Now I come to the question of the Office of the Minister of Production which has occupied a good deal of my thoughts following the recent Debate. I make no pardon for going a little into the past, because I am anxious to place my action in the recollections of the House. During the latter part of the last war I was at the head of the Ministry of Munitions, which comprised, not only what is now called the Ministry of Supply, but also the Ministry of Aircraft Production, which latter was in many ways an enclave of its own. The burden did not appear too great, and the work went forward without more than the usual volume of complaints and criticisms. The Ministry of Munitions did not cover the Admiralty, nor various outlying branches of production, including merchant shipbuilding which was then under the Ministry of Shipping.
Having seen this system in action at close quarters, I was, naturally, inclined to recommend it to Parliament before the war, and when I became Prime Minister I looked for an opportunity of restoring it. In October, 1940, the air bombardment being at its height, there was advantage in placing at the head of Home Security a Minister who had special knowledge of London, which up till then had sustained the brunt and continued to do so for some time afterwards. Accordingly, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), who was then Minister of Supply, became Home Secretary. This enabled me to offer Lord Beaverbrook, who was then Minister of Aircraft Production, the double office of Minister of Aircraft Production and Minister of Supply, which, of course, comprised four-fifths of the entire field of war production. Unfortunately, Lord Beaver-brook's health at that time was seriously affected, and he did not feel able, in spite of my insistence, to undertake any additional burdens. I therefore made The arrangements, which I explained to Parliament in January, 1941, by which the three Supply Departments of Ministry of Supply, Ministry of Aircraft Production, and the Controller's Department of the Admiralty remained separate and independent, but were grouped together for common purposes by the Production Executive, over which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour presided. This was the first time that the Admiralty had come so fully into the common system, and it is a tribute to the manner in which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has discharged his difficult duties, that they are now ready and willing, to take a further step towards unification.
I do not feel that this system has worked badly, and I do not accept the many complaints that have been made against it. The entry of the United States into the war, the far-reaching measures of the pooling of Anglo-American resources, and the appointment of Mr. Donald Nelson over the whole sphere of American war production, created an entirely new situation. Lord Beaverbrook had established very close and intimate connections with the chiefs of American Production. He enjoys the confidence and the good will of the President. In shaping the new organisation, it was natural that he should be the British representative in the various pooling arrangements which were made, and which I laid before Parliament in a White Paper a fortnight ago. It followed from this, again quite naturally, that he should be put into a position, broadly speaking, similar to that occupied by Mr. Donald Nelson, and that someone should be able to speak to the United States representing British war production as a whole. I found myself, therefore, drawn to the conclusion before I left America that there should be a Minister of Production and that Lord Beaver-brook should be that Minister. I was very much fortified on the general question by the undoubted wish of the House and of the Press that such an officer and such an office should be created, and I have accordingly taken all necessary steps to bring the policy into effect.
It should be pointed out on the one hand that we are not now creating a Ministry of Munitions of nominally one Department under one executive head over a large portion of war supplies. On the contrary, the Departments retain their separate identities under their respective chiefs. A War Cabinet Minister, Lord Beaverbrook, will exercise general supervision and guidance over them and will concert and co-ordinate their actions. Moreover, the Controllers Department of the Admirality will come within the scope of the new office, except in so far as warship design and the fixing of naval programmes are concerned. In addition, certain productive or distributive functions exercised by the Board of Trade and by the Ministry of Works and Buildings are also brought within the scope of the Minister of Production. A White Paper will be available in the Vote Office later to-day which will set forth the scope and powers of the new office in more precise detail. I should like to point out, however, that this Paper is not to be read as if it were a Parliamentary Statute on which courts of law would pronounce after elaborate argument, but as a practical division of functions and a guide under which men of good will, having common objects in view, will work together in the public interest and for the maximum prosecution of the war effort. I will content myself by reading the four opening paragraphs of this White Paper, leaving the more technical and departmental aspects to the study of the House at their leisure:
Could my right hon. Friend say why questions of man-power and labour are excluded from this proposal? If the Production Executive is to lapse, surely the co-ordination over the whole field of supply will be less complete than it was before, in the absence of this essential factor?
Of course, that is all provided for in the White Paper. I was only dealing with the general layout in these remarks. The right hon. Gentleman will see in paragraphs 8, 9 and 10 that it states:
8. The Minister of Labour and National Service is the War Cabinet Minister who will in future, under the general authority of the War Cabinet, discharge the functions hitherto performed by the Production Executive in regard to man-power and labour. These functions include the allocation of man-power resources to the Armed Forces and Civil Defence, to war production, and to civil industry, as well as general labour questions in the field of production.
9. As part of his function of dealing with demands for and allocating man-power, the Minister of Labour and National Service has the duty of bringing to notice any direction in which he thinks that greater economy in the use of man-power could be effected; and for this purpose his officers will have such facilities as they require for obtaining information about the utilisation of labour.
10. All labour questions between the Production Departments and the Ministry of Labour will be settled between the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Production, or such officers as they may appoint. The three Supply Departments will retain their existing separate labour organisations.
How is it possible for the Minister of Labour to make himself responsible for all matters relating to production if he is to have no charge over labour supply, and are We to understand that the ordinary machinery for co-ordination is to be such occasional meetings as may take place at the War Cabinet between the Minister of Production and the Minister of Labour? Is there to be no machinery created in place of the now defunct Production Executive?
No, the functions are divided between the two Ministers. Of course they will work in the closest co-operation. The Minister of Labour will carry out the policy of the War Cabinet. He finds and supplies the labour and he follows it up and sees that it is not used uneconomically. That is exactly what he does at the present time. He does that in the same way as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, under the direction of the Cabinet, supplies money, follows it up, and sees that it is not used uneconomically. The position is not exactly the same, but I think one may compare the two. Although I know how eager the hon. Gentleman is to set his critical faculties to work, I can assure him that that powerful organ would operate with greater efficiency on the basis of the details of the general scheme rather than merely on the statement I have made, and so I trust that he will read the White Paper before seeing which particular hole he wishes to pick in the scheme.
But does not the right hon. Gentleman see that the only part of the proposal that I managed to put before the House in the recent Debate, which he has ignored, or left aside, is the function of providing labour, which is so closely related, as undoubtedly it must be, to the question of production itself?
Last week I asked the Prime Minister whether he would give special attention to this matter in the preparation of his statement. Will it not be very difficult for us to know what Questions should be put to the Minister of Supply and what to the Minister of Labour, as there will be some mutual obligations between the Minister of Production and the Minister of Labour in this matter? Further, in view of the fact that Lord Beaverbrook, when Minister of Supply, had to spend a great deal of his time abroad—I do not complain about that, but it was so, he went both to America and Russia and was outside this country for a very considerable period—and in view of the fact that the Prime Minister has attached such great importance to the appointment of Mr. Nelson as a reason for appointing a Minister of Production here, are we to have an assurance from the Prime Minister that the Minister of Production will spend all his time in this country? Otherwise, we shall just have a facade.
Certainly I cannot give such an assurance but the fact that the Minister of Supply under his general supervision will take his place in his absence in the discharge of Parliamentary business will, I think, make this not at all detrimental to the public interest. On the contrary our organisation has become Transatlantic in character. With regard to the difficulties that hon. Members may experience in deciding whether a Question should be put to the Minister of Supply in his capacity of Minister of Supply or as responsible for answering for the Minister of Production, that no doubt raises some nice questions of difficulty, but if those were the only difficulties that we had to encounter I should feel very much relieved.
In view of the fact that so few Members in a short Parliamentary day can speak on a matter of this vast importance, and also in view of the fact that we have not for a considerable time had a Debate on production alone, would the Prime Minister consider setting aside two days for a discussion of the matter?
I suggest, first of all, that the White Paper should be read and studied and that then, if there is a desire for a Debate, it should be conveyed to the Government through the usual channels, with which I have no doubt my hon. Friend can get himself into touch. When a Debate has been decided upon—if it is arranged—then we could see whether one or two or three days should be devoted to it.
The vote will necessarily be upon the proposals of the Government—I do not want to rub any sore place—and they cannot be presented without the Government asking for support in regard to them. Anyhow, if two days are needed and two days can be found—each day knocks out some other day—the Government will have no objection.
I do not admit that that has been the case, although the late Lord Fisher said the British Navy always travelled first class. I can assure my hon. Friend that the tendency in this paper will all be to mitigate any undue or improper priorities which have existed with regard to any particular department.