progress as a nation, others will. Our future depends upon our industry keeping its lead and keeping up its position in the world, because we lack extensive mineral deposits except for those referred to by the noble Lord who moved the Motion. We cannot expand our agriculture as others can, because our country is not big enough. Therefore, it remains with industry to carry on. and it is on industry that we depend.

It seems to me that our task is to apply automation, as I have tried to define it, on the largest sensible scale as rapidly as possible; because, if we do not, it is absolutely certain that others will and we shall be left behind. It will be a pretty dismal prospect for this nation if we are left behind in this struggle for export markets and manufactured goods. We have to manufacture them and we have to keep up to date to do it; otherwise it will mean a drop in our standard of living, an extensive migration of our surplus population and a shortage of food for those left behind. So we must not stand in the way of automation. As the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, said, we have to get ready for it. The immediate need is to increase our technicians and to increase our skilled workers by apprenticeships, by improved training facilities and by upgrading. Because the problem is not going to be a surplus of labour; it is going to be a shortage of labour of the right type, and we have to get that type ready in time. It is a task for the Government, both national and local. It is for the employers. for the managements, for the trade unions, and for all those who look to the future of this country, to get ready. We must not be afraid of the future and the developments which we see ahead. We have got to he alive. We have got to get ready for these developments. And this debate may help some who have not realised before to see what we mean by automation and the part it plays in this country.

3.31 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join my noble friend in extending congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, upon his appointment to a Department of which I have had some little experience and for which I feel great affection. I trust that his stay there will be as happy as mine was, but not quite so long. I, too, agree that we owe thanks to my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor for opening this debate. It appears that he and Lord Bennett of Edgbaston have established quite a friendly relationship in connection with the word "automation". I shall say nothing, I hope, to interfere with that relationship, because I entirely agree with much of what has been said by both noble Lords. It is a matter that is of vital importance, and there should be little or no difference between the two sides of the House over what course ought to be adopted, both in relation to the extension of automation and to the problems that will arise as a result of its coming.

I do not like the word "automation", hut, whether we like it or not, it has now become part of the English languageߞindeed, it is in common use in industry. There have been so many definitions of the word that I am not going to give one. But I entirely agree with what was said by Lord Bennett of Edgbaston, that it is not new. Indeed, if we use the word "mechanisation" that, to me, would cover everything that the word "automation" means. There is no doubt that we ought to know something about mechanisation, because this nation, by mechanisation, was responsible for the first Industrial Revolution. As far back as the 1780's, in connection with a flour mill, there were inventions designed by a person who claimed that lie was the first engineer to realise that the handling of any product adds considerably to its cost but contributes nothing to its value.

The noble Viscount the First Lord of the Admiralty will be interested to know that mechanisation was introduced. in the making of blocks in Portsmouth Dockyard in the early part of the last centuryߞso much so, that the annual plant output of 160,000 blocks was produced by ten unskilled men who were able to do with the machine the work previously performed by 110 skilled men before the machine was introduced. So right the way through the lifetime of most noble Lords in the House to-day automation has been proceeding rapidly.

It is in what might be regarded as the heavy industries that during the last decade there has been almost a complete revolution. My noble friend Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor and I have both had some experience of the coal industry. He was quite correct when he said that when he and I worked at the coal face there was not a single ounce of coal cut by machine. The first machine to be introduced, in 1902, was not very useful. It was not until between 1912 and 1916 that mechanisation began to be adopted to any extent. From then until the present time it has been carried right through, and the coal mining industry is now almost completely mechanised. I looked up the returns only this week and found that the amount of coal now cut by machines in the mines amounts to 86 per cent., while the amount of coal conveyor-carried is 91 per cent. of the total. In the early days that work was done by hand; now it is done by machine.

I have been privileged to visit the coal mining industry in many countries, and mechanisation in that industry is now absolutely universal. Early this year I visited a mine in Australia. There, I saw the most competent machine that ever I have seen in my life. This one machine, with three men, cut and filled 300 tons of coal in a day; it had cut as much as 400 tons a day. I noted the amount of time taken to cut and fill a ten-ton tub of coal ߞit was eight minutes. But what a difference in the coal that it cut! Of course, in the old days we took a pride in our job. We trimmed the coal, and we cut it: and the larger the lumps we sent out the happier we wereߞindeed, it did not pay us to send out small coal because we were not paid for it. With what pride we used to look at exhibition after exhibition where we saw a block weighing about two or three cwt. which was cut by hand. brought out of the pit and put into an exhibition. To-day, in this country over 70 per cent. of the coal that is cut is crushed. Thank heavens, the scientists and technicians have been able to develop boilers and burners which, with the exception of small coal for domestic use, can do the work which formerly required large coal!

But one thing that the machine did destroyߞand this is where I may part company with the noble Lord, Lord Bennett of Edgbastonߞwas the skill of the old miners who had worked in the pits the whole of their lives and had as much pride in their job as any other of the skilled workmen who have worked in this or any other country. I saw so much of the machine coming in and the old skilled man going out. In mechanisation, as in automation. it is the older manߞthe man between the age of forty and fifty, or even aboveߞwho has been doing a skilled job all his life who must be taken care of, either by the employer or by the Government when automation conies in.

What I have said does not apply only to coal. The steel industry to-day is entirely different from what it was in the old days. The output of steel from 1946 until the present time has increased by no less than 46 per cent, with very little addition to the labour force; and since 1938 the output has gone up by 66 per cent. I am not complaining about that: we are very pleased about it. But let me repeat that it does create certain problems. The tinplate industry in South Wales has been completely revolutionised. The two new works, at Trostre (which has now been working for some time) and at Velindre. with the new works at Ebbw Vale, will now produce an annual output of 1,050.000 tons of tinplate. That output far exceeds the output of 550 old-type mills. When an invitation was extended to 500 workpeople to work in the Trostre Mills, 5.000 applied; and while there is no question that we are bound to have these modern mills, they inevitably create such problems. Agriculture, too, is rapidly becoming mechanised, while nowadays we seldom see the old navvy. The bulldozer and earth-moving machines, which are, of course, very necessary, mean that these old characters are passing away.

What of the new industries? The new nuclear power stations are completely controlled by instrumentation, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Bennett of Edgbaston, has said, the oil, chemical and other industries which are dependent upon continuous production are similarly affected. There is no doubt that automation is challenging all the out-of-date methods of our manufacturing production; and more is to come. In the excellent Report on Automation, on which we shall all wish to congratulate the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, we are told that it seems clear that during the next decade or two the impact of automation will be heavy and extensive, even though many industries will probably remain little affected. The benefits will not be confined to large firms, although they are, as a rule, favourably placed, but many small firms may find their factories suited to the automation process both on economic and on practical grounds. I believe that the prediction in this Report is true, and that complete automation in our manufacturing industries may come long before the end of the second decade.

Automation is not a development useful only in the manufacturing industries. It applies also to control, planning and accountancy offices. We all know that the rising costs and rapid changes in production and sales often require frequent changes in plans, which mean heavy additional paper work for offices. We are told that at present there are no fewer than 2¼ million persons employed as clerks in this country dealing with these paper problems by normal means, and most people feel that a change is long overdue. There is no doubt at all that automation, through the computer, will considerably assist in improving these methods and in bringing about considerable financial saving. Anyone who has read the Report will have seen a dozen instances of changes brought about as a result of the use of the computer. We need not go to America: we can look to our own countryߞindeed, to London itself; for on page 86 of the Report it is stated that a computer called LEO, engaged on pay-rolls and working for 80 hours a week, can save the work of more than 600 full-time clerks. By displacing only 50 clerks the computer will pay for itself and all the expenditure connected with it. So it really means that, as a result of the operation of this computer, the value of the payment of 550 out of 600 clerks has been saved.

I am not going to deal any further with that aspect, except to say that I saw in the Press the simple statement that fifteen jobs out of fifty in the treasurer's department at Edmonton Town Hall have been declared redundant following a survey by an "organisation and method" team and by the application of automation. There is no doubt about all these changes, or about the fact that the computer will come into common use in large industrial companies. I see that I.C.I. are to purchase five very large ones. One cannot complain about it, of course, but here is the change, and we should like to think that many of the advantages of these changes will be given to the public in the way of reductions in prices.

There is no doubt that the introduction of the computer and automatic machinery is giving a tremendous fillip or uplift to certain industries, particularly the electronics industry. which has now become one of this country's most important. diversified and expanding industries. In it there are no fewer than 225 companies, employing over 200,000 persons, and last year the industry secured no less than £35 million worth of exports which possibly we should not have had if it had not been for this uplift given to the industry. Most of the industry's efforts are concentrated on applying electronic devices for industrial processes, in which the United Kingdom at the moment lags behind American practice. But in some branches of this work, the United Kingdom probably leads the world.

There is no doubt that electronics are vital in almost all spheres of the modernising of industry and business methods. It is really the key to automation, which is itself the key to the future. If we are to live as an industrial nation it is obvious that we have to manufacture articles in greater quantities, of good quality, and produce them at costs that will enable them to be sold at reasonable prices. In comparing world trends in automation, so far as it is possible to generalise in such a large field, it appears that we are lagging greatly behind the United States of America and behind Russia, France and Germany in some particular and important aspects. There is no doubt that America has set the pace. In a report which I read a short time ago it was stated that where the United Kingdom had one person working on a research project, the United States of America had a team of twelve or more doing similar work. And many more projects are sought and pursued with vigour. The Russian effort is noted for the formation of a Ministry of Automation. That shows the importance which they attach to automation. And automation has been given a very high place in the latest Russian Five-Year Plan. They are using most of their effort towards developing the completely manufacturing line mass-produced unit of universal machines, automatic handling and conveying equipment, standardised in type so that atomic lines can be built up with standard units wherever output warrants them.

As to the further progress of automation in this country, I will again repeat what is contained in the Report, to the effect that it seems clear that during the next decade or two (and we must not forget this) the impact of automation will be heavy and extensive, and its progress will naturally depend on how readily individual firms can raise capital for development. The Report says that there is no likelihood that capital will be short, and large firms should be able to save or raise all they need. But it is the small firms which may have difficulty in getting money from the usual sources. It is expected that the money will be forthcoming. The application of automation in some industries is limited and should not be very costly. The main industries within which the full impact of automation will be felt will be where the manufacturing process is continuous, in the large manufacturing industries, and, of course, in large offices throughout the country. Manufacturing industry accounts for some 40 per cent. of the country's employed population.

In some of the larger groups, like the motor car industry and the chemical and oil industries, automation is already making great progress, while other groups. like the electrical, the engineering and other metal-using industries, give much scope for further automation which will be proceeded with. maybe with some speed. It is difficult to estimate what its effect upon industry or upon the numbers of the work people will be. It is difficult to estimate the numbers of the work people who will be affected, but we know that every change will mean that a number of traditional occupations will have to go and a number of new ones will have to be found. Some of the work people will be dismissed, after spending a lifetime in doing what to them is a skilled job, and there are many such who for months have had a creeping fear of the threat of dismissal from the work on which they are experts.

In conclusion, let me say, as did my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, that the trade unions are not hostile to automation. Indeed, they say the possibilities are that unemployment might be greater without automation than with automation. and that unless we can compete with other countries in the markets of the world then there are possibilities that there will be large areas of unemployment. That has already shown itself to be the case. The experience of one group of the motor industry early this year demonstrated how the introduction of automation without a well-planned scheme for the changeover leads to great trouble. Moreover, last week I saw a report in one of the daily papers to the effect that the progress of automation in Soviet industry is running into unexpected difficulties, for it appears that earlier problems of material shortages are now overshadowed by personnel difficulties. These personnel difficulties are, on the one hand, that there is a shortage of qualified technicians, and, on the other, the problem of unemployment. This problem of unemployment in the wake of automation is proving a harder one to deal with than was earlier envisaged. The West German trade unions will accept automation only on two conditions: prior consultation with the unions, free technical training and assistance schemes for redundant workers. We know what the position is in America. There the trade unions say that preparations were made for the introduction of automation which satisfied the trade unions and the work people.

I should like to touch on the question of the technical workpeople and the skilled men who are necessary to do the work. because the same problems will concern the introduction of automation in this country. Indeed, the Report has already dealt with it. First, the industry's difficulty in attracting sufficient skilled and qualified men for both research and production arises because there is an overall shortage of men with basic degrees, technicians and apprentices. More trained manpower is urgently required if we are to match the efforts which are now being made by the countries I have already mentioned. It appears that the overhauling of our training system is urgently required. The Report made it clear that the most important brake on the progress of automation will certainly he the existing and prospective shortage of skilled technicians and others, and indicated that this matter was the subject of a survey which was to be carried out by the Ministry of Labour and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. I should like to ask the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, whether this survey has been completed and whether any report has been published, because it is a matter of vital importance, and I am sure that both sides of industry, if they have not already had it, will be anxious to see it.

There is little more I can say, because my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor has covered what is expected from those who ought to be the three partners in the development of this system of autornationߞthe Government, the employers and the workpeople. The attitude of the T.U.C. and, I should say, of 99 per cent. of the trade unions, is that they will do all they possibly can to further the progress of automation. The T.U.C. announced that at their last annual conference, and the letter which my noble friend received bears that out. We feel that the majority of employers are sympathetic to what is being asked of them. A committee representing some of the largest employers has been set up to consider with the trade unions a plan for the introduction of automation.

Then there is the question of the Government. I read that at the Llandudno Conference of the Conservative Party the Minister of Labour said he hoped that legislation dealing with some aspects of automation would be introduced next year. The trade unions, and I am sure the employers, are waiting to hear the Government's view on this matter. We hope that we can have a definite promise that legislation will be introduced next year, because, to many of us, no other question is quite so important as this one. We wish that consultations with the Government, and not only with employers, should take place on the terms of that legislation. We certainly await with very great interest the introduction of that legislation. While the problems involved in applying automation to industrial production must not be underestimated, at the same time it is certain that automation will play an even greater part in the battle for increased production. It would prove to be industrial suicide for this country if we were not to make full use of these techniques. Let us use them wisely and widely to make further economies in the human effort and to elevate the application of that effort to the higher and more skilled work which will result from it.