I was proceeding to examine in a spirit of precise criticism the character and scope of the new office, the Estimates of which we are for the first time discussing to-day. I was suggesting that if the actualities had been fully apprehended it would not have taken its present form. There are three Service Departments—the Admiralty, the War Office and the Air Ministry—and there is also a fourth Department now represented by the Supply Committee or the Supply Board—I am not sure what is the right name for it—which is virtually a Ministry of Munitions in embryo. There are four Departments. They are concerned with defence, and it is incongruous and a serious fault in organisation to make a Minister who has to concert the combined action of all four Departments to be also the head of the Supply Branch— or the Ministry of Munitions into which it may broaden—which is also one of them. The work of the Minister of Supply, or Minister of Munitions, or the head of the Supply Branch—by whatever name you like to call it—is so exacting that, in my judgment, it now requires, and has long required, the attention of an important Minister. It touches immediately the most delicate and formidable Parliamentary issues—profits and profiteering on the one hand; dilution, apprenticeship, training and transference upon the other. All those matters fall in that scope, and nothing could be more unreasonable than to link the functions of the head of the Supply Board or a Minister of Munitions with the function of co-ordinating strategic thought with the choice of the major instrumentalities of war or the final advice to the Cabinet upon priority. They are two entirely different functions. One is the hustling, bustling, day-to-day job, with frequent contact with the House of Commons; the other requires broad directives achieved in a somewhat rarefied atmosphere and under conditions necessarily, in most cases, of secrecy and often of scheme. No singe man could do those two jobs. I do not believe there is bred the kind of man, however good he may be for either of them, who would be capable of undertaking both of them at the same time.
Let me mention by way of illustration, not because I wish to discuss them or because I expect the Government to discuss them, a few of the questions which we want to feel assured that the high coordinator has passed through his brain and upon which he has reached conviction. Many of them are in the minds of the Committee. Upon some of them, he has told us, he is already engaged. There is the question of the air bomb versus the battleship, the question of the Fleet Air Arm, the obtrusion of treaty requirements upon the common sense development of the Royal Navy, the question of whether we should promise any foreign country to send an expeditionary force to the Continent of Europe an the outbreak of war and, if so, how we are to create that expeditionary force, or whether, on the other hand, our aid in the first instance should only be by the air and by the sea and by the world influence which the British nation and Empire is able to exert. There is the question of how we should retain our command in the Mediterranean in view of the new diplomatic conditions which will prevail there in future years, how far it should be by the Navy and how far by the air, or by what combination of the two.
There is the question of the military value of Russia, a tremendous question upon which my right hon. Friend has the responsibility of being the adviser to His Majesty's Government, a matter, I may say, not to be dealt with by the War Office, or the Admiralty or the Air Ministry, but obviously by a combination of the three, and a political officer who has comprehension of the political and economic aspects which are also involved. There is a very grave new question which seems to be swimming into our ken. Are we in danger, in this island, of invasion from the air? I do not mean invasion by hostile aeroplanes which cast bombs, or thermite bombs, though in all conscience, that is bad enough, but whether it is not possible now or whether it may not be possible soon, to land from the air substantial forces which, in a country where no one is armed or trained—or very few are—might seize important points and rule important districts for a long time.
I have only ventured to mention these issues as typical of the questions for which the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence will have to bear the supreme responsibility of advising the head of the Government and the Cabinet. But how absurd to combine all this tremendous obligation of thought with being responsible for whether we have enough cobalt, or chromium, or nickel, or a hundred and one other matters equally vital, whether our oil supplies are adequate, or whether the supply of precision tools—a matter with which the Minister has been dealing to-day—is equal to the demand, and how soon it can be made equal, and by what emergency method. Another question is whether the trade unions will agree to the necessary processes of dilution, apprenticeship and transference, and how negotiations should be undertaken, and whether any good plan can be devised which, to use an American term—a term which I think we must get into our minds —will "Take the profit out of war," and thus cleanse the life-defence of the nation from the taint of sordid personal gain.
Another question is how we are to get the delivery of the goods. There is a practical question. What are the right processes to use in the factories; how are you going to make the thousands of cannon, the millions of shells, of air bombs, of trench-mortar bombs and all other kinds of projectiles in the proportions which your own schemes need and which every other country is arranging to provide on a far larger scale? How are you going to provide for the overseas supplies for 45,000,000 people whose shipping has been greatly reduced since the late war? What about gas masks, and all that story, and the defence of the civil population from aerial attack by chemical means? It would be easy to extend the list of questions. Have I not shown to the Committee the two vast sets of functions which exist in different spheres? Fancy trying to combine those two sets of functions in a single individual. No one who has any practical experience or is willing to learn from the experience of the past would ever have suggested it. I am quite sure that if my right hon. Friend had understood the conditions of his office he would either have asked for less responsibility or for more power. Probably he would have been well advised to ask for both, for the appointment which has been given to him and the burden which has been cast upon him do not conform to any principle of rational organisation, and in my opinion they are not a fair load to lay or any man.
I now turn to the main issue, what is our own position in the matter of defence? We do not hesitate to give law to nations, to arraign delinquent peoples at our bar. How stands our own defence? Before and during the General Election the Prime Minister freely exposed the deficiencies in our defences. Oddly enough he dwelt particularly on the deficiencies in the Navy, which appears to be the only service which this year, and probably next year, is not unequal to its immediate responsibilities. But then, towards the end of the election, he made haste to say, "I give you my word there will be no great armaments." Frankly, I do not understand that statement in the circumstances in which we are or in the context of our thought and discussions. Is not doubling or trebling the Air Force a great armament? Is not trying to have an Air Force—trying vainly, I admit— equal to that of Germany or France a great armament? What is the point of saying we are not to have great armaments? There is only, one explanation, and that is that these great armaments will exist only on paper, and that it is not in our power for a very long time to obtain the deliveries which would turn them into realities. There followed the White Paper setting forth in extremely vague terms the plan for a very large rearmament. As a paper plan, I have nothing to say against it. That was three months ago.
Let me draw attention to the rapid passage of time. Three months—passed in a flash. But events are moving all the time. All the time all over the world events are moving. Three months and—Hullo, another defence debate! Three months ago I ventured to say that it was no use asking the Government for a larger programme because, except perhaps in the building of destroyers for the Navy, work which could be placed out in smaller yards, they would not be able to execute the programmes which they had already declared and on which they are engaged. The limited sums of money which the Departments are able to spend are an unfailing tell-tale of the fact that they are not able to carry out this process of rearmament which they desire to do and which they have the gravest need to execute. I defy anyone to rise from the Treasury Bench and say that the programmes to which they have set their hands are going to be carried out punctually to the dates which have been affixed to them as part of the process which will give us our safety, in their opinion and in the opinion of their experts.
Three months have passed since I urged upon the Government the formation of a Ministry of Munitions. We are now told that that may be necessary in the future, but it is a dividing line, so said my right hon. Friend, between the Government and me—or it is one of the dividing lines—that I advocate the creation of a Ministry of Munitions and that they do not think it is time to undertake it. It ought to have been created a year ago. No doubt it will be created six months or a year hence. What has been gained by the past delay? What will be gained by the further delay? Have things got any better since this time last year? Have the Government any assurance that they will get better by this time next year? Everything has become worse as every month has passed. Show me a single quarter in the world where there is the slightest improvement. Show me a single great new fact which should give us reassurance. I ask every Member of the Committee to consider the position for himself.
The rearmament of Germany is proce
Let it be observed that it is not simply a question of spreading what ought to be done in three years over five; it is much worse than that. I have endeavoured to explain very respectfully to the Committee that the first and second years of a munitions programme are comparatively unproductive. Everything that has fallen from my right hon. Friend this afternoon would confirm that. In these sombre fields, in the first year you have to sow and in the second year you harrow; the third year is your harvest. In the first year you make your machine tools and designs. In the second year you make your plants and you lay them out. You marshal and secure your labour, skilled and unskilled. In the third year come deliveries. No doubt all those processes overlap and you get, over three years, a yield rising very sharply in the latter period; but, broadly speaking, the effective result comes only in the third year. Now, if you dawdle a three years' programme over five years, it means that your results do not come to hand on a large scale until the fourth or fifth year, and you have to pass, and we shall all have to pass, through a very long valley of unprotected preparation. It is in this period, these three or four years which lie between us and the proper placing of our country in a state of domestic security, that I fear the affairs of Europe may reach their climax.
What, I ask again, is the object in delaying the formation of a Ministry of Munitions? Last week, when I was passing the Hotel Metropole and saw all the vans gathered there to carry away the furniture, in order that the hotel shall be a temporary Government office while some rehousing scheme of the various Departments goes on, I said to myself, "Late as it is, here is the moment. Here is the place." It is a very difficult task for a private Member to make constructive propositions. I do not content myself with criticisms and with recriminations about the past, although the day for those may come, but I venture, appealing to the indulgence of the Committee for anyone who, from a private station, makes a considerable constructive proposal in some detail, to offer, most respectfully, to the Government the following course of action:
Let them choose a Minister. They have competent ones upon that bench who are not always given a chance, but there are very able men. Let them appoint a Minister of Munitions. Naturally, you would not want to use, at this moment, all the powers which rested with the Minister of Munitions in time of war. It is only darkening counsel to pretend that the issue is whether you shall go on as you are or go to the full war-time extreme of Governmental control. There are many intermediate stages between those conditions. Only a portion of the powers of the old Minister of Munitions need be brought into play at the outset. More can be added by Parliament as they are needed, as they can be used and as the dangers grow.
Then, I would suggest, this Minister should form a council of a dozen of the best, live, active, youngish business men and manufacturers in the country. I am told that the new generation of British business men is as good as, or is better than, the ones that carried us through the period of the Great War, in ability, in force and in organising power. Give them a chance; let them get their teeth into this job. Do not put it all on a Minister who has so many other duties and so many divergent lines of thought. Let each of those be given a sphere, and a section of work to plan and supervise—but also with collective responsibility as a member of the Munitions Council—for the general work of the Department. Let them be supported by competent civil servants; many of those are already in the Supply Board, and no better could you find than the admirable Sir Arthur Robinson who has been mentioned, and who is struggling so hard at the Supply Board. You must have the civil servants and the business men if you are to have the administration.
Let the Government transfer to this Ministry, as soon as it is willing to undertake the task, by instalments, the whole business of supply and design for the Air Force and for the Army, and such portions of Naval supply as are not concerned in the construction of warships and certain special Naval stores. These, and certain ancillaries, I would leave to the Admiralty because, to a very large extent, they have already their own great plants in existence and in operation, because they have the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors and because expansion for defence purposes does not strain the Navy in the same degree as it does the other two Services. The Navy is already upon a European or a world scale, but, so far as the Army and the Air Force are concerned, the whole of the staffs employed, not only in production but, I repeat, in design, ought to be handed over. I admit it sounds a hard thing for these military Departments to be asked to hand over designs, but that was the lesson which, in the War, we learned only very late, and in a very hard school.
The relation of the Ministry of Munitions with the fighting Services is the relation of a shopkeeper to his customers. There was always the maxim, I am told: "The customer is always right." The customers prescribe the requirements and the shopkeepers supply them, Although the maxim that the customer is always right should apply to all good business, it does not prevent the shopkeeper pointing out how best the convenience of the fighting Services can be suited, or even drawing attention to some attractive article of which the customer might never have heard. These are the relations which should exist between a competent Ministry of Munitions, the Supply Departments and the fighting Departments.
Before the Government brush aside this proposal, let us again turn our gaze abroad. Take Germany, for instance. I choose Germany because of the excellent arrangements which they have made. There they have organised the whole industry of the nation for war, and a very large part of it is actually working on a war basis. All their designs have been conceived for mass production. Sometimes, not quite the best article has been chosen, because the second best would lend itself more readily to mass production. Simplicity has been the aim of the immense process which is taking place in Germany; above all, the power to make complicated munitions upon a great scale by unskilled labour, and, in war time, by female labour. Since the Nazi regime began, three years ago, 4,000,000 more persons are employed in Germany, practically all upon munitions or in the fighting forces. These are additional to all those who were so employed before, and they were very numerous. The public have simply no idea, nor will the speech of my right hon. Friend give them any idea, of the efficiency of German war production, of its enormous scale or with what marvellous smoothness it can be made to pour out an almost limitless flow of the most horrible weapons of human destruction which have ever been placed in the unworthy hands of man.
For the present, of course, we are hound to rely upon existing types and patterns. These cannot be relinquished until new forms of production are ready to take their place, but those new forms must be prepared for an emergency. But even the process of working on the supply of existing patterns cannot be extended to meet our needs, or even go half way to meet them, under the present system, or under the direction of the Service Departments. I heard the other day the following remark: "You would surely not deprive the Secretary of State for War of the responsibility for his own munitions supply?" That is exactly what I would do. Curiously enough, those words sounded like an echo from the past. They were the very words which I heard Lord Kitchener use in the early months of 1915. "I could never give up," he said, "responsibility for the ammunition of the Army." But he had to. He had to be made to, and unless he had been made to and been willing to accept it—and afterwards been thankful—his soldiers could never have been supplied with all that they needed. This is one of the lessons which we all had to learn with blood and tears. Have we really got to learn them all over again now?
In quiet times in a, long peace, you may, without serious disadvantage, leave your munitions supply to the Service Departments. They have their list of normal Government contractors and their Government factories. Their requirements are small and regular. You can get along in that way. But from the moment you begin to expand upon a great scale, the question of supply ceases to be a Service question. It becomes a vast trade and industrial question, and the people who must direct that business can only be the people who know all about modern scientific manufacture and who are accustomed, from life-long experience, to the organisation and conduct of great productive plants. You cannot possibly leave this immense business in the hands of ordinary permanent officials of the Service Departments, many of them of humble rank, honest and faithful though they be. You will neither get the best designs nor will you get the swiftest method or the required deliveries. I cannot understand why the Government think it a virtue to dally and hesitate here. Have we not suffered grievously by what has already happened? Why should paralysis be paraded as phlegmatic composure, and havering between half-a-dozen policies acclaimed as sobriety and wisdom 7 Three years of procrastination, which have converted to its aid all the loyalties of this country, have wrought us an injury which we can now see, and of which only the future knows the measure.
Already, in the last Parliament, we had confessions of failure and of miscalculations about the air. My right hon. and learned Friend has this afternoon revealed to us the terrible hiatus which must intervene before machine tools and gauges can be supplied. Suppose, three years ago, when the Government were first warned, and when what was taking place abroad became widely known, they had said: "We will, at any rate, begin to put our industries into a state of preparation. No one could say that is provocative."—Ordering battleships and so forth might have disturbed your disarmament policy, but to make the simple provision of getting these indirect, but very vital implements could not have been called provocative.—" We will make the lay-outs of the factories. We will see about the precision tools. We will have everything ready so that, if our well-meant example of disarming should not be followed by other countries, and if we pursue it to the last moment and then find ourselves in a difficult position, we shall, at any rate, have got ready underneath the means of repairing the risk that we have run. We can begin at once to re-arm." If only two years ago the measures which have now been taken had been put into operation we should be getting very considerable supplies. You would have your future in your own hands. You would be the masters of the events and not, perhaps, their victim. Even a year ago, when there was no dispute about the danger, when it was common ground among all parties and when the Prime Minister admitted that mistakes had been made, even then there was just time to do a lot. Then
Why stand we in jeopardy every hour?
Why still, now at the eleventh hour, are we unable to decide on measures equal to the emergency? Is there no grip, no driving force, no mental energy, no power of decision or design? We are told that we must not interfere with the normal course of trade, that we must not alarm the easy-going voter and the public. How thin and paltry these arguments will sound if we are caught a year or two
hence fat, opulent, free-spoken—and defenceless. I do not ask that war conditions should be established in order to execute these programmes. All I ask is that these programmes to which the Government have attached their confidence shall be punctually executed, whatever may be the disturbance of our daily life.
It is always interesting when we have a speech from the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, because he knows what he stands for, when to give decisions and when to lay a practical programme before the House. That is a contrast from the programme we are getting from the hands of the Government at present. It has been becoming clear for a long time that there is no adequate direction or control. One may not agree altogether with the programme sketched by the right hon. Gentleman, but to a considerable extent he is on the right lines when he says that we should take steps now to separate the supply side from the strategic side, and appoint the necessary members of the Government for that purpose. The Minister for Defence, as we should have expected of him, has started his job well. He has shown those powers of competence, directness and the sincerity which he possesses, and I believe he is doing all he can within the limits of his task. He is very much limited. Something has been said about putting the cart before the horse. The right hon. Gentleman should have been supplied with a Rolls Royce to carry out his work properly, but he has been put in charge of something like a perambulator, and one cannot expects very great results from that.
I was disappointed with the final words of his peroration, that if we went on the lines that have been settled, we should achieve a great task. Surely the great task is to make all these preparations unnecessary, to have a scheme of disarmament in the world, in which we should play our part. It seemed lacking in imagination that the right hon. Gentleman should be content to sit down on that note, that these plans were necessary for making preparations all over the country to manufacture armaments for human destruction. The great task of co-ordinating defences in this country is only a part of the greater task of co-ordinating defences throughout the world in a system of collective security. The Prime Minister has told us recently that collective security involves military sanctions, in the long run and in the short run. I hope that is to be the policy on which the Government are to act in every case in the future. It has not been so in the past. If that is so, our contributions for collective security must be adequate, proportionate and worthy of this great country.
The right hon. Gentleman said that our liabilities had been increased by our membership of the League of Nations. The exact opposite is the truth. If you adopt the only alternative policy of alliances, arrangements and purely national armaments, you will want something immensely superior to anything that is being planned at the present time if we are to hold our own against possible combinations of that kind. The only way of making sure that armaments will not have to be used, and which will make possible a policy of curtailing, reducing and abolishing them, is to make clear that we are willing to take our part always in collective security in any part of the world. Sanctions do not mean war. It is the uncertainty whether they will be applied that means war, and that has brought us near to it during the last few months. Sometimes one hears it said that we should abandon this policy and go in for others. I warn the Government that the nominal policy on which they are working, that of collective security, is the only one which the people of this country would ever consent to support and to fight for. If they imagine that they can land us in any conflict not based on the collective system they will have a rude awakening. They will find such dissatisfaction, disagreement and controversy as to render us completely impotent in any conflict that may take place. I hope, therefore, the Government will persevere sincerely in making a reality of collective security, including of course military sanctions.
While we have had this satisfactory statement from the Prime Minister recently, I am still in doubt what the Government's policy is with regard to the defence of the country. This is a matter that has puzzled many people and caused great dissatisfaction all over the country. It is clear that in our conflict, as a leading member of the League, with Italy, we have taken the line that we would not do anything that would involve military sanctions, that we would not use arms of any kind. That was fatal. We had one hand tied behind our back. The Government policy seem up to this moment to have been one of turning the other cheek—a policy of non-resistance. It qualifies members of the Cabinet for membership of Canon Shepherd's league of non-resistors, with this difference: He makes no pretence about it: He says: "I would not resist; I would have no armaments." The Government say, "We will have vast armaments; we will not resist." The former policy is the more sincere and the less hypocritical of the two.
The right hon. Gentleman said the programme they were going in for would not alarm anybody. It certainly will not alarm the Italians. It will alarm no country if you tell them you will not make use of the armaments that you are providing. In their fatal and futile policy of not using military sanctions, the Government have allowed the aggressor to call the tune. It has been a shameful and humiliating policy for us. It has caused us to be regarded throughout the world as coming nearly into the category of a second-class Power. I believe we are the greatest Power in the world. The Government's policy has, unfortunately, given a very different impression abroad.
Hon. Members may smile, but people in other parts of the world are laughing at us and at our humiliation, and wondering how it is that the great prestige of this country has disappeared in the last few months. If the Government continue on the policy of the last few months my right hon. Friend's task will be very different from what he has been describing. Cardboard guns will be sufficient for the purpose; bombs can be ordered from the firework factories of Messrs. Brock and Messrs. Pain and most of his time will be taken up with making camouflage of some sort or other. I hope the statement of the Prime Minister the other day means that in the final issue we are prepared to use the armaments that are being provided. If that is so, it will never be necessary to use them, because no country will want to come up against us and those countries associated with us. That is the only true peace policy.
I would like to support the plea of my right hon. Friend for a definite statement on the Government's plans for an expeditionary force at the beginning of a war. I can understand that if you were involved in a conflict similar to the Great War it might be necessary to go all out and put everything in, but we want to know what is the policy on which the Government are working to start at the beginning of hostilities. The country is entitled to know. I asked a question of the Prime Minister about this some months ago, but he gave no adequate reply and said there would be opportunities of getting this information in Debate. The opportunity has now arisen and, as directed by the Prime Minister, I am asking if he will take it and define precisely the lines on which the Government are working in this direction.
My right hon. Friend referred to officers who have been through the Imperial Defence College. These officers with unique training should all be employed in positions where they can make use of their experience. I am told that a large number of them have been placed in positions where no advantage is taken of this training. I hope we can have some assurance that they will be fitted into positions worthy of them, and that, above all, my right hon. Friend has some of them on his personal staff. That would be some reassurance to many of us. The Minister referred to the question of supply. I am afraid there can be no doubt that there will be immense delay in the delivery of the various articles contracted for.
He referred also to the question of profits. I was not impressed with the remark he made that these manufacturers had had rather a poor time for the last few years, had not had many orders and had not been making many profits, and that it was only reasonable that they should have some chance of making profits out of the present programme. That is not the view the country takes. The view of the country is that the minimum possible profit shall be allowed to anybody out of the present necessities of the nation. If it were possible for these things to be made without any profit to anybody, the country would be all the more delighted. I believe that the actual plans of the Minister for defining the profit per article are quite effective, and that the amount is very limited, but when you consider the enormous number of articles manufactured, obviously a small profit per unit is going to develop into something very large indeed, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman seriously to consider whether he would not be wise to recommend to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the possibility of some kind of direct tax on armament profits. I know that it is an infinitely difficult thing to work out……
No, Sir; what am suggesting is that the Minister should ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have inquiry made as to whether it would not be possible to place a direct tax upon profits made out of armaments. I believe it would make the right hon. Gentleman's task much easier than it is. He will be hampered and checked if there is a feeling abroad that people are making money out of this matter, but, if there is an 80 per cent. excess profits duty, or something of that kind, people will be far more willing to cooperate and play their part on purely disinterested patriotic grounds than if they feel that somebody is making a great deal of money out of the present situation in this country.
I feel that the position in which the right hon. Gentleman has been placed is one which does not enable him to carry out the duties that are required of a Minister in his position at this time. I feel that we shall never solve our defence problems properly until we have a Minister to whom the chiefs of the three Services are subordinate, and who is able to control them—who is able to say to them, "Submit to me your Estimates; tell me how much you want for the various things you have in mind," and is then in a position to say to each of the three Ministers, "Your share is so much," and, if there is any dispute, to take it to the Cabinet. I quite appreciate that in any arrangement of this kind the Service Ministers would suffer in prestige. They would be far less important than they are at the present time, and I think that that is quite right. We want some overriding authority. I know that the term "Minister of Defence" is not popular, but for want of another I would make use of it, and I still hope that, as the result of the experience which the Government are now obtaining and will obtain, they will feel that it is right at this stage and in these critical times to appoint some Minister with the necessary powers to override all the activities of the Service Ministers. I believe we are certain to come to that, and the sooner it is done the better. Because we on these benches are dissatisfied with the powers which the right hon. Gentleman is controlling in connection with his duties, and are dissatisfied with the steps, or want of steps, that the Government are taking to make use of the armaments that will be supplied to them for the purposes of collective security, we intend to vote against this Estimate to-night.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) is not here. Possibly he may reappear in due course. I am sorry because I have observed more than once in my Parliamentary career that, while he comes down to the House and makes violent attacks upon individual Members of the Government or others, very frequently he is not here to receive anything that is waiting for him in return.
I do not think that any complaint can be brought against the Member of the Government whom he attacked for not remaining to hear the counter-attack, which in the case in question may fail. I do not think that any Member of the House will accuse me of any ulterior aim if I congratulate the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence upon his appointment. I think I was one of the very few Members of the House who did not put in an application for that particular post, and, quite candidly, I should have refused it if the Prime Minister had been so mad as to offer it to me. But I would say to the Minister that, of all the names that were canvassed, his was never thought of; it took us on the back benches entirely by surprise. His name had never been mentioned in all the canvassing and discussion that had been going on beforehand, and I must say that it was a very great surprise, and a very pleasant surprise. The one sort of person that we do not want in that position is the man who dashes about saying, "Something must be done." We had quite enough of that in the Great War, and the thing in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping to which I hope most that the Government will not listen is his suggestion that we should repeat all the follies, the scandals, the waste and the inefficiency of the Ministry of Munitions during the War.
It would not be in order, and I do not propose, to enter into a discussion as to who won the War and how it was won, but I am well within the recollection of everyone who served in the War when I say that the Ministry of Munitions was in many respects a monument of waste and inefficiency.
May I draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman and the Government to one or two very practical, though perhaps minor, points that are germane to this Debate? There is no doubt at all, and I think the right hon. Gentleman hinted at it in his speech, that there are going to be very considerable labour troubles very shortly in connection with this armament programme. Murmurings are already going on in the North, and the first question of importance, so far as material is concerned, is how we are going to deal with the situation which may arise with respect to supplies. As hon. Members may know, I have had considerable experience in working out in practice new methods of remuneration of labour in industry, and, if I may be permitted to say so, I might possibly be able to help if such a situation as I fear does happen to arise in the near future. There is no doubt that, as I have found by long experience, the only method of getting the best possible output from our working people to-day is the method of individual piecework as we have known it in the engineering trade for so many years. Systems of collective piecework can only be introduced under very drastic precautions, and without too great an expectation of success. That has been my experience over a period of many years.
There is another very practical point in connection with this question of remuneration, and here I may perhaps refer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping in his position when he had charge of these affairs. Possibly he will remember that appalling piece of folly, the raising by a flat-rate percentage of the rates of remuneration of all munition workers, and the result of doing that. It is impossible to imagine in the circumstances anything more idiotic than a flat-rate advance all round such as he gave to munition workers when he had the chance. The trouble is arising already, as it arose during the War, and must always arise when there is a big expansion in the manufacture of machines.
Nothing could be more inaccurate than the account that the hon. Member is giving. The decision was taken by the War Cabinet, which included Mr. Barnes and Lord Milner. The intention was not to give a flat-rate rise over the whole field, but only to secure better remuneration for those who had taught all the new people—the non-commissioned officers of labour, so to speak.
I say that the policy was foolish and the results were disastrous, no matter how it appeared on paper. To continue what I was saying, the question of dilution is really the main question. At present, in the engineering trade, we are suffering from a very great shortage of skilled labour, even in ordinary civilian work, and quite apart from any armaments expansion programme. I believe that on the books of the Amalgamated Engineering Union there are not more than 11,000 members registered as wanting employment, and, of those 11,000, a very considerable proportion, as any engineer must admit, are men who are not in any sense of the word really skilled men at all. Of the rest, a considerable number are elderly men, who find it very difficult to get a satisfactory job under modern conditions of employment and modern speed methods in engineering works. Those elderly men, I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, should be sought out, because their experience and their skill may be of immense value in the training of these dilutees, as we may call them, who will have to be introduced.
There is another point in connection with this dilution of labour which was missed absolutely by the Minister, of Munitions during the War. These semi-trained folk who are brought in, and are put to work on machinery which is largely automatic in its operation, are very soon, if they are intelligent people, able to earn very large wages on piecework rates. They apply their intelligence to simple operations, and they are able, as I say, to earn very big wages, as they did in the War. But the whole success of their efforts, and the amount of wages that they draw, depends ultimately upon the skill of really trained skilled men who are responsible for setting up the machinery and for the processes which go to make it possible for the semi-skilled men to earn large wages. Surely it is only common sense that a percentage of the piecework wages earned by the semi-skilled men in munition works should always be written to the account of the skilled men who are responsible for setting up their tools for them, and providing the necessary skill to enable them to earn those wages. It seems to me to be a perfectly simple device, and one which might have a profound effect in doing away with the discontent which, unhappily, is already developing in the engineering trade.
One thing that is certain, and I think the right hon. Gentleman probably knows this as well as I do. is that there is this profound shortage, largely due, I am afraid, to the fact that engineering wages have been far too low during the last few years. A large neduber of men have gone into other occupations where they have made better money, and there is a very great falling off in new entrants into the industry, en account of the low wages. The engineering employers at the present day are suffering for their folly and their meanness in the past, and the Government's armament programme is going to suffer too from that folly on the part of these employers of labour. To turn to larger questions, it seems to me, and I daresay Members of the Government will agree, that the most important factor in the whole situation, both of this country and of the world at large at the present day—the real core of everything, when all extraneous and less important matters are stripped off—is the quality of the personnel of the Air Force of this Empire. So far as the material resources of the Air Force are concerned, there is no doubt that the new stuff that is coming forward is far in advance of that possessed by any competing nation with whom we might be at war at any time. It is really of the very highest quality.