I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
greater attention should be paid to conditions in the shipyards with a view to the acceleration of shipbuilding and improving the arrangements for repairs.
We have been hearing to-day, from the First Lord and others, about the heavy price we are paving for Admiralty. The Battle of the Atlantic, the war of the submarines on our shipping lanes, was bad enough in the months gone by, for the heavy toll that it took of our ships. Now that Japan has entered the war, we must, I fear, look forward to greater difficulties and greater troubles, and possibly greater losses of ships. No subject could be of more vital importance than that of replacement of these ships by new construction, and the whole question of repairs. That is why, when I drew first
place in the Ballot—the only raffle I have ever won—I was impelled to raise this subject. It will be generally agreed that if we have an Achilles heel to our war effort, it may prove to be shipping and the whole question of how quickly we can replace our lost ships.
I do not want to exaggerate, or to belittle those to whom tribute should be paid. There has, undoubtedly, been a steady improvement in output and in the repairing of ships, ever since the war began. To all concerned, from the Admiralty down to the most junior worker in the shipyards, we must pay our tribute for a really remarkable effort, considering the situation when the war began. Naturally, I speak most about conditions on the Clyde, where I live and where my constituency is situated. I recognise that conditions may not be identical in other parts of the country; I know that they vary from shipyard to shipyard on the Clyde itself; but I feel that a great deal of what I say will apply not only to the Clyde, but to shipyards in other parts of the country.
We cannot see the present picture clearly unless we realise something of the picture which existed prior to the war. The House does not need to be told much about them, for we are only too conscious of the troubles and evils of the years that the locusts have eaten. We did not start this war with happy or efficient conditions in the shipyards. But we must recognise the really remarkable achievements in output and in production, in organisation and in the arrangement for repairs, which have brought about a very large acceleration in our shipyard programme. As for present conditions, with which the House is most concerned, it is, in my judgment, the tempo which is wrong. It is too slow. There is not enough acceleration. The engine is ticking over. It is fairly well-tuned in places, but there is no real acceleration. I admit that that is, perhaps, too general a statement and that in particular yards the situation is definitely better than in others, but one must to some extent, on such a wide subject as this, make statements of a comparatively general character.
I want to turn for a moment to a matter which has been exercising the minds of many people who have been interested in shipbuilding, and that is the question of the design of our merchant ships and their speed. Both these factors are very closely wrapped up with the question of the condition of the shipyards and the speed at which the ships can be turned out. We have, on the whole, not followed the policy of building fast ships. There has been great consideration of the matter, but I understand that if we were to build faster ships than it has been our policy to build since the war, we should not have been able to turn out those ships continually or quickly. To build a faster ship involves a great deal of construction in the form of marine engines, which are slow and difficult to build if they are of the faster type and supercharged, and, in addition to that, the whole arrangement of the hull and other technical details involves substantial delays. It was therefore decided, for better or for worse—and it has had effects in both directions—to adopt a policy of not attempting to go in for anything too fast.
As my hon. and gallant Friend seems to be very familiar with the subject, can he tell the House why, before the war, Japan built a large number of fast merchant ships?
I am only talking about the last two years. I cannot go back further into the pre-war years. If we had started earlier enough, and if my hon. and gallant Friend is correct, he could have had his faster ships, but many of us did not anticipate the war and it is very easy to be wise after the event. I am discussing the policy of the Government and the Admiralty and the reason for that policy. I feel that, in all the circumstances, although there is a good deal to be said for both sides of the case, the powers-that-be were wise to decide upon adopting a moderate speed rather than in attempting to adopt a higher speed. But one must also bear in mind that the slower ship is a vulnerable ship. I have no doubt that many of our ships have been lost because they were not fast enough, and from the point of view of convoy work, I am told by my naval. friends that a slow ship is, definitely, a big responsibility for them.
I now turn to the question of standardisation. Here, too, there has been much discussion and controversy. If you were able to build a standard type of merchant ship on a mass production basis, such as America, I understand, is attempting to do in connection with its huge shipbuilding programme, there is no doubt that you could build ships very much faster than you can under our present policy, of building ships in accordance with the size and design of the various yards who have been building-them in the past. That, generally speaking, is the policy to-day—to let each yard build, within certain reasonable limits, the type of ship that it has been used to building, because its skilled men, workers and management, understand that type of ship.
The whole lay-out of the yard is for that type of ship, and to have broken away at short notice when the war began and to have turned on to the mass production of a standard type of ship would, it is felt, have been a very considerable disadvantage to production. But it must be remembered always that a standard ship means, of course, a more rapidly-produced ship. On the other hand, it would not be true to say that we are not building standard ships, for we are building quite a number of them, but mostly in the tanker and tramp line of shipping, rather than larger cargo vessels and merchant ships.
Before I leave the question of speed and design, there is something I feel I must say, although I do not like having to say it. I want to ask the hon. Gentleman who is to reply whether he and the Admiralty are really satisfied with the administration of the Advisory Committee in the Ministry of War Transport upon whom the Admiralty must, under the present Regulations, depend so much for their advice in connection with the building and designing of merchant ships, and other important matters. It has come to my ears from various sources—and I think it cannot be entirely unknown in the House—that there is a suggestion that it would be a good thing to change the chairmanship of that Advisory Committee of the Minister of War Transport and bring in fresh blood to the chairmanship and possibly more energetic action into the Committee, which would bring more confidence into the shipping world and perhaps the Admiralty itself.
I understand the chairman of the Committee is Sir Vernon Thomson. I would like that point to be considered by the Admiralty, because I believe it to be in the public interest.
I pass now to the question of repairs. I believe that—in spite of the excellent achievement which has been brought about in all the yards of the country in connection with repairs, in spite of the tremendous burden which repairs have been to the yards of the country owing to the Battle of the Atlantic and the storm and stress of bad weather, in spite of the fact that many of our ships were old at the start—a considerably greater acceleration could be brought about in the matter of repairs. Great work has been done, but much remains to be done still. The chief difficulty is that these repairs are holding up new construction. We all know that, to some extent, it is impossible to prevent that, and that an urgent repair must have priority over new construction, but owing to the circumstances of the war it means, and has meant, that in certain shipyards new construction has been seriously held up and interfered with. In spite of all that has been done, I urge the Admiralty to move heaven and earth to solve this problem in so far as it can be solved, and to expedite repairs in every possible way, so that the ships can be got back in the water again and new construction not be held up. There have been serious delays in this respect, and I hope the Admiralty will not hesitate to do all they can if there has been any inefficiency or any unnecessary slackness in the matter of repairs.
I could speak for some time on the whole question of bottlenecks in priorities, but there is not time to do so. The question of priorities is, of course, of fundamental importance to the shipyards, and bottlenecks are holding up production. There is not time now to examine all the details of the various items of construction and delays which we call bottlenecks, but they exist, and the question of priorities is one of fundamental importance. I urge the Admiralty to see to it that, as far as is possible, a very substantial improvement takes place in the future with regard to bottlenecks. The men get wild about bottlenecks, they do not understand the meaning of them, they are not told the meaning of them, and they have to hang about and get fed up because they believe there is no serious effort to put things right. I am convinced that the bottlenecks have a very big effect on any bad feeling there may be in the shipyards.
There is another small point I want to mention while on this subject. I have had many complaints from shipyards, especially on the Clyde—I have no doubt things are the same elsewhere, to some extent—that there is insufficient coordination between the designers of the ships and the operations officer who, in uniform, represents the Admiralty and supervises the work of construction in the yards. There does not seem to be enough co-ordination. Designers are completely out of touch, and, when the work is about half-way completed, the operation officers often say, "This will not do. I do not want this. I cannot approve of that. I want this here and not there." Subsequently there begins a long argument by correspondence with the Admiralty in accordance with the true bureaucratic routine. Considerable time is lost. There is great delay, inconvenience and irritation to all concerned, and no less to the management of the ship-building concern.
I turn now to a question about which we are all deeply interested and about which some of us feel considerable concern. That is the question of work in the shipyards and the relationship between the managements and the men. It cannot be denied that here, too, the situation varies materially from yard to yard, and depends very much on the personalities of the management, and to a considerable extent upon past relationships between the managements and the men. There are yards to-day where there is excellent feeling between the management and the men, and there are yards where there is just the reverse and always has been. It depends so much upon the personalities of those concerned and the spirit of good will. In many yards there is still a feeling of mistrust. The feeling is too general and is quite unjustified by the war situation. I hesitate to use the word "apathy," although I believe it to be the right term to use. There is no sense of urgency among many sections both of managements and of men; they are just moving along through the ordinary routine. There is a definite sense of apathy and even of mistrust. The question of absenteeism has often been raised. I believe that absenteeism in normal working hours is nothing like so bad as some people try to make out. Absenteeism in normal hours has been very greatly exaggerated. There is a fundamental difference between absenteeism during normal hours, which I think is disgraceful, and absenteeism during overtime. Men are liable to be thoroughly tired and exhausted when they have been working long overtime for weeks and months. The men themselves have told me that they get tired and done in, and I believe that absenteeism during overtime is due to this fact. It does not excuse the fact, however, that there is also absenteeism during overtime because of slackness, but I am convinced, from my observations, that the majority of workers are pulling their weight and doing their best under very exhausting conditions, especially in the summer months.
I wish to present the case for both sides. I think it is only fair that it should be stated in this House. The men say there are difficulties and troubles over the relationships between employers and employees. They say that it is a legacy from the past, and we know it is true. They blame the managements for many of the delays, and they say that the managements are often unwilling to cooperate with them and will not take the trouble or interest to investigate all their complaints. They say the managements are unwilling to work with the yard committees which are being set up. I would emphasise that it is not all the workers who make these accusations. On the whole, many are fairly satisfied and do not repeat these complaints, but I think it only fair, as I represent all sections in my constituency, to state that a good many workers feel that way.
Then there is the management side. The House has listened very patiently to my representation of the men's case, and I hope hon. Members will listen with the same patience when I state the attitude of the employers. They say that output would go up if the men would only pull their weight properly. They say that output, on the Clyde at any rate, could go up between 15 and 20 per cent. They say there is no real effort among quite a large section of the workers and, although they admit it is a minority, they suggest that it is a considerably larger minority than I myself am prepared to agree to. They admit that there is a great shortage of skilled men. That is a serious handicap which the Press and others who have paid attention to the matter have not emphasised. Many of the men are not really skilled. They are learning. They are new to the game, and it is not an easy game to learn. The effect of dilution on production has been considerable. It is also said that there is a certain amount of lack of discipline, and I am afraid that is true; also that the Essential Work Order took away the disciplinary powers that existed under the economic stress of pre-war days, when punishment for anything at all of a misdemeanour was the sack and unemployment. Those powers no longer exist, thank God, but it is said that the Order which took them away—and certainly provides through the tribunals and to the National Service officers a means of exercising discipline—is not, in effect, being carried out in as efficient a manner as it should be. The employers say there is a good deal of slackness in the administration of the Order, and, not only great delays in investigation of cases reported, but also great delays in dealing with those cases. Over and over again it is said the men are given first, second and third chances, which the employers consider is not a good example from the point of view of discipline.
One of the bugbears of managements is the yard committees. On the other hand, the management admit that there are some yard committees with whom they are working in perfectly good harmony. It entirely depends on the personnel the men elect and the personality of the management. The managers say the men sometimes unwisely elect representatives who are just playing at politics, whose only concern is to talk political stuff in the time that the employers pay for, and the employers resent having to listen to this kind of thing. They frankly admit that often useful suggestions are brought forward and they say they give fair consideration to them. On the other hand, the workers have not yet appreciated, generally, the possibility for good of the yard committees. If only these yard committees consisted of the wisest men, of sensible fellows, instead of wild politicians who talk so much and get elected in consequence, there would, it is said, be much happier relations than exist to-day.
I feel convinced that the real trouble is that 1bere is no sense of urgency. We have for so long had assurances of victory. Although it is true that we have never lost, and must not lose, our faith in victory, it has had this disadvantage, that on a certain type of mind it has a soporific effect. I think we ought to change the tune and tell people in the shipyards that we may lose the war unless everyone pulls up his socks and works to the maximum extent. Let us worry the people and create a sense of urgency and tell them that victory is not assured unless we deserve to win.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I should like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend not only on the able manner in which he has handled this subject, but on being instrumental in raising this discussion at a time when the heavy increases in our shipping losses reported to the House by the Prime Minister only the day before yesterday, make it more than ever essential that the shipyards should produce to their maximum possible tonnage. The town which I represent has no reason to be ashamed of the contribution it has made in new tonnage to our national effort. Indeed, if I were in a position to quote the figures, I could prove that its record is one of which we can rightly be proud. I believe that is largely due to the enterprise of certain firms who, even through the great depression of 1931–35, maintained their efficiency and their initiative in design of engines and hulls and were ready to meet the need when it came. I believe it is due, too, to the fact that the management is still largely in the hands of men with long family connections with their yards and their workmen and to the mutual trust which exists between the management and the men.
Good though the record of the industry is, far be it from me to say that it could not be improved upon. I believe that if the Government fulfil the assurances which the Lord Privy Seal gave to the House yesterday, if they let nothing stand between this country and victory and do not shrink from calling for any sacrifices from whomsoever it be, and do not tolerate any hindrance in our national effort, the country will be galvanised into a sense of greater urgency, which, in the shipbuilding section of the community, would be translated into increased tonnage. Let me be quite frank. On the employers' side, I believe there is still room for improvement in the organisation and use of skilled labour.
I believe that executive supervision might be tightened up with good effect, and that more could be done to take men into the confidence of the management and explain the causes of difficulties and delays which, if unexplained, are misunderstood and irritate men who are anxious to do their best for the country. In some yards there seems to be a disposition to discourage some of the best workers by putting them on to time instead of piece-work. It has been suggested to me that production could be increased if more and better service in preparatory work was given to pieceworkers. Too many men in their prime are put on to time work and waste time in doing their own preparatory work. Production would be increased if the older men were put on to do the preparatory work and the piece-workers were given a clear run.
On the other side, I shall be equally frank. I believe that good money—and no one who has witnessed the long years of shipyard depression will grudge good money to those who have experienced it—is too easily come by, for the maximum effort to be forthcoming. Therefore, such habits, though they be the habits of a lifetime, as that of being at the gates instead of leaving work at 5 o'clock, should be given up during wartime. Then, too, some men work better under strict supervision which, with the shortage of skilled men, is difficult to obtain, particularly on repair work, and as the same shortage of labour has brought into employment some men—and they are only a small percentage—who need disciplinary action, there is a need for a fuller use of disciplinary powers. I know the men's leaders are doing much to enforce discipline, but I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that it is essential that the Ministry of Labour should give more evidence than it has done in the past that it will use the disciplinary powers that are vested in it under the Essential Work Order.
Then there are some ways in which there is room for improvement from above. Control in war time is a necessity, but there are some grounds for thinking that there could be some simplification in the number of controls. There is some failure to co-ordinate the Ministry of War Transport shipping plans with the work of builders and repairers. Here I should like to interpose that I hope the First Lord will pay due regard to what my hon. and gallant Friend said about the Ministry of War Transport shipping advisers. Then, too, there seems to be some lack of co-ordination between that part of the repair section of the Admiralty which deals with Admiralty repairs and that part which deals with merchant repairs. Then, again, I think that the Minister of Labour might pay more regard to the value of essential clerical workers, and what we might describe as the skilled workers in unskilled industries, both of which categories can play a very large part in increased production.
There is also one point to which I hope the First Lord will call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not think there is any real objection to paying Income Tax except amongst a small minority of the men who refuse to work overtime rather than pay Income Tax and I believe that even with that minority we could get away from the trouble if our propaganda about Income Tax were more up to date. The shipbuilding industry is one of the worst hit by the time-honoured methods unimaginatively applied to the collection of Income Tax from a new class of taxpayers. It is an industry which earns big money during the long Summer days and good weather. It earns small money in the short Winter days and bad weather. Here let me say that it seems to me a pity that in the past we have not looked into, and perhaps adopted, the practice of Continental shipyards in covering their slipways, because by such a means it would be possible to even out the amount of work which can be done in the shipyards during the Winter months. But to return to the question of Income Tax. It is hard upon these men to be asked to pay the tax upon their high Summer earnings out of their low Winter wages. The Inland Revenue may say there is nothing to prevent the money being put aside in Summer, but how much better it would be if the Inland Revenue recognised human nature for what it is and woke up and collected the tax upon the money as it was earned.
One hears much criticism of the delays caused by modifications. No doubt some are caused by the idiosyncrasies of individuals who demand alterations to suit their personal tastes and convenience. These are probably very small in their results, but they cause irritation and discouragement to the men working on the ships, and they should be strictly discouraged. On the whole, it appears that most of the modifications which cause delay are due to experience gained under war conditions, but there is one class, that caused by the constantly varying type of guns which are fitted. That seems to me one thing which, at this stage of the war, ought to be capable of solution. Standardisation is another matter still capable of improvement. We do not want a standardisation which, if carried too far, will slow down the better-equipped yards to the capabilities of the less well-equipped yards, but a standardisation which would concentrate in each yard upon a particular type, so that familiarity would increase output. One other remark upon standardisation: I hope it will never be lost sight of that we must have a standardisation of speed at the highest possible level.
I hope Members who represent dockyard constituencies will allow one who represents only the Fourth Estate in a dockyard town to say a few words on the question of dockyards. If I understand the position rightly, the main function of a dockyard in war-time is to deal with emergency repairs. That necessitates a large reservoir of skilled labour and presents the problem of their full employment between jobs. This problem has been aggravated by the dispersal of work on account of the liability to air attack. Is everything being done that can be done to solve this problem? I fear that it is not. Surely it is possible to lay down in the dockyards small craft of types urgently needed by the Navy, not as part of the regular programme but as an additional programme, which if completed would be a welcome addition to the Fleet, but if delayed in completion by the transfer of men to emergency repairs would give rise to no vital handicap. In the same way, is it not possible to utilise the labour of these skilled workers upon additional programmes of tanks or armoured vehicles? I believe that such a plan is feasible and that if the dockyards were given anti-aircraft defences of the character we found at Brest, there would be a reasonable chance that these programmes would make a real contribution to our national effort.
Though I have offered some criticisms and suggestions for the improvement of our shipbuilding output, I must conclude by paying a justly due tribute to all concerned in the very fine performance achieved in the production of ships in this country. It is a performance that compares favourably with any other branch of our national effort. I hope and trust that never again in peace-time will we allow, as we did in the past, this fine industry to languish, but that we shall always regard it as one of the keystones of our national existence. The First Lord referred this morning to the reduced building capacity we had at the outbreak of the war, and raised cheers from the benches which had always attacked the scrapping of redundant yards. I never agreed with that attack. I believe that that scrapping was a first step in the direction of the concentration of industry. Where we failed—and we did fail—was in not keeping the remaining yards up to the highest degree of efficiency, with additional slips in reserve, and in not finding the means of making good the dearth of skilled labour due to no apprentices being trained during the great depression. Never again must we allow ourselves to be in that position. American construction, welcome though it is, may not always come to our assistance. It is upon our own resources now and in the future that we must rely.
I rise only for a moment or two, and that for the limited purpose of touching upon one or two points which have been raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd) and the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey). I think my hon. and gallant Friend has rendered a service by raising this discussion at this time, because although, as he said, the shipyards of this country have a fine record of output and performance—its quality and quantity would compare with that of many other industries in the country—the problem now is to bring the general standard throughout the industry as a whole up to the practice of the best yards. There is machinery by which the experience of the best-equipped yards could be shared throughout the whole country if the organisation that exists in connection with the Admiralty and the Supply Departments was exercised to the full. The question is, How is the standard to be raised as high as possible? In the long run that can only be done when every individual, whether he is a manager or whatever his position, is satisfied of the urgency of the need and is putting everything he knows into the job. As has already been said, there are things which are hindering here and there.
In my judgment, too much emphasis cannot be laid upon the necessity for everybody concerned in the production of ships to feel that they are in the job together. There must be complete confidence and complete sharing of knowledge. Ship repairing is probably the most complicated, the most difficult and the most unexpected task which industry can be called upon to perform. I suppose that no two ship repairing problems are the same, and many things happen which call for explanation. It is within my knowledge that considerable heart-burning was caused in a certain yard when a vessel on which repair work had recently been carried out, and was still going on, was suddenly ordered from the port to proceed to another port in a different part of the country. The men engaged in the work felt frustrated. They were quite bewildered as to why decisions of that kind should be made. In point of fact, there was a perfectly good and satisfactory explanation. The ship was in fact capable of proceeding under its own steam to another port, whereas two accidents of an important character had occurred to two ships which were coming into the port and which could not proceed under their own steam. It was of the utmost consequence that those two ships should be repaired quickly; there were no other berths available, and so the first ship was ordered to leave. If that had been explained fully at the time to those engaged in the work, the difficulties and the sense of frustration and bewilderment would not have arisen. My hon. and gallant Friend said that in some yards there was a handicap caused by a legacy from the past. I venture to say that the relationships of management and men throughout the shipyards of this country are better to-day than at any other time in its history. What I hope is that during the war, when we arc engaged in a common task, a spirit of co-operation and mutual confidence shall so develop that we can forget about the legacy of the past, and that when the war is over there will be better relationships and better industrial machinery in connection with those relationships than we have ever had at any time.
I pass for one moment to the question of Income Tax. There is much heart-burning and actual distress. I sincerely hope that the Board of Inland Revenue are going into this matter in detail. I will not burden the House by bringing up specific instances—they have been stated in broad outline already—but there is one thing which I think should be done at the earliest possible moment. Some sort of certificate, some sort of script, should be issued in respect of the deferred payment which is to be made at the end of the war. At the present moment this is something quite nebulous, some far distant prospect in which the majority of people hardly believe. I believe if there was some tangible asset in hand, it would go a long way towards satisfaction in that particular respect. The point mentioned by the hon. Member for Sunderland about the hardship arising from deductions now, when earnings are not so high, of Income Tax at a high rate, is one which calls for very careful consideration and action at the earliest possible moment. There are a great many varieties of ways in which workers are hit by the particular incidence of this tax. One I might mention is where men have been called to the Forces, and firms have been making up their pay. Many firms are now called upon to deduct from the allowances they are making the full amount of Income Tax, so that it may result in an allowance of something like 2S. 6d., with the result that payments for rent, etc., are in jeopardy. I have perhaps said enough on that point. It is something which has an effect on the enthusiasm of the workers. It was not explained fully in advance; it is not known fully what Income Tax is for. It is desirable that the purposes for which Income Tax is devoted should be made known to everyone who is called upon to pay it. If these things were done, that adverse effect could be done away with.
It is imperative that priority of labour should be secured for both shipbuilding and ship repairing. If the steps laid down by the Minister of National Service for relating the man to the job are carried out efficiently that is the best possible plan, but I am bound to say that I cannot disguise from myself what goes on under my eyes—that the machinery of the Ministry of National Service for carrying out the relation of the man to the job is not working in the way that is required. I do not altogether blame the Ministry for that, because when war broke out they had not the machinery for that job. They had to reorganise hurriedly and are far from perfect at the present time.
The clerical worker has been referred to by one hon. Member. The clerical worker is considered to be fair game, but in a shipyard the calling-up of the clerical worker means that the whole system of costings falls into arrears, that the whole system of building up the accounts for cash payments falls months and months into arrears, with the result that the financial difficulties of the firm are exaggerated, and the work in general is hindered. But it is a fact that, here and there, so-called unskilled labour is being taken from the shipyards. There should be no doubt left that that should not be done. Unskilled men are considered fair game by the Ministry of National Service, but there are very few unskilled men in the shipyards. The ordinary labourer in a shipyard is very often performing important tasks. I return to the sentence with which I began, that the price of victory in this matter is that every man, whether he belongs to the management or to the workers, should be doing the uttermost he can, up to the limits of his strength and capacity.
I should like to preface what I have to say by wishing my colleague the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty every success in his most difficult job, and to assure him of the confidence of the House. Deferentially, as a very junior Member, I should like to say that the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd) was a temperate and most thoughtful contribution, and that he was ably followed by his seconder. I agree almost completely with the case of the hon. and gallant Member, and, without reservation, I agree that there is lacking throughout the industry this sense of urgency. I hope to be able to show why that is, and to suggest methods by which the position might be remedied. I completely agree that the Government, perhaps through quite clearly understood timidity, have failed to represent to the country the urgency of the position. There are figures by which the gravity of the situation can be gauged. The First Lord to-day called the shipyard problem a most vital factor. In my opinion, it is the most vital factor. It will not matter if our men are legion and if their arms, eventually, are terrible, if we lack the tonnage to project them to any sector of the perimeter where our enemies may be weak or our Allies need strengthening.
Last time the Prime Minister spoke in this House on this subject, he gave figures which are worth noting. When our losses were at their greatest for four months, they averaged 480,000 tons per month. That is a high figure. The Prime Minister, continuing this topic, told us that this country could launch monthly 80,000 tons. There is a bridge between these two figures. America pledges herself to give us 350,000 tons a month when her industry is harnessed. I had the good fortune to talk to-day with an Admiralty expert who has come back from close touch with the Maritime Commission and who tells me that he is satisfied that America will be able to match and overtake its pledge of such tremendous figures. Even if we assume that by now or by the light months our output will have grown to 100,000 tons per month, and even if we remember the not unsubstantial production to which the First Lord paid generous tribute that we can expect from our Dominions, particularly from Canada and Australia, more must be laid in this country if we are to be satisfied that, if the worst again should overtake us, the situation will be in hand. And worse may very well happen. It is true that we have made tremendous advances in combating submarine warfare in the Western Ocean. The First Lord addressed himself to this problem too, but it should be emphasised that there are now these three battleships which may at any time dart out to attack and inflict great damage upon our lines to our Russian Ally. If we are realists, we shall admit that we cannot yet estimate what damage surface raiding may bring to us in the Pacific, and in seas even nearer than the Pacific, from our Japanese enemy. If we are to achieve this safety margin and are at any time to be in a position to strike, we have to step-up our tonnage by at least 20 percent. in this country. It will have to come up to something like 120,000 tons as the monthly average, and that is not impossible. In 1918 we launched in this country an average of 112,000 tons, or roughly a figure of 1,348,000 for that year.
What contributions can we make? I submit most deferentially that the Financial Secretary must read carefully what the mover of this Amendment said about a closer approximation to a standard ship. I do not know, and I have not had the time to consider, the technical plans by which the Americans hope to reach this gigantic total, but it must be clear that they are based upon a standard ship. We must be prepared to sacrifice some of the less consequential changes in design which we would want to acquire if there were no other factors conditioning the problem. Even now we must consider that greater speed must be given to the semi-standard freighters. I understand that the figure now is something between 10 and 12 knots. The hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew and the hon. Member for Sunderland pointed to the additional defence margin that would come from increasing the speed. Frankly, I am not very much impressed by what difference in defence an additional two knots would make, but it is clear that if we can raise the speed by 5 per cent, then we add one extra ship to every twenty that we have undertaking the job on the seven seas now.
I think I ought to make some slight reference to the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew about conditions in the shipyards. The hon. Member for Sunderland associated himself with those remarks when he talked of there being too much easy money. I must remind the House that as everyone knows—and both the hon. Members have associations with shipyards—there is no one engaged in the actual hull construction, from keel to deck, who is working on any other conditions than piece rates. I am prepared to give figures from the Clyde to show that these men earn every halfpenny that goes into their pay packets. I want to suggest to the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew, who said that the employers are dissatisfied with the restriction of their powers under the Essential Work Order—there are men who tend to want to have their cake and also to eat it—that it is unrealistic for employers to say, "The Essential Work Order has taken away my disciplinary power, and I cannot handle the men." The truth is that, without that Order, the men would not wait to be sacked, but would walk out and get a job next door, and the men, quite properly, have said that if the movement of their labour is to be restricted, then so must the powers of the employers be curtailed.
I have raised this matter because I want to say something that will not be at all popular, and which I find it most difficult to say. There is still—we all know it—a lack of urgency in the yards, and even worse than that, distinct friction. Speaking for the Clyde, I think we might do a great deal to remove that friction if the present Director of Shipbuilding and Repairs, Sir James Lithgow, were removed from his job. I should be dishonest, unjust and ungenerous if I did not say that Sir James Lithgow, both in peace-time and in war-time, has shown a supreme organising ability in this business, and that no one doubts his concern for the country, but I know that in the minds of the men there exists grave suspicion about Sir James Lithgow. They think of him as a bad and hard employer, and they think of him as being unwilling to meet and move with them in these matters, and I am told that some employers doubt Sir James Lithgow's good intentions in all matters touching their industry just now. But it does not matter whether I am right or wrong about Sir James Lithgow, or whether they are. The point is that something more than ability is needed to get the best out of this industry now. What is needed is good will. Therefore, you must either remove from the minds of the men their impressions of Sir James Lithgow or be prepared to remove Sir James Lithgow. I add once more that I say that most regretfully, but I think it is factual and must be said.
In conclusion, I would draw attention to one aspect of the matter which is well known to the House. When we rationalised our shipbuilding industry we threw out into the streets 50,000 skilled men. These men have not forgotten it, and on Clydeside they would not allow their sons to go into the industry. If the Government can give a pledge to the industry that the men will not be pitched out again and their skill allowed to rot and their tools to rust, then I think we shall put an end to what the mover described as the "ticking-over" process and get the punch from this industry which we need to survive.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) who seconded this Amendment kindly referred to right hon. and hon. Members who represent dockyard constituencies. As my constituency contains the largest and the oldest Royal naval dockyard in the country, I should like to reply to the suggestions he made and say that so far as my knowledge goes his suggestions are being carried out in the dockyard in my constituency. To remind my hon. Friend, he first suggested that Royal naval dockyards should be adequately protected against aircraft attack. I can assure him that so far as my constituency is concerned enemy planes invariably make a detour and that further in the Chatham dockyard under the able direction of the Admiral Superintendent, Admiral Sir Clinton Danby, new constructions are carried out as well as urgent repairs. May I also take this opportunity of supporting the reference which has been made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eastern Renfrew (Major Lloyd). His speech made one of those contributions which in a Debate such as this are so greatly appreciated by the House. My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the question of speed of ships. He mentioned that there was a great delay in building ships if they were to be capable of greater speed. I should like to point out how important speed is in any method of transport. It is much better, I think, to describe distances by the time it takes to get there than to refer to the distance by the number of miles.
It might interest the House to know that two flying boats of 50 tons each, such as those which are constructed at Short Bros., of Rochester, in my constituency, can carry to America and back as large a tonnage of cargo as one cargo boat of 600 tons capable only of doing eight knots. With their greater speed the flying boats can make so many more journeys. Twelve 50–ton flying boats are equivalent to a 5–knot merchant ship of 5,000 tons. During the past 10 years Japan has made a great point of building very fast merchant ships. She has now a large fleet of merchant ships capable of travel ling between 18 and 22 knots. These ships cannot only be used in transporting troops by being able to form a suitable and economical convoy such as is required when convoyed by fast naval craft but can also easily be converted into armed raiders. When Japan entered the war I shuddered at the thought of the great number of high-speed merchant ships she owned which could be very rapidly transformed into armed raiders and sailed into various parts of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, much to our disadvantage. There is another suggestion I should like to make to the First Lord in regard to the building of fast cargo ships. It has been said that larger engines are needed, that the building of larger engines takes much longer and is a more difficult job and that this holds up completion. Would it not be possible to use double or triple screw ships, using several smaller engines, to lay down such ships which need only be fitted with one of their engines and could be sent temporarily to sea as slow merchant ships, and that the second or third engine could be incorporated later when the ship returns back to port and when the second or third engine becomes available?
I think the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd) was on the whole fair and reasonable, if I may say so as an old Member who is inclined to talk to people in a schoolmasterly fashion. I do not represent a purely shipbuilding Division, although any Glasgow Division must contain a large proportion of shipbuilding workers. The union of which I am chairman is not purely a shipbuilding but is an engineering union largely employed in shipbuilding. On the Clyde the engine shop and the shipbuilding yard are for the most part the same industry. They are so much alike. The First Lord said the employers complained bitterly of absenteeism and said the National Service officers were not taking the necessary action against alleged wrongdoers, who were given chance after chance, and that in the end nothing was done. I hope he will not pursue that line too far. I worked in shipyards throughout the last war, and before that I worked in shipyards in Belfast. If there is one thing that raises a dull, deep resentment it is the punishment of a man. You may gain by it for a time, but in the long run you will lose. Anyone who knows the Clyde knows that stoppages are in no way comparable with what they were in the last war. There is often in this absenteeism a whole host of reasons. Shipyard workers and men like myself are not like the average Member of the House of Commons. Most Members are sober, staid people who never have any domestic unhappiness.
The rest of the community have things that ruffle their lives occasionally. A man may have been off work, and there is terrible domestic unhappiness in the background which he would not tell to his employers, and when the man comes before the National Service officer there are no doubt certain things for which the employer says he ought to be punished, but if the man's background were examined there would be found to be every defence for him. I happen to have some knowledge of shipbuilding from a good many angles. I have negotiated with the employers for many years, I know the men, I know their unions, and I know their National Service officers. The Ministry of Labour has in Scotland one of the ablest civil servants. I am not going to say that he will not do his duty, but I know that he will not be stampeded by employers or anybody else in prosecutions that in the long run may do far more damage than good. I trust that in these matters the Ministry of Labour will not be rushed into needless and stupid prosecutions.
I would like to refer to the question of Income Tax payments. You may like it or not, but there is deep resentment about the Income Tax. I do not think the system is practical, unless perhaps with overtime. If it can be shown to me to be practical, I am prepared to look at it, but this much I know, that for the shipyard worker, with his general average of wage and his costs, the present limit of £78 is far too low. One of the things the Government will have to do is to raise the minimum exemption figure for Income Tax.
But if the Admiralty find that production is hindered because of the Income Tax payments, they can make representations in the matter. There is nothing in some ways having a worse effect in the shipyards than this question of the incidence of the Income Tax. An hon. Member referred to the summer and winter differences in wages, but there is another difference. A man may be on piece-work earning comparatively big wages, and the Minister of Labour may come along and willy-nilly transfer him from a highly paid piece-work job to a time-work job on a much lower wage. Then the man has to start out of the low wage to pay tax on a wage earned in a different period. There is no use highfalutin' people like the Chancellor saying that the men should save. If we all did the things we should do, we should be living in Paradise, but I would rather live with human beings who make mistakes than in a perfect world. The Admiralty would be well advised to look into this problem in consultation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because if there could be some easing of the situation, it might help them.
Two other small matters which I wish to raise are peculiar, I think, to my district. I am still very much concerned about the lack of canteens. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment tried to be balanced. I am not as good at balancing. I must take sides. I cannot find myself supporting both the employers and the workmen at the same time. The Clyde employers have a terrible record as regards the provision of canteens. Before the war canteens were practically nonexistent on the Clyde, and indeed, after the present First Lord of the Admiralty took office, which was nearly 12 months after the war had started, and the Minister of Labour and others intervened, there was a feeling among employers that they were interfering in a way they had no right to do. I think canteens were necessary before the war, because the days when workers lived near the shipyards have gone. Now the workers have to travel to get to work, and if canteens were needed before the war, now, since the war, with all our food and transport difficulties, they are more urgently needed still. I ask the First Lord to see whether the provision of canteens is as good as it might be in my part of the world.
The other point I wish to raise concerns men who are late at work. Usually men are due to start at five minutes to eight in the morning, and they work until half-past five in the evening, which is a 47-hour week. Frequently—perhaps not frequently, but often—they are late, and do not arrive at the gate until five or ten minutes past eight. Anyone who is acquainted with present-day travelling conditions knows that it is difficult to arrive anywhere exactly to time. Frequently the men who are late are sent home, to come back at dinner time. If ever there was waste, that is an example of it. Take it that the men are wrong—although I am for a moment admitting that they are wrong—what would be the business thing to do? It would be to let them go to their work. If they are in the wrong, there is machinery to deal with them. To send them home is mad, stupid, but it is done. Then there is the question of prosecutions. If the law is to be good, it ought to have for its purpose equality of treatment. You can argue with the Clyde workmen as much as you like, but they feel there is no equality of treatment under the National Service Acts as between workmen and employers. What employer on the Clyde has ever been prosecuted? Not one. What manager has been prosecuted? Not one. What foreman has been prosecuted? Not one. But workmen have been prosecuted. And yet the hon. Member opposite said there were faults on both sides. There is this difference, that the employer has at his disposal all the evidence with which to prosecute the man, whereas the man has no chance of getting evidence against the employer. That is the difference. Who can tell? If I am working at a shipyard and I decide not to go to my work on a particular morning, but to play golf, my absence is known. It is known that I am not in. Suppose one of the managers, or an owner, says that he will not go in, but he goes away; who knows that he is not in? The result is that prosecutions are loaded against the workers. Frankly, so long as the present system exists, I cannot see any remedy, and that is one of the reasons why prosecutions should be proceeded with only in the very last extremity.
One of the reasons why I feel a certain amount of difficulty is that I do not hold the views about the war held by most other people. I cannot accept the popular view about it. I cannot get myself worked up into enthusiasm about the things that other men get worked up about, concerning going into war. To do so, you have to get the urge and the belief that you are right in all the things that attach to war. An hon. Gentleman who spoke not long ago referred to aerial attack during the last war and in this war. There is a marked difference, and there is no real comparison. Air attack upon vessels was almost unknown in the last war. It was hardly ever done, whereas in this war it is extremely common. I hope I give away no secrets—and if I am doing so I will not proceed, as I have no wish to give away secrets—but I am told that the chief effect of air attack upon our shipping is not sinking but damaging. If Ministers think I am doing wrong in saying this—
The trouble about our ships is that we have a lot of cast iron. A hit on the water line, and cast iron snaps and breaks. The result is that when the ship comes in for repair you have to supplement the cast iron with steel, because, as we say in Scotland, steel is sharper, and it is not easily broken. The result is that ship repairing has gone up by a tremendous amount and does not allow you to concentrate as in the last war, practically entirely upon new construction.
The First Lord of the Admiralty referred to new firms engaging in ship repair work. I should like to give him an illustration, one of many, from my own division. I do not want to boast about it. The people concerned are just honest to-goodness patriotic people. They were shopfitters, young, capable fellows. The war came, and they saw their first-class business going west. They had brains, and they thought it was a pity to see their business disappearing. It is difficult to convince other people that you are as clever as they are; in fact, it is nearly impossible. These young fellows, after terrible arguments with the Ministry of Shipping, ultimately did convince the Ministry that, although they had never been on a ship or done a piece of work there before, they could repair ships. The Ministry agreed to give them work. Today, that firm employs, I should say, nearly 500 people. Their offices and workshops are at least two or three miles from the docks, but there they are, one clay converting an ordinary ship into a rescue ship, another day fitting out a ship to be a troop ship, making extra accommodation for stores and other things They are doing it effectively, although before the war they were entirely a building firm.
In these days, demarcations have had to be swept aside. I am not going to believe that only shipbuilding employees can repair ships. There is a reservoir of labour for repairs outside the shipbuilding industry. The illustration I have quoted from my own division could be applied up and down the country in many respects. The First Lord has the advantage of having had a connection with the movement. He has carried out a lot of experiments, some of which were good, some not so good and some bad, but which on the whole were a great success. Let him try the experiment of expanding on the repair side of the work. Some of it may not succeed, but I believe the balance may tend to success. My last word to him shall be a word of warning. I beg him to think once, twice and many times before he puts his hand to the prosecution or repression of men who, on the whole, are trying to do their best.
My remarks will be very brief indeed, because I only wish to refer to one phase of the Debate, namely, the question of overtime. We have listened to-day with interest to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) because of his undoubted knowledge of naval affairs, but in the course of his remarks he made reference to what has been done in the shipyards, and I think his allegations certainly demand an inquiry. There have been far too many charges of slackening in shipyards. I happen to have one in my constituency—one of the most important shipyards in the country. It was alleged that men were spinning out work in order to work overtime. If that be the case, it may mean a lack of efficient management, or, on the other hand, it may be that the cost-plus method operates in those shipyards, a method which has been condemned by the trade union movement. The trade union movement have always opposed overtime, and that is the reason why they have always endeavoured to make it costly. They realise that it is a big strain on the workers. It is, as we all know, very detrimental to health, and may I remind the Ministers of what happened in the last war? Medical returns gave cause for alarm at the great increase in the sickness ratio caused by long hours, and the Government of that time took action accordingly. It was proved conclusively that after a certain number of hours production actually diminished. The very first thing which the United States did on entering the war was to introduce a 48-hour week for works, shipyards and factories engaged on war work. I therefore hope that the Government will be careful to do everything to discourage overtime instead of encouraging it.
We are very much indebted to the Mover of this Amendment for the opportunity it gives us of expressing our views upon the shipping position. The whole House will agree, and the country agrees, that the question of naval and merchant production is the first, second, and third consideration before us to-day, and if any steps can be taken to step up and to expedite it or to remove difficulties, then it is the business of all concerned so to do. I have just had an illustration that all things are not well at the moment. Before entering the House I was advised to be prepared to meet next week a deputation of skilled engineers who had certain grievances to put before certain Members of this House. The engineers concerned happen to be employed at a factory which was originally a Royal Ordnance factory. It was taken over some months ago by a private firm. I have heard that from the time that factory was taken out of the hands of the Government and placed in private hands there has been a simmering of discontent, and those concerned are fully aware of the form of this discontent. If that be so with regard to this particular factory, one is entitled to conclude that it must prevail in certain other factories. There is yet time between now and next week to get into touch with the disputants or the aggrieved persons to see whether the impeding of production by the bringing of men from their employment, or in other ways affecting that production, cannot be avoided.
There is an undoubted urgency for skilled workers in our shipyards. I can assert that quite definitely so far as the Tyne is concerned. I am not at all satisfied from inquiries that one has been able to make that there is not quite a number of skilled ex-shipyard workers in other jobs. The view is held by many shipyard workers and shipyard owners that the Ministry of Labour are not yet satisfied and adequately convinced of the imperious urgency of ship repairs. We all know—it has been given to the House relatively recently—of the very large volume of tonnage which is immobilised at the present time, and although our shipyards are doing their utmost to put this into the water at the earliest possible time, they are dissatisfied with the progress that has yet been made. In that connection I am bound to say that I feel a measure of discontent that of the yards which were closed in the days when Shipyards Security ravaged the country only two-thirds have yet been opened. Surely this is a matter which should have consideration. If there are ex-shipyards immobilised in that way, there ought to be a specific attempt made to have them brought once more into use.
The question has been raised of abolishing the system of payment by percentage upon cost for shipyard repairs. I can say, with full knowledge, that it is quite impossible, in 90 cases out of 100, to estimate the cost of repairs. It is a matter of estimating the time and the materials that will be required. With regard to the proposal to have faster ships, I am certain that that matter has been considered by the experts associated with the Admiralty and, more particularly, with the merchant ship side, and opinion is against taking the longer time that would be required to produce such ships. The damage that we suffer, from submarines and from other causes, is not proportionately heavier for the slower convoys.
Very well, I shall have to leave that alone. On this vexed question of Income Tax charges upon workmen, there is, in the opinion of the workers, a genuine grievance. Some, not only in this industry but elsewhere, feel so strongly that they decline to work overtime. The feeling that they have a grievance is adverse to the war effort. Much greater propaganda should have been indulged in, through the B.B.C., by posters in our shipyards and elsewhere, and in other ways, to illuminate the darkness of those opposed to paying their legitimate share of the taxation of this country. A proposal has been made by a leading trade unionist that the £4,000,000 which is involved up to date might be written off, with substantial advantage to all concerned. I cannot say that I share that view, but it is worth considering whether a proportion of this amount could not be so dealt with.
Another matter which has been mentioned to me on several occasions relates to shipyard workers who have perforce to travel long distances to work. They feel that, as many other tradesmen are assisted to meet high travelling changes, shipyard workers should be similarly treated. Another question is, whether there are sufficient buses available. Bus times are being adjusted to meet the urgent, and, in many cases, new, demands of the shipyard workers. I feel that the Debate will have cleared the air in certain directions; and if it has stimulated those concerned to get rid of the grievances of the shipyard workers and of the stumbling blocks to production, it will certainly have proved of value.
I rise, as one coming from the Clydeside, to stress one or two points made by my hon. Friends the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) and the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), in order that the Financial Secretary, whom we welcome to his new post because of his past successes, may have a complete knowledge of some of the conditions concerning the Clydeside and be in a much better position to deal with some of the com- plaints, difficulties, and obstacles that have been outlined to-day. I want to deal with the question of the control exercised by Sir James Lithgow. I do so not in any spirit of personal animosity. I do not know Sir James Lithgow myself, but I want my hon. Friend to understand that, if a person has, because of his past activities, created a tremendous resentment in the minds of an important section of the community engaged on war work, the fact must be taken fully into account when we are discussing the question of production. I want my hon. Friend to understand that, for many years, on the Clydeside a ruthless and financially successful system of closing yards was adopted, lowering the standard of life of thousands of shipyard workers and their womenfolk and children. That system was exercised and controlled by Sir James Lithgow—so much so that, for years, in shipyards throughout the Clydeside area, there were writings, curses and poems that could not be described here, to be seen on the walls, referring to this particular person. Therefore, the deep-seated hatred of this individual, installed in the minds of men who suffered bitterly, because of his particular activities—due to a profit-making incentive—must be taken fully into consideration when considering the whole question of shipbuilding production.
There are other factors affecting the shipbuilding industries on the Clyde. The question of Income Tax has been stressed by various hon. Members, and I want my hon. Friend to understand the position of a man who, after many years of privation and of competition in order to get even a miserable wage in the shipyards on Clydeside, is to-day making a relatively high and decent wage and is able to buy, as far as rationing permits, certain little extras. This man is working on piece-work and aiming at obtaining as high a wage as possible. In accordance with the piece-work system he is giving of his best to obtain that higher rate and he is asked to work three, four or five hours overtime, and sometimes more. It all depends upon the urgency of the job. He has done his day's work; he has earned his wages. He has admitted fairly, if grumblingly, that he ought to pay Income Tax on the standard wage. Because he is working overtime he has to provide extra food, he has to give up a certain amount of his social life, he has to risk delay in getting home and even extra payments arising from that delay. He is then told, after all these things, "We shall step in and take from you, practically speaking, 10s. in the £." This is a serious matter, and has caused considerable resentment among the workmen in the Clyde shipyards. There is no support for this system from any influential section of the trade union or political movements, Conservative, Liberal or Labour, in Scotland. The matter is one that must be taken fully into consideration.
In shipyard production, with the animosities of the old days and with the background of closed shipyards, there is a great deal to overcome. In the old "squad" system, even the question of different religions entered into the production of various shipyards, and those difficulties exist in a minor degree to-day. I expect that the Admiralty receive fairly regular returns of the productive capacity of the shipyards and the production that takes place. I hope they do, and it they do, I suggest to them that they should send to the difficult areas representatives from the Department who would have a certain amount of executive authority to deal with both sides in the shipyards and try to obtain a much greater degree of co-operation than has been obtained in the past.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals referred to shipyards where, if a man is five minutes late, he is told to go home until dinner time. It will be recognised by my hon. Friend that if one man goes away from his work, it means very often that a complete squad is kept idle. At the present time, in Glasgow, where many of the shipyard workers have had their homes bombed and have been removed to districts outside, if a man misses the one 'bus that will take him to work in time at his shipyard, he does not bother to go on the next 'bus, but goes home, because he knows that if he goes to the shipyard he will be stopped at the gates and turned away. We have had very great difficulty over this matter in Glasgow. The ex-Lord Provost, trade union officials, and representatives of the City Council have made representations about it. I say that no shipyard ought to take that attitude, and that the shipyards ought to come into line with other industries where a time-clock or some other method is used, and that a worker who is late should not be paid for that time, but equally should not be penalised to such an extent that he is debarred from taking part in production for a whole morning.
The last point I want to make i an important one for the shipyard workers of the country. It applies not only to Clydeside but to shipyard workers all over the country. The Ministry of Shipping and other Departments will have to get down to the question of providing adequate food rations for these men. Shipyard work is an arduous job and requires a great amount of vitality. It is a job which requires a great amount of physical endurance, particularly in bad weather. I wish my hon. Friend could see the shipyard workers who come to me and say
"We are asked to work until 8 o'clock to-night and here is my lunch of bread and margarine." Some of them have the luxury of a little jam and a little cheese, but it would amaze hon. Members if they could see the lunch boxes these men used to take to work before the war. Something will have to be done for them, and some arrangements will have to be made. The co-operation of the Ministry of Food should be sought, and some concession should be granted whereby the workers in this heavy industry can obtain the necessary food supplies through an efficient canteen service in the shipyards.
I do not want it to be thought that all shipowners and shipyard managers have failed to realise their duty in this respect. Certain shipyards have established very fine canteen services, but I want to see their example followed, and efficient canteen services compulsorily provided where necessary. I am confident that my hon. Friend would obtain much better results if he adopted such a scheme, because the men are not being fed for the job. I do not wish to make any assertions, but I have heard certain rumours, and I should like to ask whether the co-operation is satisfactory in regard to repairing damaged ships of our Allies. I wish to know whether the same facilities are granted to them, or whether obstacles have been encountered, and, if so, what steps are being taken to overcome these obstacles.
Like all my hon. Friends who have spoken on this Amendment, I wish to extend my congratulations and thanks to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd) for the very fair statement of the case which he has put to the House. I would also add that all the speeches delivered on the Amendment, which is now before the House, have been of the same character. It is very proper that this very important matter should be dealt. with on the same day that we discuss the Naval Estimates. Merchant shipping, like the Royal Navy, must play a vital part in the present conflict. Either branch may be the key to victory. The battle of the shipyards is of the greatest importance and ranks as such among the many varied efforts of the United Nations at this stage of the war. In my view, the whole future conduct of the war hinges, not only on the success of the millions of men rendering such valuable service in the fighting forces and battling in all parts of the world, but also upon the men and women employed in various industries, such as mining, iron and steel foundries, production factories of all kinds, engineering, railways and, no less important, those engaged in building and repairing ships in the shipyards of this country.
Of course, we must not forget the contribution of those who man the ships, to whom a well-deserved tribute has been paid by my right hon. Friend. To wage this war successfully the work of each person is indispensable to the other. The war could be lost if any one industry failed to make its contribution, and, to our island fortress, shipping is as vital a contribution as that of any other service or industry. I am pleased that there has not been a general condemnation of those employed in the shipyards, as I find there is an increasing tendency among a number of people to cast doubts upon the efforts of many who are employed in various industries and many innuendoes as to what is happening, particularly in the shipbuilding industry.
I have been charged by my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister with a great responsibility. I have been asked to do what I can to assist in increasing production in the shipyards. No one realises more than I do the importance of this task. During the few weeks in which I have been engaged on it, I have received many statements as to what is happening, but they have all dealt with condemnation in general terms without specific instances into which one could make inquiries. I have seen figures of production and of the work done in the ship- yards and they do not bear out the statements that the majority of the workers are slackers. No one has contended that there is not room for improvement. In this matter we must not be complacent. My right hon. Friend and I will not be satisfied with less than 100 per cent. production. I am satisfied that a large proportion of those employed in the industry are doing their best towards this end, but there is a minority in this and other industries which is not pulling its weight, and many of the complaints deal with this fact. One thing that I am concerned about when this general condemnation is made is that it might lead to the discouragement of those who are doing their best. I would ask that in future when complaints are made they should be specific and should state the yard at which the happenings take place, so that an, inquiry can be made. It is my intention to make myself as fully acquainted as possible with conditions which prevail in the yards. My right hon. Friend and my colleagues at the Admiralty, owing to their prepossession with other important duties, were not able to do it and my right hon. Friend has asked me to undertake that task.
In dealing with this industry, I propose to look back for a short time in order to give what confidence I can to the country and to my colleagues in the House by showing that a vast improvement has been made. If we take the amount of shipbuilding, naval and mercantile, and new conversions and repairs for naval purposes which was done in 1941, we find that there has been an increase of between 40 and 50 times as compared with the worst year of the depression. Then the industry was down and out. It did not appear to have a future. Many of the skilled men were dispersed into other industries and, indeed, into other countries. Many young men who would have been sent into the industry did not go because there was a lack of security. As one who has been connected for some years with an industry which has suffered depression—although I cannot say such a deep depression as that of the shipbuilding and repairing industry—I think a tribute should be paid to the industry and those who have been responsible for organising it so as to enable it to fulfil its functions in this war. No industry has suffered such a contraction and then been called upon to expand so enormously and rapidly. Mercantile shipping repairs are keeping full pace with the demands, and it can be said that no damaged ship is waiting outside a shipyard to be repaired.
That brings me to the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon). He asked a question about the large shipping losses of the last two months which were referred to by the Prime Minister. Those losses include the losses on the American coast. Our Allies during that period did not have their convoy system going, and that has resulted in the losses to which reference has been made. It also includes those losses which my right hon. Friend the First Lord referred to in his speech to-day. As to construction and repairs generally, the House will understand that it is not in the public interest for me to disclose what has been done in every branch of this Service. If I made such a disclosure and explained all that has been done in relation to the labour strength and to shipbuilding berths available, it would not reflect discredit on either the majority of the workers in the industry, the managements or the control.
I think it would be as well if I gave a picture of the organisation which deals with shipbuilding and repair work in this country. There is a controller, to whom reference has already been made. Under him—there is a controller of course for the Navy and a controller for shipbuilding and repairs—there are separate directors of merchant shipping and merchant repairs, backed up by a strong regional organisation. There is no doubt that great economy of effort in speeding up our production has resulted from the organisation. Common bottlenecks of material, of productive plant capacity and labour have been settled jointly by naval and merchant departments which are in daily consultation. This intimate contact is perhaps even more important in solving ship repairs than in solving shipbuilding problems. The growing congestion of repair facilities at the end of last winter could not have been so swiftly reduced had not the responsibility for all shipbuilding and repairs, whether naval or merchant, been vested in this one Department or two departments. This enabled priority of treatment to be given to merchant repairs, possible at the expense of new construction. The principal officers in the shipyard districts are also the district shipyard controllers responsible for both naval and merchant programmes. As such, they are chairmen of local controls charged with responsibility for local priorities, allocation of work and interchange of labour. On these controls there are representatives of the naval and merchant shipbuilding and repair departments of the Admiralty as well as the local shipyard labour supply officer. Those officers are assisted by technical officers and by local committees representing both sides of the industry.
Much has been said with regard to the relationship between the employers and workpeople in the shipbuilding industry. Personally, I regret that at this stage of the war many small or large differences cannot be settled between one section and the other. In many shipbuilding yards shipyard committees have been set up on the lines of the Joint Memorandum prepared by the Shipbuilding Employers' Federation and the Federation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions. In many of these areas these committees are functioning with very good effect. Unfortunately in other areas—even in the same areas as where we have these shipyard committees functioning and assisting in every possible way—there are some shipyards where there is a considerable amount of difficulty, and, indeed, so great is the difficulty that these committees are not functioning at all. It must give rise to a considerable amount of difficulty unless there are local organisations functioning to act as intermediaries between one side and the other. I hope it will be possible by such committees that confidence can be not only introduced, but can grow, between one side of the industry and the other. Take many of the complaints such as those mentioned by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). He referred to the fact that if a worker presented himself at a shipyard a few minutes after five to eight in the morning, he was turned away until dinner-time. That is a matter for a local committee, such as the shipyard committee, to deal with. There are the questions of transport and transport difficulties. There are questions such as feeding and the provision of food for the canteens.
An industry which I know very much better than the shipbuilding industry is the coalmining industry. If I had been asked eight or ten years ago whether it was possible to obtain such a complete feeling of unity as now exists in some parts of the coalfield of this country, I should have said it would be impossible. The other day in South Wales, the President of the South Wales Miners' Federation and the Secretary of the Coalowners' Association addressed a delegate conference of South Wales miners, with the President of the Mining Association of Great Britain in the chair.
It is evident that that feeling for co-operation was present which will enable a valuable product to be produced, without which the war effort, cannot be prosecuted to the full. It may be possible on the Clyde to see Sir James Lithgow, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals addressing a meeting of shipyard workers, with the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson) taking the chair.
Someone would be required to propose a resolution, and I was thinking of the hon. Member for that purpose. Putting humour aside, I think it must appear a tragedy that, at a time like this, there should be lack of co-operation between one section of the community and the other. I hope it will be possible when I visit the Clyde to endeavour, at any rate, to bring both sides of the industry together—and not only on the Clyde. I am not suggesting that the Clyde is any worse than any other shipbuilding area in this country.
We have to increase production. I have heard it suggested that, if the relationship between both sides of the industry could be improved, output could be increased by from 15 to 20 per cent. That is not my figure; it was given here to-day. Last year, the number of days lost through industrial disputes in this country was less than any year in history, but, unfortunately, in those industries connected with shipbuilding, and on the shipbuilding side, three times as many days were lost in industrial disputes in 1941 compared with 1940. On the engineering side, four times as many days were lost as in 1940. Working out the man-days lost and translating them into the labour which could have been provided, it appears that sufficient man-days were lost to provide full employment for 1,250 workers all the year round.
If that number of workmen had been made up of all the grades required in the shipbuilding industry, it would have provided something like 50,000 tons of additional shipping. What a contribution that would make. I am not charging either one side or the other with responsibility for causing these stoppages, but the fact that a stoppage can take place in such a vital industry at a time like this is an indication that relationships are not what they ought to be. I am afraid also that the work of conciliation has not been carried out quite as it ought to have been. (An hon. Member: "Whose fault is that?") I am not going to apportion blame; I have not been on the Clyde, and it will be one of my jobs to try and obviate some of the difficulties which have arisen.
The question of standardisation has been raised by almost every speaker who has taken part in the Debate. So far as tankers and cargo tramp steamers are concerned, standardisation is being carried out to a very great degree. I would like to make it clear that any statement that shipbuilders have been left to build what they please and what is thought most convenient to them is erroneous. The principle which has been adopted is that they should build the type of ships needed for war purposes, and that they should have a certain amount of latitude in adopting dimensions and structural details for which their yards and plants are best adapted and which they and their workmen best understand. From the outset of the war there has been much standardisation in engines, boilers and equipment, and there are in fact many instances of standard ships extending over various yards. The question of the speed of steamers in convoy has been raised. The House will not expect me to go into this matter very fully, because an occasion presented itself—
A question was put by my hon. Friend concerning the Shipping Advisory Committee, and particularly its chairman. My hon. Friend will understand that this is a matter which concerns my right hon. Friend the Minister of War Transport and Shipping, and all I can do is to convey what has been said to him. Then, questions have been put regarding keeping workpeople in the shipyards informed with regard to changes which take place. District shipyard controllers have been asked to see that the reasons for delays or changes of plans are explained to the men when it is possible to do so, and I believe that that is being followed up.
A question was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) concerning piece-work. I inquired some few days ago about the percentage of piece-work. I was informed that almost 40 or 50 per cent. of the total work done is piece-work, and that piece-work is on the increase, but of course is dependent, to a very large extent, upon that confidence which we hope to have in all these shipyards as between masters and men. Unless you have that confidence, there is always a difficulty in regard to an agreement on prices. I am pleased to say that piece-work is on the increase.
I am not sure about that, but I will make inquiries and let my hon. Friend know. Again, I will have to tread very warily but will, in the terms of the hon. Member for Gorbals, call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to what has been said about the collection of Income Tax. I leave the matter there.
Yes, Sir. I am not unmindful of the fact that other industries, apart from shipbuilding, are taking up this matter. I think I am right in saying that the General Council of the T.U.C. is also dealing with this matter. Another question was raised as to whether there is equality of treatment for Allied ships requiring repairs. The hon. Member for Maryhill put that point. I can tell him that there is equality of treatment for Allied ships in the ship repairing yards in this country. One other point put by my hon. Friends the Member for Gorbals and the Member for Maryhill, was the question of canteens. I quite agree with them, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the First Lord agrees, that it is absolutely necessary that men doing arduous work such as ship repairers and ship builders are called upon to do, should be properly fed. I think the canteen method is by far the best method to adopt. A point has been raised with regard to canteens on Clydeside. I might say that of the 28 principal shipbuilding firms 15 have permanent canteens.
The information I have received is, that at the present time 15 have permanent canteens. At 11, temporary facilities are in operation while permanent canteens are under construction. Most of the other Scottish yards possess suitable canteens. On the North-East coast, of the 30 principal firms, 17 have adequate permanent canteens, and eight others have them under consideration. I can assure my hon. Friends that no one is more anxious than my right hon. Friend the First Lord and myself to give every encouragement to the establishing of permanent canteens, not only on the Clyde but also in other shipyards.
Will my hon. Friend permit me to say that it is not only a question of the establishment of canteens. It is no use setting up the structure if you have not the goods inside. I am asking him and the First Lord to cooperate and make representations to the Ministry of Food so that adequate food supplies will be given to these canteens.
That, again, is very largely a matter which can be arranged by the local committees. Where canteens have been established, we have experienced little difficulty in getting the Ministry of Food to see that stocks of food are sent to them. I am speaking from experience of canteens in some other industries; but if there is any difficulty steps will be taken to see that canteens are not just shells, but are used for the purpose for which they were erected.
Other questions have been raised. I am afraid it would take too long to deal fully with them; but note will be taken of them. This Debate has been very useful. I can say, with the consent of my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, that we shall not ask the House to divide against the Amendment. We are indebted to my hon. and gallant Friend for putting it on the Order Paper and for moving it in such terms.
The battle of the shipyards may not have the poignant drama of the Battle of the Atlantic, but in the strategy of the Allies, the struggle for output of tanks, aeroplanes, and munitions of all kinds, the feeding of the civilian population and of the men in the Services, the transport of troops and of equipment of all kinds, are all based on the carrying power of the Merchant Navy. This is an aspect of the war which sometimes we are inclined to overlook. The workers and employers in the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industries should realise that their work is absolutely indispensable to the war effort. A day, an hour, or even a minute lost on this work results in with holding from the nation a service without which the war cannot be won.
We cannot admit that there is a large reservoir of labour with no work provided for it. If my hon. Friend will see me or the First Lord, and explain in what yards there is this reservoir of labour available, we shall be prepared to take action.
I must apologise for detaining hon. Members at this late hour. I am sure they feel tired: I myself am a little jaded; but I would like to add my thanks to those of other hon. Members to the brave sailors of the Royal Navy and of the Merchant Service who have done so much to provide our country with the raw materials of the sinews of war and to keep our people alive. We are especially thankful for the bravery of those sailors who rushed in when the German ships went through the Narrows the other day, and who did their best, at peril to themselves, to hinder the movement of the German Fleet. I want to ask a question which I believe has not been put in this Debate. I am deeply concerned about the dispositions of our Fleet. Are they all that they should be? We have been told, over and over again, that the Royal Navy is thinly spread over the Seven Seas. We are a maritime Power, built up by maritime strength and by the genius of the sailors of our race. Are we utilising our Navy to the best advantage? Many times in our history we have been low in naval strength, many times have we engaged enemies far bigger than ourselves in number; but have we, during this present war, utilised our naval strength to the best advantage?
At the present time naval strategy is centred in the Admiralty. The high direction of the war and the advice given to the Minister of Defence and to the War Cabinet come from the Admiralty. There was a time in our history when the strategy of the war was decided by the commanders at sea. They did it because they could not get into contact with the Admiralty and the governing powers of this country. I do not think that central direction is a bad point altogether. It is essential in the strategy of a war like this to envisage the whole. The commander in the Pacific cannot know at once of the whole need of our Empire. Nelson himself admitted this point when he was chasing Villeneuve from the West Indies. He detached a brig because he had no other method of letting the Admiralty know. He detached the "Curieux" from his fleet and sent it on to inform the Admiralty. Barham was the First Sea Lord responsible for our naval strategy and he so altered the disposition of the Fleet that it led to the defeat of the French by Calder off Finisterre and led to Napoleon giving up his idea of invasion, and eventually resulted in the destruction of the Allied Fleet at Trafalgar. But there were giants ashore and afloat in those days.
In these days of wireless telegraphy more and more the disposition of the Fleet gets into the hands of those responsible for the direction of the war. I personally am not satisfied. I do not want to adumbrate all our disasters, but I am not satisfied that the disposition of the whole of the Fleet has been undertaken in a manner which is in the great traditions of the Royal Navy. I am not asking why we did not at this juncture protect our battleships at Singapore. But why did we send our battleships there at all? At Singapore we had a great base, and I am convinced that something must have happened. Either the naval officials must have been completely stupid, or there must have been some political reason why the battleships were sent there at all.
Let me say a word about these battleships, these gun carriages that float across the seas. I can best explain it by indulging very shortly in a little history. In olden times naval engagements were very chaotic affairs. In those days naval wars were fought in galleys. They were indeed a mass of confusion. Every man, every captain and every small ship went out as an officer—wrongly—wrote about Trafalgar "to take his bird." One can imagine the confusion that ensued. With the introduction of sail as motive power and the universal use of the gun the whole of naval tactics changed, and they became obvious in the Dutch wars. In those days it was clear that the only way in which a fleet could engage the enemy was by lying in a line. Lord Torrington made this observation when he was court-martialled by an ungrateful country after the Battle at Beachy Head which saved the country from invasion. He remarked that he had so many ships "fit to lie in a line." They have been known since then as capital ships, or ships of the line, or battleships. It was quite clear that ships of the line must be the strongest ships. There was no room in the line for small ships.
My purpose is to show what a battleship should be used for, and why we sent battleships to Singapore. I have said that these ships are ships "fit to lie in a line," and, in fact, they cannot be used safely for any other purpose. Why then did we send battleships to Singapore? Let us consider the dangers at Singapore. I am convinced that the Japanese navy would not have engaged in a first-class naval action, for the simple reason that they must maintain their fleet in being. My hon. Friend mentioned the Battle of Beachy Head, and anyone who has read the history of that time knows how the Fleet was maintained in being in spite of the pressure by the Government of the day and how this country was thereby preserved from invasion. This fact holds to-day as then. It was clear to anyone who had any knowledge of the fundamen- tals of naval strategy that the Japanese could not have exposed their fleet to a first-class naval action, because if they did, and should their fleet be depleted, their islands would have been exposed to invasion.
The battleships which we sent out would have been quite incapable of lying in a line with any hope of success against such a superior force of them. The Japanese navy was an enormous navy, which probably would have dealt with them in detail, and we should have been exactly where we were in the Pacific and worse off generally. Nor was it necessary to send battleships to defend the base at Singapore, which was well equipped with the finest type of guns. Indeed, battleships at a naval base would have been a liability, because no Japanese fleet would possibly have taken the risk of attacking the base at Singapore. One of the most risky naval engagements that can be undertaken is for floating vessels to attack a shore fortress armed with the biggest calibre guns. Battleships sent to Singapore for that reason would have become simply fortress battleships, in the same way as the Russian fleet was a fortress fleet at Port Arthur. I think I have shown the futility of sending battleships to Singapore to be dealt with one by one and sent to the bottom of the sea. with a consequent weakening of our relative naval strength.
The Japanese had occupied Indo-China, owing to the treachery of the Vichy French, and anybody who has studied the map must have known that the Japanese intended to make attacks upon the neighbouring possessions of our Empire at some time suitable to themselves. We have heard a good deal about the Japanese treachery at Pearl Harbour, but personally I do not attach much to an excuse of that sort, because we had the example of the Japanese attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur, when they did a similar sort of thing. As I have said, it was clear that the Japanese would make an attack somewhere or other in their own time. The most dangerous adventure for any Power to undertake, unless it has a preponderating command of the sea, is an invasion. Indeed, naval history does not show anywhere where an invasion against a Power holding a great degree of command of the sea has ever been really successful. There have been one or two excep- tions, one of which is the classic example when Caesar crossed the Adriatic after Pompey. But that on examination will be found to come within the rule. Napoleon occupied Egypt in spite of the British Fleet. But what happened? He was defeated in the Battle of the Nile, and his troops were left in the desert, where they would have starved or died of thirst if they had not been brought home in British transports. The first requisite of invasion is that the enemy should have a preponderance of naval strength, and not merely some degree of command of the seas as we usually know it. The Japanese had that preponderance of naval strength. So let us see what happened in Malaya. The enemy sent transports, which are cumbersome things, to invade the country, and these transports were accompanied by great naval strength. But transports are an enormous hindrance to an enemy, and are liable to become easy prey for attack by small craft. However powerful might be the Japanese navy, their ships which accompanied the transports would be hampered in their movements, and their fighting capacity reduced very considerably. To meet this our spearhead of attack should have been cruisers and destroyers based on Singapore. That is the kind of armament we should have used against the enemy. In fact, the most brilliant episode was that of the Dutch submarine which lay in seven fathoms of water, picked off three or four transports, and then slipped away. If we had employed similar tactics, I do not believe this calamity would have come upon us.
I pass now to the loss of the "Barham," a ship bearing a great name, one of the greatest in the naval history of this country. I should like to know why this great vessel, a ship of the line, was not used for its real purpose, and kept in readiness until the enemy's fleet came out. Why were not other vessels used? Then there was the escape of the German squadron. There is an inquiry into all these matters, but nevertheless the German squadron of two battleships and a heavy cruiser, with a huge air umbrella, passed through the Straits a short time ago—a great insult to our country. We all know that these vessels sailed 300 miles before they were detected. But what did we find in regard to the dispositions of our Fleet? We found that a destroyer flotilla was the only part of our Navy thereabouts, and that flotilla engaged the German ships for a short time with the nobility and the courage we expect from our Navy.
All these things are very grievous matters indeed, and we are entitled to say that our Island was in peril for the length of time it would take to have mobilised the Fleet. Who are responsible for giving the Government this advice? That is what I want to know. Let us face the matter. We have a great and glorious history, and we have built up a great Empire because we have realised what sea power means. No one else on the Continent has ever really fathomed its meaning. Are we now Continental minded? Are we conceiving our war strategy on a wrong basis? We have had a re-shuffle of the Government, and one or two new bloods have been brought in. We require a reshuffle of the advisers of the Government, those who have the safety of this country and the Empire in their hands.
A thing which has puzzled me and a great many other people is that when the Prime Minister announced the despatch of the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" to the Far East he said they would be accompanied by all ancillary vessels. That is the expression that he used. After they arrived at Singapore we had despatches in the Press saying that it was a complete Fleet, from which the ordinary reader would understand that there were cruisers, destroyers and submarines. A few days afterwards the Japanese began to land forces from transports, which was just the opportunity for our submarines, if we had any, to attack them. But nothing happened. Where were the smaller craft?
I would appeal to the House, after the long Debate that we have had, to come to a decision. It is difficult to reply to the points made by the hon. Member for Southampton (Dr. Russell Thomas) in open Session, but I think I could prove pretty conclusively that many of his assumptions as to what may have happened and who may have been responsible for advice are quite wrong. I am certainly not going to say in open Session all that would be required to answer his point completely. As to my hon. Friend opposite, the extent to which the Navy has been stretched in its task, which I was at some pains to explain, is very largely the answer to the questions he has put to me. There were, of course, light vessels in the neighbourhood. Some of them were with the battleship and cruiser when they were sunk and were responsible for a very large number of rescues. Afterwards they had to perform the urgent and immediate task that they did of getting in most valuable convoys through the enemy attacks. I cannot add to that statement at the moment.