asked the Secretary of State for Air whether, in view of the facts stated in a return to the Treasury in April, 1917, as to the results obtained in 86 national factories of different types in which it was revealed that, as compared with the lowest prices previously obtained by contract, savings had been effected to the extent of £9,000,000, and that certain factories erected at a cost of £1,500,000 had already effected savings very much in excess of the total cost of the factories, he is prepared to reconsider his attitude on the possibility of the adoption of this method of obtaining supplies?
The return quoted did not deal with national factories for the manufacture of aircraft, none of which were producing in April, 1917; and, as I have already stated, the general results subsequently obtained from such factories compared unfavourably in point of cost and output with the results obtained from private enterprise. There are, therefore, no grounds whatever for recourse to national factories for the present programme—quite apart from the fact that that programme is due for completion by 31st March, 1937, by which date it would in any event be impossible to organise efficiently or indeed at all an entirely new system of production.
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether, in view of the fact that the supply of aircraft with regard to numbers, costs, and quality was gravely unsatisfactory during the War until January, 1917, when it was found necessary to concentrate all authority for supply under the controlled system then established under the Ministry of Munitions and which yielded greatly improved results, he will consider the institution of such a system with regard to the supplies now stated to be required?
The improvement effected in aircraft supply in 1917 was primarily the result of the concentration of control of design and supply in the Air Board and Ministry of Munitions, in substitution for the earlier system under which the Admiralty, War Office and, to some extent, the Ministry of Munitions were competing against one another. A corresponding concentration is secured to-day through the existence of the Air Ministry. I am satisfied that any arbitrary interference with the present system, which is functioning satisfactorily, would be likely to lead to a deterioration, and not an improvement, in the numbers, cost and quality of aircraft produced.
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that it was an essential ingredient of the control then instituted that the supply and distribution of machinery, material and other requirements was a part of the function of the Ministry, and it was not in the hands of separate individual firms? It was an immense saying.
I think the right hon. Gentleman is also aware that there is not a war on to-day, and that we are not in a state in which we have got to turn the whole industrial system of the country upside down.
Is it not a fact that, according to the right hon. Gentleman's own statement, the producing firms are employed at maximum capacity and that the situation is exactly comparable to that of January, 1917, so far as this manufacture is concerned?
Of course it is not. I did not say they were employed at maximum capacity. What I did say was that I was reasonably satisfied that the structure of the industry could deal with the Government's and all other demands. To say that because an industry is employed at 90 per cent. of its capacity, that is evidence of some awful situation in which you have to take abnormal measures, seems to me very strange.
I do not know who has been speculating in shares, but, if the hon. Gentleman heard the statement which I made, on the authority of Sir Hardman Lever and his colleagues, as to the willingness of these firms to submit the whole of their books for inspection, then I think that is a pretty unworthy suggestion.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, following the control of the factories in 1917, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said that the output surpassed their utmost expectations, as a result of that organisation?
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether, in view of the large profits recently obtained in the issue of shares of different aircraft manufacturing companies and the concurrent increases of capital and overhead charges, he proposes to continue his dependence upon such companies for aircraft supplies; and whether he proposes to allow for such increased overhead charges in the prices he will be prepared to pay?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in connection with recent issues, there has been considerable increases in the capital attaching to these companies; and has not that capital to be paid for and allowed for in the overhead charges?