HL Deb 23 October 1956 vol 199 cc941-70

4.23 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, may li say how much I welcome the fact that my noble friend Lord MacDonald of Gwaenysgor has initiated this debate on automation. I find myself in agreement not only with what both my colleagues on this side of the House have said, but also with a good deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Bennett of Edgbaston, had to say from his outlook as an industrialist. If there is one thing on which we are all completely agreed, I think, it is that one of the most regrettable features of automation is the existence of the word itself.

I want to detain your Lordships for a little time, as one of the only two ex-trade union officials in this House, to say something or rather different lines from what has been said up to now on the more general lines of industrial relations. Although the noble Lord, Lord Bennett of Edgbaston, was right when he said that over recent weeks a good deal of the scare, and a good deal of the violent talk and exaggerated writing, had stopped, I think it is only true to say that it was because there was nothing to excite people for the time being. If we run into any more crises of the type that we were facing in the Midlands some few months ago. I think we shall have the same trouble all over again, unless we more clearly understand how we must explain automation to the workers, and how we must explain the job that many of the employers must do before they seek to introduce automation.

Where trade union members are concerned, the first thing that we must do (and this I know the are doing) is to try to get them to understand that their fears about mechanisation and rationalisation (two other words they detested so much) are not fears that need be justified about automation, either to-day or in the future, if there are good industrial relations. What is more, I think we should get them to understand that mechanisation has not meant all that they thought it meant in the past. in the way of danger to themselves. Indeed, the expansion of production and opportunity has meant increased opportunities of employment.

I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Bennett of Edgbaston, referred to the chemical industry, because it is one of the great industries already converted to automation. Not only is the noble Lord right in suggesting that a good deal of work was involved in producing all the automation machinery, but the statistics show that for every 100 who were employed in the chemical industry before the introduction of automation before the war, there are now 198 employed. In the great electrical industry, with which my noble friend is connected in the Midlands area, for every 100 workers employed before the war there are to-day 165. In fact, automation is only the next log cal step in the mechanisation which is going on, and in the long run it must mean great improvements for the workers.

It also has considerable social implications for them. It is useless for people to write to the Press, or for newspapers to publish articles, or for people to say at meetings things which are inclined to be railing against the type of mind of workers wino are upset about automation. You and if, my Lords, live in an atmosphere rather different from that in which many of them do. We are not in the position in which, while we are going about our daily work. some other people, somewhere else, without our knowledge, can take vital decisions which affect, once and for all, the whole of the rest of our lives and the lives of our families. Yet that is what can happen if there are bad industrial -relations, as there often are in industry. We must not forget that hundreds of thousands. indeed millions, of workers know the impact of mass unemployment in this country. I worked among them when 3 million of them were "signing on the doled line" at Labour Exchanges. Not only are those who survived conscious of the sufferings of those days, but those who were then children have clear knowledge of what happened in their families at that time. They have in their minds their own horrors of any return of mass unemployment in this country.

Men came back from their own dose of war and found a country with full employment. They liked it as a better place. Now, suddenly, there comes to them a shadow they do not properly appreciate, a shadow which at the worst might mean unemployment, and which at best, they think, might mean their uprooting. Our duty is to make them understand the truth; to make them understand that automation is absolutely vital, as noble Lords have already said, if we are to maintain our position in the country and in the world; if we are to get our balance of payments right and to keep our balance of exports and imports correct. But we have to think of the men who came back to this new environment, settled down into the better job and who found themselves, after a time, able to afford to buy a house on a mortgage. When. suddenly, this new bogy called "automation", which they had never read or heard about. came along, they saw something which might mean diminution of their wage packets. possible unemployment, and at least the possibility of their having to go and seek work elsewhere. A man sees his mortgage payments in arrears, and what little savings he has going. He sees his wife and children disturbed, and himself having to go somewhere else to do work that he has never done before. starting all over again. in a new place, with new people. And. naturally, he does not like the picture he sees.

The first essential, therefore, is to try to get over to these people the fact that such fears are not justified. In reality. they will be justified in a small percentage of cases, but there will be no justification for the gloomy picture in the larger number of cases. One of the essential tasks in industrial relations must be to secure that the maximum understanding of this kind of thing is held by the maximum number of people. They must be made to understand, through proper, skilled statements issued to them, that it is not true that automation always means a reduction in the total number of workers employed. It may mean a reduction in the number of particular types of operative in particular types of job. but it will not necessarily mean less work; and in the view of most of us, in the long run. with extended production, it should mean increased work opportunities.

But this matter is closely related to the general reluctance of far too many employers to take their workpeople into their confidence. Some of us have been pressing for a long time that they should take the workers into their confidence about the balance sheets of companies, about production costs and about the competition to be faced throughout the world. They have nothing to fear in doing that, because all they will get will be a better understanding of the difficulties which the capitalists, as the workers sometimes like to call them, or the great corporation which employs them, have to face. If they know the truth, and not just the rumours, we shall all be better off. They must have confidence that in any re-deployment of labour which automation may bring, their interests, as well as those of other people, will be looked after. They must have the longest possible notice of change in their industry, and they must be assured that, if they are to be made redundant, the best possible terms have been arranged in respect of their redundancy by their unions with their employers. That means that, when employers reach decisions to replace out-of-date machinery and buy something new, they, the employers who have invested their brains, their skill and their money must bear in mind that the men are at least as good as the machines; that the men have only one thing to invest, their labour, and that they who have invested that ought to receive as much consideration as the machines.

The employer must clearly use to greater advantage his contact with the other side in industry; his direct touch with trade union officials, the house journal he may publish, his opportunity of direct contact with his workers. I know, and we of the trade union movement particularly appreciate, that many enlightened employers have done all those things; but what we have to approach is the realisation of the many who have not. We know that the National Joint Council has already met and will meet again on this subject, and that the three sides in the International Labour Organisation have already found it possible to agree on a general line of approach on what is, after all, an international as well as a national problem.

We are certain that over a period of time we shall have a good examination. I think "period of time" is not a bad phrase to use in respect of automation, because we must make those in industry understand that automation is not something "just round the corner" that is going to menace them for a long time ahead. In any event, large quantities of capital are involved, so there is no risk that those who control capital in great organisations will light-heartedly enter upon automation without the most careful thought. So automation is not "just round the corner": it is a matter of slow progress. I understand, for instance, that official figures show that in the next two years it will not be possible for more than twenty computers to find their way into industry and commerce. The essential thing is that, in planning to put that kind of machinery into the workshop and the factory, the employers concerned must "buck up" their ideas about consultation.

It is not only people in the trade union movement who are critical of the failure of many employers in the industrial relations field. There started yesterday in the News Chronicle a series of articles entitled "What's wrong with Britain's bosses?" One of the first employers whose views were given was Colonel Grierson, who has done a great deal inside the cotton industry to put things right in Lancashire. There are many quotations from him that would be worth while to many industries, but I could not think of one which was better in respect of automation than this: Tell people your plans and tell them in plenty of time. Some employers take an awful long time to make up their minds, hut as soon as they've done it, they want to put things into operation the next morning. Well. workpeople take time to make up their minds, too. I think there is a great deal of sense in a quotation of that kind. It is for that reason that I ventured to quote from an ordinary newspaper to your Lordships.

I should like to say to the noble Viscount who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government how glad I and many of us are to note that the Government themselves have set a good example in this kind of work. The Civil Service have been told by a Treasury Note exactly what kind of savings are likely to be achieved in staff, and exactly what is the programme for the introduction of electronics into the offices of Her Majesty's Government. The very Department of which the noble Viscount. Lord Hailsham, is now the head has been one of the first to make some economies. One Admiralty dockyard, I see from this statement, has saved 20 out of 125 staff by one of the small pieces of electronics which it has put in. Many other savings are being effected in other Government Departments. The Post Office is busily considering whether it cannot go over to electronic computation of the salaries and wages of the 100,000 workers employed by the Post Office in the London and Home Counties regions.

None of that is locked away. The fact that discussions are going on, and that consideration is being given to this kind of thing, has been announced. It has been announced as a result of the good relationship existing inside the Whitley negotiating machinery of the Civil Service. the trade unions and the Treasury, where I have spent some twenty-five happy years of negotiating life. And, what is more, the Treasury have gone out of their way to point out some of the considerations which at times make it unwise to go in for electronics. They have pointed out what is so often forgotten, in respect of the limiting factors, that it is necessary for the information on which work is to be performed to be in a form that a machine can use; and they go on to point out that some operations, if performed by machines, would require more total staff and not less. They have given a wide picture.

That kind of document arises from the organisation of proper industrial relations within Her Majesty's Service, so that three-quarters of a million people have no shadow hanging over them of what might be. They know exactly what is going to happen: plans can be made; recruitment can be curtailed, and everything can be dealt with in a proper and effective way. If the Ministry of Labour, with the aid of the trade unions and employers, can manage to get the same kind of outlook in industry, we shall have saved ourselves from making one of the greatest errors that we could make, that of waiting until automation hits us as a crisis and then wondering what it is and where we are going. We must have sufficient understanding to meet the transition from one stage to another with the least possible mental worry to the workers.

I think I should be less than generous if I did not say in respect of the present Minister of Labour, however much I may disagree with some of his political philosophy, how wisely he has tried to handle this matter and how well his Department is doing. He inherited a great tradition in the Department to which he went, that of a Department which, faced with the problems of war and under the inspired leadership of my clear friend, Ernest Bevin. was given a real chance to show its mettle, and did so to no mean extent. Onwards from then, under successive Ministers, the Ministry of Labour has done a great job of work. It has been my good fortune over a quarter of a century to be associated with that Department. In contending with some of the difficulties which occurred in the Midlands, to which the noble Lord, Lord Bennett of Edgbaston, made reference, very few of which were due to automation although many people thought from Press reports that they were, how great a job of work was done by the Minister of Labour's staff under considerable difficulties! I refer particularly to that because I think it is much to be regretted that new problems and new opportunities for the Ministry of Labour come to that Department at the very time when the Chancellor of the Exchequer is busy chiselling away the staff and giving the Minister fewer, instead of more, staff to deal with them. I think he will need more. In due course, he will need a section to deal with the problem of automation.

Even if he is to grapple with current problems I think he will have a great deal to do, with his present staff, but there are many other matters which require expert examination. Workers must know what redundancy risks there are; they must know the balance of the position. I feel, thereforeߞand the noble Lord, Lord Bennett of Edgbaston, will know this better than myselfߞthat in the motor car industry it could well be that in the long run automation could mean less unemployment and a better balanced employment. It could well mean that some of the "lay-offs" that come now at the end of the season and for re-tooling would not take place because, by the punchmark system of automation, they might be controlled. But I cannot speak about that, because I am not an expert on it. I think it is quite conceivable that in regard to some of these things the balance of manpower may be judged properly.

I have already said that the workers must know something about the compensation which is to be theirs if, in fact, in any of these future reorganisations they are thrown out of their jobs. I suggest that compensation for workers who have given their lives to a job is as fair and reasonable a charge on industry as is compensation to directors when they are dispossessed of their jobs. I think we must also take every possible step to make certain that proper systems of training are put in hand. I understand that, so far as can be seen, automation demands a higher average standard of skill from operators. That should be made completely clear, because another of the fears that I have heardߞone of those things that, if it is not dealt with, grows and grows among the masses of workers in the Trade Union Movementߞis that automation is going to make them merely ordinary robots. They visualise themselves living much more in the atmosphere of the Charlie Chaplin film called Modern Times, and of the screwdriver wiggling into one screw. That is not the kind of picture I see in automation, and the quicker we make that clear the better.

Some of the workers will be afraid of the dismissal for which I have suggested compensation. Even if they know they are not going to be dismissed, some of the older workers will feel that while the total number of workers will not be changed it may be that, since new skills will be involved, they will go to the wall. For them the technical education for which we are pressing, which the Government are embarking upon and which is so vital and essential to this country, will not mean a lot. If it mean anything at all. it will mean the risk that people are being trained and educated to put them out of work. We have to deal with that position. Adequate schemes must be created within industry for training men. We have to start on long-term plans for training when automation is going to be introduced. I am delighted to see that in Chapters IV and VI of the Report which we are discussing, and in particular in Appendix V, there are provisions in regard to research on social and economic aspects which include some of the things to which I have referred, such as methods of planning manpower requirements, training requirements, changes in the occupational structure to the new skills to which automation gives rise, and so on.

I am not too happy about how that research is going to be carried on, either by the D.S.I.R. or by the Ministry of Labour. Somebody has to find some money, and many of the Ministries are having their budgets cut in regard to many of these items. I should like to point out that the items which are marked by asterisks and spades in Appendix V have an explanation at the end, pointing out that these projects have been possible because they have been sponsored by funds from Conditional Aid derived from the United States economic aid. As I understand it, the United States economic aid Conditional Aid funds are just about coming to an end, so it looks as if much less money will be available for the D.S.I.R. and the Ministry of Labour, rather than more money, which it seems ought to be available.

I should like to ask the Minister who is to replyߞhe may say that he cannot give the information forthwith, in which event we shall all understand, but of course it should be made available to us ߞwhether he can tell us how many officers in the D.S.I.R. and in the Ministry of Labour are engaged in research into any of the matters which are listed in Appendix V; how much of the D.S.I.R. resources is now being devoted to this purpose; whether the size of the financial plan for the D.S.I.R. is being augmented so as to take account of the additional work, and what is being done about the projects which, up to now, have been financed by the United States fund. I know that this is a big order to spring on a Minister. If he says that he would rather I put it to him in writing in due course I shall be completely happy, because that would be a most reasonable thing to say.

May I then turn to one other matter already mentioned in passing by my noble friends who have spoken on this subjectߞnamely, the problem of housing. If there were plenty of houses to meet the mobility of labour the difficulties would be great enough, but re-deployment of people to places where there are not housing facilities produces an even greater difficulty. I welcome the excellent job of work that is being done, for instance, in Birmingham, where the local authorities have got together on exchange housing plans, very much in line with one of the plans that has been operating in the County of London for some considerable time. Originally they were plans to deal rather with the voluntary desires of people merely to change their homes; but we now come to the position where workers are passing each other on their way to work in the area served by the already overcrowded transport of London, and anything which can be done by an Inquiry by the Ministry of Labour, which I suggest is the right Department to look into this question, to accelerate and to improvise on this matter, the better it will be. If we are to have mobility of labour we must have a much better understanding of what this problem means in housing.

There is one other subject at which I think the Ministry of Labour ought to be looking in due course, with the trade unions, and that is the shadow that will come over people who retain their jobsߞthe shadow of shift work. In some industries shift work is a tradition; everybody likes it and nobody worries about it. But in industries where normally there has been only one shift there would be a reluctance, and maybe complete opposition, to working additional shifts. If I understand aright what automation and the development of mechanisation means as an economic project for the employer and for the country, inevitably it will lead certainly to two-shift working and very often to multi-shift working.

That will bring in its wake all sorts of problems. Once people have been persuaded that, in general, automation is a good idea, there will he demands for rearrangement of many things, like re-timing of sport and entertainment facilities. adult education and so on; and, as with the problems with which we had to deal, as specialised problems, under the Ministry of Labour administration in war time, to try to get the production we wanted, those demands may have to be faced. The main point I wish to make to-day is that these are long-term considerations. We are not being rushed into something, as so many people have wrongly thought. These are all problems calling for the maximum of consultation within the framework of good industrial relations. if workers are told the facts and if they know that their unions are being properly consulted, they will co-operate.

Over a long period of years workers have had to become accustomed to changes in the pattern of industry and to the upsetting of long-established ways of working. They must be satisfied that less strenuous work, greater leisure and greater security can all be theirs if there is proper planning in respect of the social implications of automation as a longterm objective. But perhaps most important of all as an immediate objective, workers must be made to understand that automation is not an immediate threat; that in so far as automation replaces human muscle by mechanical power, as is pointed out in the Report which we are discussing, it continues a process which began before the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago.

Perhaps even more important, workers must be made to understand that where automation is introduced it will not necessarily be applied to all operations; that when it is applied to operations the percentage of the labour force to be covered by it in any work place which will be directly affected at any one time cannot but be small; and that if that small percentage in those given work places is interpreted against the total working population of this country, it will be found to be a very small percentage indeed. I believe that we in this country can face automation as something which will develop slowly without harming either side of industry, if both sides will get together to find a way round the problem. It is something which will take away the total of tedious tasks of a routine and repetitive character, and bring a great deal of leisure and better conditions for all the workers in our great industries. This nation as a whole can realise this only providing that in the field of industrial relations, which I have ventured to detain your Lordships to discuss, there is the utmost and ever-widening consultation.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, in so far as your Lordships are in the habit of discussing questions which are not of immediate or pressing need, it appears to me that this House fulfils a most useful function, and I feel that we are indebted to my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor for having raised this particular matter. I feel, too, that there is no significance in the fact that only one noble Lord spoke on this subject from the Government Benches, and that the debate this afternoon has been more or less monopolised by noble Lords on this side of the House. On the other hand, we are all looking forward to what the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, will have to say to us, particularly in his new capacity, upon which I, for one, should like to congratulate him.

My reason for rising without having put down my name is that I confess to feeling a little apprehension upon one or two points. I believe it is true that the development which has taken place is an almost inevitable development in industry; but whatever we may think about the word "automation," I feel that, whereas mechanisation is something to which we have become accustomedߞthat is, machines being looked after by human beingsߞautomation means machines being attended to and controlled by other machines; and that raises a series of considerations which have very wide social and economic repercussions.

One that occurs to me is that this new industrial revolution which is now coming upon us is dangerous, not because it needs to be retarded, not because it is a kind of revolution that we wish to avoid, but because of the rapidity with which it is tending to overwhelm us. The need to adapt ourselves to the rapidly changing situation is one to which I believe we have not paid sufficient attention. either from the industrial or even from the social angle. One wonders, therefore, whether there is anything we can do to make clear that this is a development which can be dealt with as other changes have been dealt with. We know, for example, that in new industries like jet propulsion and atomic energy young new entrants are coming in to fill the necessary jobs, and that older workers in older industries are gradually leaving those industries, so that there is a settling process which avoids a problem. But the rapidity with which all this development has taken place is such that definite steps must be taken now, in order to anticipate the problems which we know will arise.

The second apprehension I have is that we are all now hearing a great deal about the need for increasing the number of technologists, and that our universities and technical colleges are greatly concerned about increasing the number of technologists. I am asking myself whether, taking the population as a whole, and with the normal distribution one finds in any population, there are available, in the best of circumstances, the number needed to deal with the present situation. I believe it is true to say that, whereas for a very long time the tendency was for young men to want to enter what were called "white collar" occupations, to-day young men of that intellectual and social level are finding no difficulty whatever in entering into occupations in which a high degree of intelligence and skill is necessary. But are we satisfied that our population as a whole possesses the quantity of skill necessary for this new development? And if the numbers are not there to-day, is there any means by which we can increase the number we feel we do need?

Thirdly, a problem with which we shall certainly be faced is that of the use of leisure. At one time there was what some of us called "the leisured class." To-day, I think the leisured class spreads over the whole population. People now have shorter hours of work, more time for entertainment, for sport and the like. I am wondering whether any kind of serious thought has been given to the number of problems that will arise merely by reason of the fact that men and women have so much time on their hands and they do not know what to do with it. I was surprised recently to read in one of the American information papers which are sent to us that one writer (his contribution appeared, I think, in the Labour portion of the paper: he was a member of an American trade union) advocated a reduction in hours to thirty a week as being adequate to cover present needs over there. Another writer advocated that those who were made redundant by the rapid development of automation and who were young enough to enter into a new occupation should receive training at the public cost in order to equip them for the new jobs necessary to be done. My Lords, those are just some of the kinds of apprehension which occur to me. am not asking for any quantitative replies, but I should be grateful if the noble Viscount would indicate in a general way what kind of answer he has to those apprehensions.

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat devoted a great deal of his speech to a problem which is clearly a very real one in connection with automationߞthe problem of finding the necessary skilled workers. hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him along that line. We are soon, I understand, to have a debate in your Lordships' House on the whole problem of technology and the training of technical workers for industry. and I think it might be better that these difficult problems should be threshed out then. I intervene this afternoon because the noble Lord who moved this Motion, in his most interesting speech, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, a little later, both referred to the problem of automation in Russia and other Communist countries. That clearly is a matter of considerable importance. Though I am not in a position to speak in any way authoritatively upon it, it so happens that I had the very interesting experience of spending some weeks in Russia earlier this year, and had the opportunity then of seeing several Russian works in which automation had been introduced, or was in process of being introduced, and of discussing with the managements the problems to which it gave rise. It seemed to me that what I had seen might be of interest to some Members of your Lordships' House.

There is still in this country a sort of feeling that Russians are not capable of being competent technicians, that they are people who aߞe only peasantsߞ moujiksߞand that, however much talk there may be of new industrial development, there is no real danger from Russian industry in the way of competition with our own, so much older established, industry. I think that that is a very dangerous attitude, and it is astonishing that it should still be found in this country. Yet one continually finds it. I think that the sooner we disabuse ourselves of that idea the better, because I am convinced from what I saw in Russia that they are making very great progress indeed in the industrial field. and, if they have not done so already, at any rate in a very short time they will reach a technical proficiency at least equal to that which generally prevails here, and possibly also to that in the United States.

I had the opportunity of seeing three different kinds of works in which automation had been introduced. The first was a fully automatic bakery which had been established in Moscow as long ago as 1932. I am not aware that baking in this country is completely automatic, but after examining this extraordinarily interesting process, in which flour is fed in at the top and comes out a loaf at the bottom, and in which no fewer than twelve or fourteen different kinds of bread are made, all of them excellent (we tried several loaves as they came out of the different exits), I was much impressed with the possibilities. We were told that this was the earliest of the automatic bakeries which had been established in Moscow and that practically all Moscow's bread is now produced in four or five large automatic bakeries of a rather improved type. This, at any rate, showed what can be done in a line of country to which not much reference has been made this afternoon.

At a very large radio and automatic telephone manufacturing works, which has been established in Riga (this is an entirely post-war development) they were putting into operation a number of different lines of automation, and we were shown one which came into operation only the previous week, whereby work which had previously been done by fourteen different workers was now done entirely by machine. A small piece of metal, with various cuts and stamps and things upon it, which is used in radio, had previously required the work of fourteen people, but is now produced by machine. Finally, at a ball-bearing, factory in Moscow, which they claim is the first fully automatic ball-bearing factory to be set up in the world, going, back as it does to an early period in the war, we found a really remarkable establishment. They have there three fully established lines turning out ball-bearings. It is really an astonishing thing to see raw steel going in at one end and coming out some hundreds of yards further down the line as ball-bearings, wrapped in oiled paper and packed into cardboard boxes only requiring the fixing of the address label of the tractor factory, somewhere in the Ukraine, to which they are to be sent.

Those were three examples which we saw. The reason we went to visit these places was that one member of our party was interested in the problem of automation and had a great deal of knowledge of it. We were told that this was typical of what was going on in Russia and of what they are trying to do. Of course, they were showing us some of what they regarded as their most success ful efforts. We were told that most of the ball-bearings used in Russia are turned out at one or other of the ball-bearing factories of this kind, and that they already have a substantial export trade to India and elsewhere.

The attitude of the workers, we were told, is one of welcome to this change. I was greatly interested in what Lord Crook said about the importance of discussions with the workpeople before automation is introduced into any particular factory. We were told in Russia, at all the works at which we saw this sort of thing going on, that before a new line of automation is introduced there are long consultations between managements and the trade union leaders, and that the whole thing is gone into in very considerable detail. It might sometimes be necessary to refer difficulties which arose in the course of the discussions to the Ministry responsible for the particular branch of industry concerned, and it might be a matter of months before agreement was reached as to the way in which the process should be put into operation. But the result was that everyone was eager to get on with the job as soon as possible. And the attitude of the actual operatives in the works was just as keen as that of the technicians and engineers who had the responsibility of installing the necessary equipment for automation.

As to its effect on employment, we were told that the shortage of competent industrial workers in all these types of work is so great that there was never difficulty in re-deploying the men and women saved when a new line was installed. Obviously, if the use of automatic arrangements is continued as rapidly as it is being done, a bigger problem in relation to labour will be created. The Russians arc satisfied, although they recognise that there is a real difficulty, that it can be and will be overcome by their method of programme planning. Over recent years they have attempted an integration of various kinds of work, which is obviously a difficult matter to plan, and they confessed freely that in the early stages many mistakes were made. They are willing to admit that even now mistakes are still made, but they insisted that, as a result of their experience, they are now able to carry through these planned operations in a reasonably efficient manner. This enabled them to work out in advance the amount of labour which would be saved over a wide range of operations, and to make arrangements for its re-deployment.

My Lords, I am repeating only what I was told. I am in no sense an engineer, and apart from seeing the steel go in at one end and come out at the other as ballbearings, and apart from seeing flour come out as loaves, I am in no position to appreciate the technical aspects of these operations. But it seems to me that they have made considerable progress in what they are doing, and it may well be that we have something to learn from their experience, which I am sure that they are very willing to put at our disposal. There can be no question that over the years since the end of the war enormous industrial progress has been made in those countries, and it is important that we in this country should realise the situation. I do not in any way deplore this progress. I think it is a good thing. I think that the more the Russians and the other peoples living behind the so-called Iron Curtain are able to achieve high industrial skill, and increase their standard of living, the more likely we are to be able to come to terms and the sooner a peaceful living together throughout the world is likely to be achieved. Although it may seem a far cry from the problem of automation to foreign policy, I think there is a distinct connection between the two, and I hope that the progress which is being made here and in the United States and in the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics along these lines may, in the end, bring all our peoples nearer together.

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, I must say that I was pleased at and interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has just said. I should yield to nobody in my respect for the technical achievements of the countries in the east of Europe, but I think that if the noble Lord arranged a similar tour of British industry, he would discover that there was a good deal going on here which would give him equal cause for satisfaction.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble and learned Viscount to say how gratifying it was to find out that Russian engineers and technicians. many of whom had been over to this country, were generous in their praise of what they had seen over here? They spoke highly of the generous way in which English industrialists had shown them what they were doing and of the high standard which they said was obviously being achieved in this country,


My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Lord has said and can assure him that they will always he welcome in this country when they are allowed to come. I think that I would be less than courteous if I did not begin my remarks by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, and other noble Lords for the kind welcome they extended to me. I think I can honestly say that I was as surprised as they appeared to be that I received office, and I sincerely welcome their good wishes. It was also something of a surprise that I was called upon to reply to a debate on automation. In one sense perhaps I am the only one who has spoken in this debate who is not an expert on the subject, though, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, indicated, my Department is somewhat expert in certain branches of the subject. He referred to the blocks made in Portsmouth some century ago. It reminded me of Canning's famous epigram, which he threw across the Cabinet table: If blocks could a nation deliver,

Two places are safe from the Frenchߞ

The one is the head of the river,

The other the Treasury Bench. As Minister responsible for the Royal Navy, I have been considerably interested in recent weeks in far more modern types of automation than blocks. The printed circuit, the transfer machinery, and even the electronic computer, are all matters which are interesting to us; and to that extent I can claim a departmental, as well as a personal, interest in the subject of the debate.

I think that the House would generally agree that we owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, who introduced this Motion. Certainly I owe him a debt of gratitude for partly introducing me to what is a fascinating, exciting, vital and contemporary topic. It is a commonplace to say that we live in an age of change, radical, rapid. of increasing acceleration in technique and in the application of scientific processes to the means of production, distribution and exchange. Several noble Lords have pointed out that the processes referred to under the name of automation are by no means new. They find their roots deep in modern history, even before the modern industrial revolution, as the noble Lord, Lord Crook, said. Perhaps they have their origin in the ocean-going sailing ship and the commercial empires of the Italian City States in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Since the invention of the steam engine and the spinning jenny, they have gone on in one country and another at an ever-increasing tempo. If iron and steam gave place to steel, oil, electric power and aircraft, that age appears to be being succeeded by one of electronics, plastics and nuclear power.

In the wake of these great changes come spiritual and intellectual stresses and difficulties, and problems. moral, emotional, xsthetic and, above all, political. For it is the task of philosophers to isolate the eternal and unchanging from the welter of the particular, and the task of statesmen to impose sonic pattern of order and moral reason upon what otherwise would be a drifting flux of perpetual change. Yet what I think is not generally appreciated, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, stressed in his speech, is that these technical changes are still only in their infancy. As each successive wave of revolutionary achievement succeeds another we are apt to talk as if we have reached the ultimate one. But the reverse is the case. I personally believe that we have only scratched the surface of the potentialities of science, and that only in a minority of countries. of which our own is one. These potentialities will go on developing into fact over the entire face of the planet, revolutionising the life of every human being within it, until the children and grandchildren of those whose life is now hounded by the forest and the ox-plough will come to look back upon the developed industrial societies of the twentieth century as barely emerging from the primitive.

As several noble Lords have pointed out, automation is only the latest word to describe the continuing process of technical change. I was going to say that it is a popular word. but in your Lordships' debate this afternoon it has proved somewhat unpopular. It is certainly not a precise word, but it is a word which, in the main, covers three practical trends. The first is the development of mechanisation which enables machine tools to be linked by transfer devices into automatic production lines. This is a process which is largely limited to industries where there is the possibility of long production runs. The second main trend is the development of techniques of automatic control by which self-adjustment and correction can be incorporated in industrial processes. This is not limited to large industries and is likely to be used also in small quantity production and in the tool rooms of engineering concerns. Both these developments are to be regarded as evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Indeed, the first transfer machinery was, I think, in Messrs. Morris's works in Coventry as long ago as 1924 or 1925.

The third main trend, referred to specifically by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall. is due to the development of the electronic digital computer, which is commonly and rather more attractively referred to as the electronic brain. This brings the means of rapidly and automatically processing technical and business information, and thereby extends the potential scope of automation to commercial offices, and to the automatic control of complex manufacturing operations. The cost of such machinery is, in the first place, extremely highߞup. I understand, to something like £500,000 for a single machineߞbut at least one small computer. referred to by the noble Viscount. Lord Hall. and several other noble Lords, has already been developed, and it is to be expected that smaller firms, unable themselves to bear the cost of these highly expensive pieces of machinery, are likely to take advantage of the invention by hiring computer time.

Of course, all this leads to personal problems. May I say at once that I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord who introduced the Motion, and several other noble Lords, when they referred, sometimes supported by graphic references in newspapers, to the human problems of industrial development, especially where, as in the case referred to, I think in the first place, by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, the persons concerned are above middle age, and therefore are in the unhappy position of seeing their dearly cherished skills supplanted by other forms of industrial process. That is a subject upon which I think all Members of your Lordships' House and all enlightened opinion in the country can agree. It is, above all things, a case where we must remember our dependence upon one another and the duty we all have to bear one another's burdens, because, in the main, there is no doubt that the processes to which I have referred are not only needed, but are to be welcomed and accelerated by every means in our power.

But I should not like it to be thought that, in the main, automation supersedes the older crafts of hand and brain. That is not the case. I was particularly glad to find support for that view from my noble friend Lord Bennett of Edgbaston in his useful speech. On the contrary, much of the machinery involved in automation has to he made, at any rate at present, and will for a long time to come, by old-time craftsmen such as instrument makers, makers of gauges and tools, fitters, turners and tool setters. I should agree in general with the view propounded by my noble friend Lord Bennett of Edgbaston that, so far from being an enemy to craftsmanship, the new development requires a higher standard of technical skill, both of hand and of brain, than any previous industrial development up to this time.

Nor, would I sayߞand here again I welcome the clear statement from both sides of the Houseߞdoes either side of industry or Her Majesty's Government believe that automation is a process to be feared. On the contrary, like its predecessors. the development of automation will, on balance, lead to an increase in wealth and, quite directly, therefore, to an increase in employment and our standard of living, and to a development of the higher technical skills. I believe it to be true that in no case where a period of full employment has been successfully achieved and maintained is there a real danger of unemployment following automation, but that the contrary is the case. In the one instance, referred to, I believe, by the noble Lord, Lord Crook, where the contrary had apparently happened, the introduction of automatic processes happened to coincide with a diminution in demand for the output of a particular factory.

What automation really demands, if it is to avoid hardship, is clear-sighted planning, in direct consultation with the workers; and primarily the responsibility is, I agree, on the side of management to achieve such planning. The crux of the problem is to look ahead as far as possible in order to ascertain the market for the product. 'That is a normal problem of management, but automation accentuates the need for the successful solution of the problem. For this reason, a good employer to-day will try to calculate his labour requirements on a longer-term basis than hitherto. He will and, having heard my noble friend Lord Bennett of Edgbaston, I am sure he does ߞrecognise the duty of providing his workpeople with a reasonable stability of employment, just as he understands the advantage in a swiftly expanding economy of assuring to himself the advantage of a stable and well-trained labour force. Above all, he will treat his employees as human beings with a real stake in the industryߞas I think the noble Lord, Lord Crook, saidߞat least as great as his own shareholdings.

I was glad to notice that my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour had announced his intention of discussing with representatives of employers and unions the period of notice in the contract of service and relating it in some way to the length of service previously enjoyed. I was asked a specific question, which I understand referred to these conversations, regarding the possibility of legislation. That stage has not been reached at this moment. The consultations are going on with both sides of industry and the Joint Advisory Industrial Council, but the stage has been reached only of getting information. However, the noble Lord's remarks will be noted and are welcomed on that question. The time has really gone by when an employer, faced with a problem of the redeployment of labour. can treat his workpeople as the victims of the tyranny of a week's notice simply in order to protect the rights, however legitimate, of those who enjoy the equity of the shares.

It is natural that the trade unions should demand insistently to be consulted on such matters, and it is reasonable that the Government should sympathise with this demand. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, pointed out, the reasonableness of the demand was emphasised in the Report which we have under discussion this afternoon. The employer does not divest himself of a responsibility for the social consequences of decisions in the sphere of production, any more than a union can divest itself of responsibility for the economic consequences of its policies in the realms of wages and labour conditions.

There is no reason at all why the consequences of the introduction of automatic machinery cannot be forecast long enough ahead for the individual employer to make his plans about the recruitment and re-training of his labour forces, and to discuss well in advance with the representatives of the workers concerned how they will be affected. I am sure that these representatives will recogniseߞindeed, they have recognised this afternoonߞthat in a swiftly developing economy absolute stability of employment is both impossible and undesirable. Full employment is not the same thing, as I think my right honourable friend pointed out, as frozen employment. At the same time, it is perfectly true that the Government can lend a hand. The Minister of Labour has power, under the Employment and Training Act. 1948, to assist transfers when workers have, unfortunately, to move into other districts. He also has power to provide training in order to fit unemployed workers for other employment, although I hope that nothing I say in this connection will be taken as discouraging the duty of retraining which should be undertaken in industry itself; and this, I understand, is the policy of both sides of industry as well as of the Government.

The Ministry of Labour are also able to help with advice. There is in existence a Personnel Management Advisory Service available to assist employers on questions of joint consultation, recruitment, re-training and so forth. The D.S.I.R., on its own side, is undertaking a further programme of investigation in the annex of its Report. At the suggestion of the Engineering Advisory Council, the Board of Trade have asked the industries concerned to provide information about the prospective demand for and supply of equipment for automation.

I now turn for a moment to the problems of education involved, since they were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill. If I may speak for a moment as the governor for nearly twenty years of a technical college, I doubt whether anybody in this country has fully grasped the tremendous impact which all this development will make upon the educational system. In the first place, it will make those demands £and I think this fact should be emphasisedߞon the system of general education, as distinct from purely technical education. I am not sure whether that is sufficiently widely appreciated. In this connection, I cannot do better than quote from paragraph 11 of the White Paper on Technical Education which sets out the Government policy to which I shall refer again. That White Paper said: In a sense. all technical progress rests upon the common foundation of language, and more attention will have to be given to the teaching of good plain English, the use of which saves time and money and avoids trouble. Without it bridges are hard to build over the gulfs that separate experts in different specialised subjects not only from the general public but from one another. Moreover, a place must always be found in technical studies for liberal education. The time available often limits what can be done in the way of introducing into the curriculum subjects such as history, literature and the arts, but in any event a wide treatment of scientific and technical subjects is essential if students who are to occupy responsible positions in industry are to emerge from their education with a broad outlook. We cannot afford either to fall behind in technical accomplishment or to neglect spiritual and human values. In any event, if I may speak as the holder of an Arts degree, I have never believed that technical education is an enemy of the Arts. The effect of a good technical education ought to be to stimulate the whole intellectual personality. The difference is that the liberal studies should stimulate a lad to learn more in his spare time about scientific development, and scientific specialisation should increase the appetite for spare time study of the Arts. But the value of a technical secondary education is still, I think, insufficiently appreciated by parents. If I may quote again from the White Paper, paragraph 16, it was said there: It must also be said that some grammar schools and public schools still think too much in terms of white collar jobs for their pupils. They fail fully to imagine the cornucopia of the scientific revolution and to picture to themselves the opportunities which a changing and expanding British industry can otter to their pupils during the next fifty years. If talent is not to be wasted, more boys and girls must stay on at school till they arc eighteen and aim at studying science or technology at either a university or a technical college providing advanced courses. In addition to general education the new developments require a wider and more highly trained army of craftsmen. In addition to the machine and process operators, who, in the main, can be trained by the industry concerned without much difficulty, automation requires a new cadre of maintenance men and technicians and increased numbers of highly specialised technologists and managers. By this I do not mean that the requirements of automation are different in any way from the general demands of the present age: what I do mean is that we want not something different but increased numbers of the best that we already have.

Industry, the Services and even technical colleges, are already providing apprentices to become technicians, maintenance men, fitters, turners, tool setters and other craftsmen, on a scale undreamt of before the war. What is recognised here is the increasing need for more men of this kind and for new and modified types of training. Here, examinations are of the greatest importance in this particular field, as a new qualification encourages students to embark on a new type of course, whereas, in the absence of a recognised certificate, students are unlikely to enrol at all. It is therefore necessary to have co-operation between technical colleges, examining unions, professional institutes and the Ministry of Education itself, if developments of this kind are to he successful. A good example of such co-operation is the new Electrical Technicians' Certificate, developed between the Institution of Electrical Engineers, the City and Guilds of London Institute land the Ministry of Education.

I leave to the last the most important type of trainingߞthat of technologists and managers. Here again, there is no question of new disciplines, although the scope of some existing courses have to be widened. The existing disciplines of mechanical and electrical engineering are fundamental in all aspects of automatic working. Here the Government policy has been recently published in the White Paper to which I have already referred, and T will give only a few additional details. This, incidentally, is the answer to one of the questions put by the noble Viscount, Lord Hall. The Advisory Council on. Scientific Policy has recently surveyed the prospective requirements for scientists and engineers during the next ten or fourteen years. This survey covers the needs not only of industry but of the teaching profession, the universities, Government service, the Armed Forces and local authorities. The Report relates only to the future requirement for people with university degrees or qualifications of comparable standard, such as graduate membership of certain professional institutions. This authoritative assessment of future requirements is not yet published, but it will be published shortly and will be of considerable value in planning the provision to be made in the universities and elsewhere for the training of scientists and technicians in the future.

Some other data about the progress of technical education might be considered apposite here. Full-time university students of science and technology in the autumn term 1955 have reached a peak figure of over 29,000, which is an increase of nearly 125;per cent. over the pre-war figure. Science and technology students represent over one-third of the total university population, compared to 26 per cent. before the war. In the academic year 1954-55, 6.075 students obtained first degrees in science and technology (of these 4,226 took degrees in pure science and 1,849 in technology) besides 375 non-graduate students who obtained diplomas in technology. In addition, 773 first degrees in pure science and 464 first degrees in technology were obtained by study in certain other institutions or by private study. Many of the scientists, as well as the technologists, find jobs in industry.

I was particularly grateful for the kindly references which were made to the two publications of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research which are especially under reference this afternoon. Indeed, it was somewhat to my surprise that I came to learn, when I began to study for this ordeal, that the larger and more technical of the two has already sold 15,000 copies. and its more simple brother only somewhat under 3,000. This particular Report clearly underlines the fact that though automation saves labour on the whole, it increases the demand for skilled managerial and technical manpower and it is likely to be slowed down by the existing and prospective shortage of technologists and scientists. The Handbook speaks of the need for the training of engineers and technicians to give them a specialist knowledge of techniques used in automatic production, and for the training in management of those who will have overall control of automatic processes. It states that the universities will have to provide further courses to meet both these needs. The University Grants Committee state that studies of the principles underlying automatic control form part of most university courses on electrical and mechanical engineering.

It is not possible, of course, to say in more than general terms to what extent the Government's past and present policies on the expansion of science and technology teaching in the universities will contribute directly towards the progress of automation in industry. The effectiveness of that policy can, however, be shown in general terms. During the post-war period, the University Grants Committee have given priority in allocating non-recurrent grants to buildings for teaching and research in science and technology. Of the total sum, over £25 million, allocated by the Committee since the war, about one-third has gone to general university buildings of interest to all faculties, and of the remaining two-thirds no less than 84 per cent. has gone to the construction of laboratories and other buildings for research and teaching in science in all its various forms, including technology and medicine.

The Governments special technology programme, initiated in 1953, included the development of the Imperial College of Science and Technology to raise its student numbers to 3,000— they have already been raised from 1,650 to 2,066 major developments at Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham; large-scale schemes at Bristol, Cambridge and Sheffield; and specialised developments at other centres, some financed by industry and some by Treasury grant. The more notable have been at Edinburgh, Newcastle, Nottingham, Southampton and Swansea. About £1 million worth of buildings has been started each year under this programme, which will end in March, 1957. On June 21 this year the Government announced that they had approved another technology and science building programme involving the grant of £4.3 million for "starts" in the period MarchߞDecember, 1957. The universities have found, and will continue to find, from their own resources additional funds for development. In addition, the Government are embarking on a big programme of capital expenditure in technical colleges within the next five years. Buildings will be started to the value of £70 million, and in fact projects are already programmed for the years 1956 to 1959 to the value of over £40 million of the total.

As noble Lords will appreciate, a great deal is to be looked for in the proposed "sandwich" courses for advanced students which it is hoped will provide a greater part of the increased numbers. These courses offer a specially suitable training for technologists concerned with manufacturing firms, specially suitable because students get their theory along with practical training in their training shops. The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, said, as I think one other noble Lord also did, that when all this has developed there will be a greater need for the use of leisure. I certainly hope so. I wonder whether it will be so. Some years ago, I bought an automatic gardener which was said to do the work of six men. So it does; but it makes me work harder than any six men. From my experience of industry as a whole, the more these automatic processes develop, the greater requirement there will be for hard work by those who possess the necessary skill and knowledge to use it. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing I do not know, but I hope that those who have leisure in futureߞand they will certainly not include Her Majesty's Ministersߞwill learn to use it better.

Here, then, is the sum of the whole matter. We live in an age of rapid development in which the challenge of automation is among the many stimulating and exciting potentialities of our time. It should be welcomed by allߞby managements, by unions, by educationists and, not least, by Governments. It does not in itself promise an immediate revolution. Noble Lords have been quite right in saying that there isߞand perhaps it is a good thingߞno prospect of a rapid or widespread introduction of automatic factories on a scale or at a tempo greater than that which we can control or absorb. What is offered is a process of rapid, continuous and indefinite progress, presenting difficulties which may indeed be great, but with far greater potentialities than difficulties. Let us, then, embrace this new thing, with its difficulties but with its far-greater potentialities for goodߞour latest weapon in the unending struggle of the human race against poverty, that still unbeaten foeman of mankind.


Before the noble Viscount sits down, would he deal with the question of the money from the United States?


The noble Lord reminds me that there was a point of detail at the end of Appendix V of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research pamphlet Automation. That money which was provided by the United States, as is set out in the note, was provided once and for all.


I see.


It has now come to an end. It must not be assumed from that that the research for which it was spent has come to an end. On the contrary, whilst I am not in a position to say that every item of research will continue, there is going on an active study inside the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and in the Government as to how far the work which is scheduled in the Report can be continued, and how far we can make use of the results of the research which were obtained from the most welcome American aid.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, it remains for me to say but very little except to thank those noble Lords who have intervened in the debate. Without striking a discordant note, I should like to say that I was very pleased to see the Acting Leader of the House present, but I should have liked to hear more speeches from the Government side of the House on this important question. I do not know why more did not speak. I noticed that some Members passed through, but they did not stay very long. Interventions from the Back Benches on the Government side were limited to one. I regret that. I ventured to predict at the beginning that the reply would be colourful and of some clarity, and I think I also mentioned vigour. I have not been at all wrong in my prediction. I am very pleased indeed with the reception of this Motion, and may I say to the noble Viscount that I am most grateful to him for the full manner in which he has dealt with this question. I am certain that few more important Motions will come before this House. With those few words, with your Lordships' permission I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at ten minutes before six o'clock.