Air Estimates, 1940.

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th March 1940.

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Photo of Mr Samuel Viant Mr Samuel Viant , Willesden West 12:00 am, 7th March 1940

I should like to associate myself with the sentiments expressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down and the pleasure it has been to the House this afternoon to listen to the statement of the Air Minister. The thing of most importance in the statement was the manner in which production has been improved, but that does not mean that all our apprehensions in this regard have been removed. Neither am I persuaded that the Air Ministry are using to the best advantage the trained men and skilled craftsmen they have at the present time. I happen to be associated with a trade union organisation which has a large number of its members in the Air Force, principally in the Volunteer Reserve. They are skilled craftsmen. I am willing to admit that there is a great deal of difference comparing the construction of the aeroplane of to-day with the construction of the areoplane during the last war, but the skilled craftsmen to which I am referring, the joiners, played a great part in the construction and in the difficulties which confronted us during the last war. These are skilled men, and they can readily adapt themselves to metal work on the modern aeroplane. Some say that the joiner is quite incapable of working on metal, but if you go down Regent Street and other main streets of this city and look at the shop fronts, you will see some of the metal work which has been done by the joiners.

The metal work of an aeroplane is no more difficult. I am persuaded, in my own mind, that the technical experts in the Air Ministry have not made themselves sufficiently acquainted with the ability of these craftsmen; otherwise they would be using them to a greater extent than at the present time. I have a letter from the general office asking me to raise this question to-day. These men have been persuaded to join the Volunteer Reserve of the Royal Air Force, and others have been taken in under conscription. The head office of the union ask that I should impress upon the Minister the need for his keeping up to the promise made to these men in treating them as craftsmen and giving them craftsmen's work to do. I make this appeal across the Floor of the House this afternoon, and I hope that some regard will be paid to it and that the best possible use will be made of these skilled craftsmen.

I pass from that to the question of production, and in this connection I was very pleased to hear that the facilities offered by sub-contracting were being embarked upon to a greater extent than hitherto. In the last war we should have gone under if we had not engaged in subcontracting to a great extent, and to an increasing extent; but it can be done only when we have a simplified method of production and when we are prepared to disseminate our blue prints, spreading them over wholesale with the subcontractors and so permitting the adoption of mass production. I should be happy to know that that was being engaged upon to a greater extent than at the present time. There is a tremendous amount of machine-power and man-power lying idle, and if such a method were adopted, it would avert having to send work to Canada and America. There are thousands of skilled men whose labour could be used for this purpose, and I hope that the Air Minister will at least give some indication that his Department are making a complete review of the potentialities throughout the country where sub-contracting can be engaged upon to a greater extent than it has been. If this were done, we should then be getting down, as it were, to mass production.

The Minister this afternoon spoke of the need for more labour, unskilled and semi-skilled, to be trained in the production of aircraft. But already we have a tremendous amount of skilled labour in the country readily adaptable to this kind of production. Therefore, I suggest there is no need at the moment to bring in and train semi-skilled or unskilled labour. I hope that point will not be lost sight of, because in our union we have thousands of men at the present time who could readily adapt themselves to aeroplane production. Twelve months ago it was not possible, because the majority of firms engaged on the production of aircraft insisted upon conditions of labour where payment by results was the rule, and the union to which I am referring refused to permit their members to engage on that kind of work. They are averse to it, and there is, I think, a strong case against it. Some of the results are exceedingly bad, but that is by the way, and I am prepared to argue it at another time. A large number of sub-contractors who have been brought in are prepared to work on a paid time basis, and the result is that the joiners are being employed in these establishments. Many at the top responsible for imposing the system of payment by results do it because it gives them good commissions—it is two for the employer and one for the employé. I appeal to the Minister to appreciate the fact that there are skilled joiners capable of adapting themselves to metal work. Their labour is available, and by spreading the work out to a larger number of subcontractors facilities will be given for these men to obtain employment. Therefore, I hope my appeal will be given consideration by the Air Minister.

I hope that we shall not make the mistake we made during the last war, when it was no uncommon thing in a number of aircraft factories throughout the country to find as inspectors men unskilled and who had received no training in the trade. I have an instance of the same thing happening at the present moment and I have sent a letter to the Minister's Department about a case where a bus conductor has been appointed as an inspector in one of the Air Ministry's departments. That kind of thing brings nothing but contempt upon an establishment, and I appeal to the Minister to see that those who are responsible to him do not permit this practice to grow to the same dimensions as it attained during the last war. It brought to many of the Government Departments and factories ridicule and contempt. When inspectors, foreman and managers are appointed, let them be picked from men who understand the work, and let them be picked on their merits. I know sufficient of the good work of the Minister to know that he would not condone it. Therefore, I feel that I am justified in making this appeal in the initial stages of this growing industry so that we shall have people in charge of the departments who know their jobs from A to Z and are competent to hold them.