Industry (War-Time Regulation).

– in the House of Commons on 21st May 1942.

Alert me about debates like this

Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

I was endeavouring to show that the Essential Work Order as applied to many industries, and particularly to one of which I know a great deal, meant a good many advantages for the workers. I was also pointing out that, quite recently, attacks have been made by different people on the Essential Work Order. I have a number of letters here to that effect. A very important letter was written by Lord Londonderry to "The Times" the other day about it and the hon. Member for the High Peak Division (Mr. Molson) had a reference to it, in his five-point letter to "The Times." One or two other people have been writing to the provincial Press, people who are known to me from my experience in the mining industry and they seem to suggest that the Essential Work Order, as applied to mining, has weakened discipline and that stricter discipline should be exercised over those engaged in that industry. I would say straight away that I am not sure what is meant by this exercise of war discipline in industry and I would like to know. It is true that under the Essential Work Order a man cannot be discharged by the employer except for wilful misconduct. What exactly constitutes wilful misconduct is a matter to be determined by the machinery which has been set up for that purpose. It is also true to say that since we have had the Essential Work Order we have had far less victimisation, which was far too common in industry, particularly in mining. Having discussed this matter with representatives of the miners and coalowners, I think that these references to lack of discipline in the mining industry are largely overdone and are not doing any good.

Part of one Order lays it down that for those inside industry there must be certain conditions and certain duties. Where these Orders have applied I think the joint committees have done more really good work than they have been given credit for. In "The Times" recently Lord Londonderry, whose history in the mining industry goes back to the Sankey Commission, when some of the evidence that was given still remains in our minds, said: During recent months the operation of the unsatisfactory provisions of the Essential Work Order and the weak administration of them have tended to undermine the authority of the manager and officials and have completely failed to deal with absenteeism. Generally speaking, that is not true. When you have an Order such as that which was applied to the mining industry, it was new to the industry, and it met with a certain amount of opposition by both sides. Its provisions and importance had to be explained, and in common with many other Members of this House it was my duty to attend mass meetings, to explain the Order. We derived considerable benefit from it. I am told on reliable authority that in Yorkshire from 95 to 97 per cent. of the pit production committees are working very well indeed. People who lightly bandy about figures with regard to absenteeism ought, at least, to be sure of their facts.

As one who has had to compile many statistics in industry, I know how easy it is to manipulate figures to uphold a particular point of view but the figures which I will quote are an example of the good work which pit production committees are doing and are joint figures agreed to by both sides. In South Yorkshire for January of this year avoidable absenteeism was 6.57 per cent.; for February it had been reduced to 5.88 per cent. and for March it had been reduced to 5.38 per cent. I think the House will agree that there has been a progressive reduction in avoidable absenteeism. The figures in West Yorkshire, I am told, are even lower than those for South Yorkshire. So, when 95 to 97 Per cent. of these committees are facing up to problems of production, which include absenteeism, in this way I think that they ought to be given credit for what has been done. Under the Essential Work Order there is machinery for failure to obey the direction of a National Service officer and for dealing with absenteeism. There have been hundreds of cases of absenteeism dealt with by the pit production committees, greatly to the benefit of the pits, without the public knowing anything about them. Men have been talked to, warned and fined and have been told that if they work regularly for a month, their fines would be remitted. This kind of thing has worked very well. There have been a number of prosecutions, but I think that these, taken on the whole, are not quite as prevalent as one would imagine, having regard to the millions of people who are engaged in industry.

In the prosecutions which have related to the disobedience of a direction by a National Service officer there have been many cases which have aroused a good deal of public discussion. I want to be perfectly frank. Speaking for my hon. Friends in this House, we are not attempting in any way to defend anyone who will not play the game in the war effort. But we have a right to call attention to certain cases when we believe that by doing so we might do something to allay unrest and remove unjustifiable suspicion. There were, for instance, two Scots girls, not in the mining industry, who were sentenced to a month's imprisonment for refusing to leave Scotland to work in the Midlands. There was another case where a girl was fined or given the option of 30 days' imprisonment for refusing to leave Coatbridge to work in Birmingham. There have been other cases. I am not competent to say whether or not the justices in those cases made the punishment fit the crime because justices of the peace, many of whom I know and who have been concerned in some of these cases, have in these days a fairly difficult task to perform.

When we come to the question of the disobedience of an Order in the mining industry I want to point out one or two things which have been attempted, quite rightly, in the interests of increased production. The mining industry has for some time been trying to upgrade certain workers. They have been trying to get young men working at the pit top to work underground and have been trying in certain cases to replace them by older men. Upgrading is very necessary, but I want hon. Members to believe me when I say that there is on the part of some people a reluctance to leave their present job and go underground. Sometimes the reason is psychological, sometimes it is because they prefer to get out of industry and sometimes because they prefer to go into the Services. I know of young men whose parents object to their going down a pit because so many of their relatives have been killed underground.

The fact is that we have had, as a result of these prosecutions, a number of strikes and a good deal of unrest in the coalfields. There was the case of two boys in the Doncaster area who refused to go to work underground and who were given three months' imprisonment. Later, the Home Secretary intervened and released these boys. Then there was a case in Ferryhill, where two boys were fined for refusing to go underground. They were dismissed, then they had a period of unemployment and then they were imprisoned for not paying their fines. Three or four pits, I believe, were on strike in sympathy, with a consequent big loss of output. The other morning I had a letter stating that two men who had been fined £20 each but had refused to pay the fine, had been arrested, and threatened with imprisonment. I am pleased to be able to say that I have just received a letter telling me that the men at the colliery have found the money, have got the two men released, and have prevented the possibility of a sympathetic strike which seemed very imminent last week. I mention this simply to show that the miners' leaders, both local and national, are not irresponsible, but are desirous of doing all they can to get the maximum output. In the case to which I referred, the two men have been released, and I hope there will be less difficulty.

With regard to these prosecutions, quite frankly I am in a dilemma, as I think most people are. Magistrates can only administer the law as it is, but I think that in these days a little more consideration ought to be given by some magistrates in some areas, because it is common talk in certain localities that certain justices of the peace never lose an opportunity of walloping the workers when they come before the Bench. This is having a bad effect. In my opinion, it is not always the wisest plan to impose a heavy fine or to send a man to gaol. The object is not to get men into gaol, but to get more production, to induce the men to become more regular workers. I am not sure that it would not be a good thing if these men were bound over for a period and told that if they worked regularly over a length of time, that good conduct would be taken into account in assessing the punishment in the case before the court. This would have a good effect.

There is another side to this question of prosecutions. Most of the defendants are not represented by solicitors. The National Service officer is always represented by a solicitor. Those who have had experience of these things—and no one knows it better than my right hon. Friend—know that many people dread the very thought of going inside a court of law. The moment they get inside a court, they become bewildered and flustered. In local newspapers I have read the full reports on many cases where I have felt that if the men had had somebody to plead for them, to put certain things across, the decision of the court would have been different. Now that the Lord Privy Seal is present, I want to call his attention to the Essential Work Order as it applies to mining. Under the Essential Work (Coal Mining Industry) Order, 1941, No. 707, made by the Minister of Labour and National Service under Regulation 68A of the Defence (General) Regulations, 1939—

The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Stafford Gripps):

That has been revoked.

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

If it has been revoked, that is all to the good.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

I think I am right in saying that Statutory Rules and Orders, 1941, No. 2096, is the one in operation. By Section 3 of that, Nos. 707 and 2008 are both revoked.

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

I am glad to hear that. It happens that the Order has been given to many local people, and there is in it, obviously, an error which makes the paragraph nonsensical. If it has been revoked, the Ministry ought to see that the local officials get the right Order, so that there may be no misunderstanding. In the Order which has been revoked, it was stated in Section 2, paragraph 2: For the purpose of the prosecution of any person for an offence against Regulation 50A … There is no Regulation 50A, and the reference should have been to 58A. If this had been the law of the land, as it was for a period, a clever lawyer might have put somebody in difficulties with regard to these cases. There was an occasion when the House had to adjourn because one word in a Regulation was missing. I want in all sincerity to make one suggestion. We have no wish to defend bad time-keepers. We want to get the maximum production. At the same time, we do not want to do anything that will create any more industrial unrest. Would it be possible for my right hon. Friend to consider reviewing all the cases of persons in Great Britain who are in prison now under these Regulations? Would it be out of Order to suggest that some committee of, say, three Members—perhaps one with a judicial mind, and another with a knowledge of the industry—should review the cases of all those who are now in prison, or who have paid heavy fines, in order to see what injustice has been done and whether something could not be done to ease the position. I make that suggestion for what it is worth. With regard to fines, I have had sent to me the case of a young man who was fined £15 for bad time keeping. Over a period of weeks he had actually worked more than six days a week. He had in his mind, as his father told me frankly, the idea that if he put in six days' work in any week, he was entitled to have a day off, if he worked overtime on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on. Afterwards, when the position was explained to him, he saw that this was not a proper interpretation. There you had a case where a man had worked more than six days a week and was fined £15. I suggest that there ought to be some review of such cases in order to try to ease the position. Whether or not the Government accept my suggestion is a matter for them.

Photo of Mr Arthur Colegate Mr Arthur Colegate , The Wrekin

May I ask the hon. Member whether the absence of legal representation is due to any Regulation, or whether he means that the men, or their respective trade unions, do not provide any legal assistance when the cases come before the courts?

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

The hon. Member can take it that in my county, about which I speak with some knowledge, we do not provide legal assistance in this type of case. It must be remembered that the trade unions have many things to do. We have never found legal assistance for disputes of a civil character, or for disputes between member and member. We have not found legal assistance for disputes in regard to infringements of the Mines Act, unless we were satisfied there was a mistake. Therefore, the answer is "No."

Photo of Mr Arthur Colegate Mr Arthur Colegate , The Wrekin

I was asking only for information. I was not criticising.

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

I now wish to turn to the Restriction of Engagement Order for agriculture. As I understand it, the Essential Work Order does not apply in England to ordinary farm workers working on private farms. I believe it applies to those directly employed by county war agricultural executive committees. This Order has worked very well. It gives farm workers the right to move from farm to farm with the consent of the National Service officer, but they may not leave the industry and go into another. What is generally not known is that the Minister, under Regulation 58A, has the power to direct nearly everyone in this country at any time to go to any place where he thinks it is desirable. This Regulation 58A has only been used in ex-exceptionally isolated cases. I think my right hon. Friend will agree that it was never intended that it should apply to the ordinary agricultural worker who desires to leave one farm and go to another. Some people regard agricultural workers as men who do not follow things very closely, and, therefore, anything is good enough for them. I have three cases here which, I think, warrant the attention of the House and of my right hon. Friend.

The first is a case of a man called E. Fischer, who wished to leave his employer, Mr. Jeffes, and go to work for Mr. Butler. The Agricultural Workers Union organiser, together with the Stroud branch secretary, interviewed the National Service officer at Stroud, who agreed to Fischer changing his employment. The farmer, however, did not want to lose him. He went to the Gloucestershire war agricultural executive committee and brought back the following letter:—

"The Palace,


2nd April, 1942.

I hear from Mr. Jeffes that you wish to leave him. As you cannot give a reasonable excuse to wish for a new post, he does not think it wise under present circumstances to consent to your departure."

Although the National Service officer had agreed to the man going. You are doing good, valuable work at present, and this Committee does not give permission for you to leave. If you leave without his consent" and permission, you are liable to severe penalties, and so is the farmer who employs you. I would, therefore, suggest that you stay where you are and continue the good work you are doing.

Yours faithfully,

(Signed) A. D. Morse."

Immediately the Labour officer discovered the Agricultural Workers Union had this matter in hand, he said that the letter was a mistake and should never have been sent out.

The second case concerns a man called J. Ayres. This man had been employed by Mr. Phillips, chairman of the Gloucester war agricultural executive committee's labour sub-committee. He desired to terminate his employment with Mr. Phillips and gave his required notice, as he had an offer of other employment with a farmer named Quick. Mr. Phillips went to the war agricultural executive committee and prevailed on them to request the National Service officer at the Cirencester employment exchange to issue a direction to Ayres. This he did under Regulation 58A directing him to remain in his present employment with Mr. Phillips under the terms and conditions already in operation. It is probable that Mr. Phillips did not disclose the fact that he had allowed another of his workers, named Curtis, to leave his employment after Ayres had given in his notice. Evidently, Mr. Phillips had a redundancy of labour, because in order to prevent Ayres leaving him, he took this action after Ayres signified his intention of leaving to render better service elsewhere. The man, however, was determined to exercise his rights, notwithstanding the operations of 58A, and he went to his other job. An appeal was made against the decision of the National Service officer, which was heard at Swindon on 30th April last, but so far the result has not been notified. The facts were placed before the Biennial Conference at Bournemouth on 8th and 9th May, when it was decided that the Union should support their member in every way possible. The Conference also passed a resolution vigorously protesting against this Regulation being used to prevent a farm worker changing his employment as he was entitled to do under the Restriction of Engagement Order.

The third case relates to a man called Norman, working on the land for Mr. Falconer of Calmsden, who before entering agriculture had been employed at a service station of Messrs. Vauxhall Motors, Ltd., Luton. He, being a practical mechanic with a good knowledge of machinery, decided that as he was working as a day man for Mr. Falconer he could render better service through a full-time job as tractor driver. He obtained employment under the Buckinghamshire war agricultural executive committee. Mr. Falconer objected to his leaving, and the Gloucester war agricultural executive committee persuaded the National Service officer to issue a direction to prevent Norman leaving that employment. His appeal was heard at Swindon on 23rd April, and the National Service officer's direction was upheld. He then received the following letter from the Minister of Labour and National Service, Cirencester, 25th April, 1942: In pursuance of Regulation 58A, I, the undersigned, having been duly authorised in writing by the Minister of Labour and National Service, do hereby direct you to perform the following services, being services, which, in his opinion, you are capable of performing:—(1) You shall continue in the employment of Mr. Falconer, of Calmsden, Glos., by whom you will be employed in the agricultural industry; (2) You will be employed at the standard rates and conditions appropriate to the job—agricultural rates and hours; (3) As from and including 4th May, 1942, you shall on every work day present yourself for the above employment punctually at such hour as may be generally observed as the starting hour for such employment. You shall also remain at this employment throughout the hours fixed for and generally observed with the employment in question; (4) During working hours you shall remain constantly at work, doing it properly, following the instructions of your employer, supervisor or manager, and observing the standards normally observed in your industry.

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

It is dated 25th April, 1942.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

Who was the Jonah who issued this?

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

Mr. Norman immediately rang up the head office of his union and was advised that in the circumstances he should carry out the directions and present himself for work at Mr. Falconer's on 4th May. This he did, and the following is his report: I reported to Calmsden as directed by the National Service Officer. I was very surprised when the foreman, a Mr. Ebsworth, told me that the National Service Officer phoned him a week ago, during which conversation Mr. Ebsworth informed the National Service Officer that he did not want me back as he was now fixed up. I am not blaming my right hon. Friend. I am going to ask my right hon. Friend to make it clear that the Restriction of Engagement Order, as it applies to agriculture, means what it says and that there is no attempt to use Regulation 58A to sidestep or override the terms of the Restriction of Engagement Order. We want the same maximum production in agriculture as in every other industry. I only ask that my right hon. Friend shall have inquiries made into these three cases in order to see whether or not there is someone in that locality who is trying to do something that he is not entitled to do. I can only ask him to make whatever inquiries he thinks fit. There is anxiety in all parts of the House and the country about some of the sentences passed on these people who have been charged. I do not want to say anything to irritate the position more. We are all desirous of getting maximum production, and we have no desire to defend anyone who is not playing the game, but we feel that in some of these cases the judicial mind has not been applied and the right sentences have not been given. I ask him to consider the appointment of someone to review or supervise these cases and see whether some action cannot be taken.

Photo of Mr Rhys Davies Mr Rhys Davies , Westhoughton

I have taken some little interest in the problems that my hon. Friend has raised. I may be pardoned therefore if I pursue the points that he has made, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman (the Minister of Labour) will forgive me if I am a little more blunt with him than usual. Let us remember that since he came into office two of the cardinal principles of trade unionism have gone by the board. The right to strike and the right of a man to sell his labour to the highest bidder have been abolished. I am fortified in speaking against these restrictions and penalties on the workers because a resolution was carried almost unanimously at the annual conference of my trade union recently condemning all forms of industrial compulsion. I think it is historically true that some members of the working class are treated more harshly by the present Minister of Labour than has ever been the case for the last century. I could give case after case where workmen have been sent to prison and, although he has prosecuted a few employers, not a single employer has yet been sent to gaol. I have seen in my constituency about 12,000 miners unemployed for 10 years. No one wanted them. Some of the most intelligent found their way ultimately to other industries. One of them was earning £7 or £8 a week in his new job, and the right hon. Gentleman says, "You must go back to the pit to work at £3 5s. a week." That is too much for human flesh. The man was prosecuted and sent to gaol for two months. I tell the right hon. Gentleman quite frankly that I am ashamed of his actions. He ought to know that it is said quite openly among some workpeople that the price the Labour movement is paying for this Coalition is that some of them are being sent to gaol. If the Labour Party had not joined the Coalition, no Tory or Liberal Minister would dare treat the working people as the right hon. Gentleman is doing. I want to be straight about it, because I feel very deeply. Some of these men who are prosecuted are ill-informed; they have no lawyers in court to defend them. The right hon. Gentleman, with all the weight of the State and all the legal jargon in his support comes along and sends them to prison, not because they will not work but because they do not work at jobs selected for them by him or because they do not work long or hard enough.

I will give him one case. A collier, 56 years of age, has worked 43 years underground. He worked the full week but, because he would not work an extra day, at the instance of the employer and the right hon. Gentleman's Department, he was taken to court and sent to gaol for a month. I do not care what your legal jargon may be; the mere fact that a man like that is sent to prison is an offence to the community. If I were in that man's position, you might send me underground, but I would produce nothing for you, and I understand that that is the temper of some of the people who are being compelled to go back to the pits.

I objected to Fascism when some hon. Members over there welcomed it. I object to it now, and while we are supposed to be fighting Fascism abroad we are adopting the very same principles here at home. The right hon. Gentleman has conscripted women. They have never conscripted women in Italy or Germany so far as I know, and I protest against all these compulsions being imposed upon the working people. Moreover, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not achieve his object of greater production by these means. If you do not win the good will of the miners, if I understand them at all—and I have been one myself—you will not get more coal; you will not win their good will if you put them into gaol. If you put a collier in gaol, you may poison the whole street and the whole mining village in which he lives. My hon. Friend mentioned a case in Durham of two boys working on the surface who were sent to gaol because they refused to work underground and 5,300 miners came out on strike in sympathy. The right hon. Gentleman does not achieve his object of producing more coal in that way. I object to something else. If these miners in my division had committed offences against the common law, they would not be sent to gaol, they would probably be put on probation. The right hon. Gentleman ought to be careful in instituting these prosecutions. He must not forget that the magisterial bench is largely composed of employers, and I am sorry to say that some of them seem to like to get their own back on the working people on occasion.

I should like to quote from a letter that I have just received: I should be pleased if you could assist me in any way in getting release from the Alexandria pit, Whelley. I made an application for my release but have been turned down by the Employment Exchange doctor, Dr. Graham, who states that I am lit for my employment as a dataller on light work. I am 56 years old and have worked in the pit all my days. I have asked the management for lighter work but they cannot find me any. I appealed against the decision and it was turned down. My son was killed in action in Malta on 7th March, 1942. He had 15 years' service. I served in the last war and was invalided home through war wounds. I served from 1914 to 1917, so if Dr. Graham can pass a man fit who has had three operations for hernia received in the said colliery, and receiving a pension for disablement as well, we ought to be an A.1 country. The right hon. Gentleman employs his own doctors to determine these cases. I know something about doctors and I do not want to offend them, but I know that very often doctors provide medical certificates according to who pays them. That happens in workmen's compensation cases. I object to a doctor who knows nothing about coalmining and has never been down a pit certifying this man as fit for work underground. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman release this man? He might be happy in another job doing something useful for the nation.

The right hon. Gentleman retorted the other day when I raised a question with him, "Parliament has given me powers to do all this." Parliament gave the Government powers to conscript wealth too, but they have not done it. The right hon. Gentleman is not bound to use all his powers against the workpeople. I must here pay a tribute to the Prime Minister. There is a regulation in force giving the Government power to prosecute people for causing alarm and despondency, and hundreds of cases were brought before the courts, but the Prime Minister came down to the House one day and practically stopped the lot. I plead with the right hon. Gentleman to abandon these prosecutions in industry.

Let me ask him a question that has bothered me. I live in Manchester, which is a port in addition to being a great smoky city. I understand that the dockers have a scheme to discipline their own members. Incidentally, I do not like the State using trade union machinery to discipline workers in the interests of the State. That is a new philosophy and I am opposed to it. How do the dockers discipline themselves? When they absent themselves from work are they brought before the courts and sent to gaol as in the case of miners? Perhaps the right lion. Gentleman will tell us what is the scheme in operation at the docks and in what way does it differ from the treatment meted out to miners. Fifty per cent. of the prosecutions already instituted by him are against miners.

The Minister of Mines allowed the Minister of Labour long ago to denude the pits of men. They bungled the whole industry in the process, and then, having denuded the pits of the best colliers, they now prosecute those who are left because they do not produce enough coal. The miners are expected to produce more coal, but has anybody seen the food rations meted out to them? I guarantee that when the Minister of Mines and I worked in the pits we would eat in a day all the meat that is now allowed for a week. We cannot expect men to produce coal and do heavy work unless they are properly fed. I object to its being called absenteeism when workmen are incapable physically of performing their tasks. As stated, the right hon. Gentleman's Department has poisoned some of the mining communities by these prosecutions. The convicted man's mind is poisoned, his relations and his friends are poisoned, too, and the right hon. Gentleman ought to know what some of them say about him. I try to defend him as best I can, but I find it very difficult to do so.

The real problem of the coal industry, however, is that better wages are paid in nearly every other industry. Perhaps the House will forgive me if I relate my own story. I was a collier earning over £2 a week. That was a long time ago, and I was working on a good seam. I took a job as a cashier in the local cooperative society for 26s. a week. Clerks and shop assistants then were receiving about 60 per cent. of the wages paid to miners. To-day the reverse is the case. It is a strange thing in this country that the more arduous the toil you perform and the more dangerous the work you do, the less wages you get. The right hon. Gentleman and the Minister for Mines can still attract men and boys to the pits by giving them better wages. If they did that it would settle many of their difficulties. I feel very deeply about these things because men I know personally, decent fellows, have their records searched meticulously by the Ministry to find how many hours work they have lost and are then sent to prison. I do not believe in ca'canny or shirking, but it is not shirking when a man is doing work of national importance, earning £7 or £8 a week and refuses to go back to the mine for £3 or £4 when directed to do so by the right hon. Gentleman. When one man refused he was told that if he did not go back to the pit he would be de-reserved and forced into the Army.

We see in the Press to-day that the right hon. Gentleman is issuing a decree increasing the hours of labour of clerks. He knows that, because clerks are unorganised, they cannot fight against that. I wonder whether he will try it on the miners in due course. I ask him in all seriousness to abandon these prosecutions and find some better way of dealing with these labour problems. I have no sympathy with shirkers; I want to see everybody at work. I have seen too much unemployment among miners to wish to see them out of work through shirking. Finally, I protest in the name of these decent folk against these prosecutions, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to make an effort to gain their good will by abandoning them. He will find that all human beings will do much better service in industry and for the nation if he does that.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

On a point of Order. Ever since I have been a member of the House, almost 20 years, this Adjournment Debate has been the prerogative of private Members. To-day the only three speakers have belonged to the Front Benches. Is that not a violation of the traditions of this House? The Minister is about to reply, and that will virtually close the Debate. The issue we are discussing very much affects Scotland, and I submit that those of us who come from those distant parts should be given the opportunity of speaking before the Minister virtually closes the Debate.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

The fact that the Minister is to speak does not necessarily close the Debate. On a Motion for the Adjournment for a Recess the Debate is not confined to one subject only, and very often is switched over to another subject, and therefore there is not an unlimited opportunity for private Members to speak.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

But I do ask you to remember that there is a most important issue concerning Scotland, and that this is a historic day for the back benchers. It is the back benchers' day. The front benchers have all the other days, and we are entitled to one day. But three front benchers have been called. It is breaking with all the decent traditions of this House. You, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, are the protector of the back benchers, the only person from whom we can get protection. I am speaking for the sake of the part of the country from which I come, where women are being treated abominably. If this had happened in the last war those who are now defending it would have protested against it. I say that there has been a distinct break with all the decencies, that the back benchers have been flung out and three front benchers who have all the privileges all the year have been called upon. I do not speak much in the House now—perhaps I am getting to be one of the old group in the House—and then I have to be told that I have to follow the Minister of Labour. Some of us know these things and feel very strongly about them.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

It is a matter for me to decide who is to be called.

Photo of Mr Alexander Sloan Mr Alexander Sloan , South Ayrshire

If the question of these girls who are being transferred from Scotland to England is not put before the Minister of Labour speaks, how can he reply to the case?

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I have called on the Minister of Labour.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

It is very difficult for me to deal in an Adjournment Debate with the whole range of Essential Work Orders for which I have been responsible. I am in the hands of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House but, speaking for myself, no one would more welcome a set Debate over the whole range of the Orders in which I could give a considered reply at the end of the Debate. It is difficult to deal with it on an Adjournment Debate in the manner in which one would deal with it after a set Debate.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

The right hon. Gentleman could have listened to the hon. Member.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

If I intervene now in this Debate, it is because I have a very important engagement in reference to a matter on which the House is waiting for information after Whitsun. Hon. Members cannot eat their cake and have it. A Minister has to try and carry through the obligations which the House has imposed upon him to deal with a particular matter at the earliest possible date, and whatever else I may be guilty of, I do not think anyone will accuse me of being idle or of neglecting my work. I think it will be useful if I try to deal with the position in regard to the operation of these Essential Work Orders. With regard to the specific cases affecting agriculture put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Norman-ton (Mr. T. Smith), I cannot be expected to answer him because I do not know of the cases, but I will go into them and will take steps to see that Regulation 58(A) is made quite clear, if it should prove that there has been any confusion in the administration of it.

The House cannot forget that it carried the Act of 1940 without a Division, and though Dunkirk is not hanging over our heads at the moment, that does not alter the circumstances that we are at war. When I have to deal with matters of this character I have to distinguish between my critics, between those who support the war and are determined at all costs to see it through and those like the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who would oppose everything I did because of his pacifist outlook and his attitude to this war.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

That is only raising prejudice.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

I have to distinguish in that sense in the approach to this problem. Everybody has argued that this is a total war and that every bit of weight has to be put into it, and the Orders are designed to mobilise labour for use under the best possible conditions in the circumstances. I am not going to apologise for the Essential Work Orders. I, too, have been in the mining districts. I was in Barnsley the other week. I have not hesitated to meet the miners. I did not find that I had poisoned them. They turned out in their thousands to meet me on that Sunday morning, and they gave me great encouragement in carrying on the work I am trying to do. They know I have got a rotten job, but I am not going to refuse to face it, any more than I have ever refused to face any other rotten job in my life. There is one thing I will tell the House and the hon. Member for Westhoughton: whether it is a good or a bad job, no one in our movement can ever accuse me of playing to the gallery. Whether a thing is popular or unpopular does not concern me. I do not care whether I lose a seat in this House or whether I lose my place in this Government. I came into this Government with my eyes open to try to win the war, and when that is done let others go on and build the peace, if you like, but I knew what was at stake between Fascism, Nazism and ourselves.

One of the greatest things that would smooth the working of this war would be for industry to come forward now and agree whole-heartedly to accept the basic principle of the Essential Work Orders not only for the war but for after the war, and then begin to discuss the matter on an entirely different footing. I had to introduce these Orders in an atmosphere of antagonism, antagonism because the employers hated it. They did not like the guaranteed week. I have fought for the guaranteed week all my life. I do not believe in the principle of anybody being able to say to his fellow citizen, "I employ you for a minute and then discharge you." I fought against that, and when I had to impose a Regulation of this kind I felt it was right that obligations to the men should be undertaken. You cannot have social security in this country without having some obligation. A military commander can say to a platoon or a company, "Go here" or "Go there," and they have to go, but they are organised and they are trained. What is my position? I do not deal with platoons or companies. I have to deal with individuals—with individuals running into millions—people who never expected to have discipline of any kind, except the most unfortunate discipline of all, the economic whip, which I want to remove and which I hope to live to see removed.

I devised appeal systems under the Orders, but in the end there has to be a final sanction of some kind, and what can it be? It is said that I go looking into the history of a miner, into his wages, into where he has been. I do nothing of the kind. [Interruption.] I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I will say nothing inaccurate. I appeal to hon. Members who attack me to adopt the same principle. Let us take prosecutions for absenteeism. I have not prosecuted miners for absenteeism, so far as I know, unless the cases have first been through the pit production committees. I was the first Minister in this country to make pit committees by an indirect method a legal part of the mining industry, which my hon. Friends opposite had been trying to get for many years. [An HON. MEMBER: "Quite true."] I think that statement will be accepted. I gave the committees certain powers. I could not give more. I gave as much as they would be prepared to take in present conditions.

Now, with regard to directions. It is not only the miners who have had to be directed; hundreds of people have had to be directed. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not to the same extent."] Many worse, believe me To have to go into the industries of the country and direct people elsewhere is not a pleasant job. I have had to take people out of insurance offices and bank clerks, and all kinds of people, and direct them back to industry, with a loss of many pounds per week. It is not a very nice job to do, but I have had to do it. Why have I had to do it? This is where the trade union movement has had to make up its mind. Rightly or wrongly, I have accepted the view that wages ought to be fixed by collective bargaining, and I have had to fight hon. Members on all sides of the House against interfering with that principle. I have refused to be any party to departing from it. If I accept that principle, and the Government accept it, I must have the rate for the job when I direct men into a job. What is my alternative? How can I depart from it? I cannot be fixing wages for the State one minute because I have to direct a person to a job, and the next minute defend the trade unions and their collective bargaining. I ask Members to try and look at the problem all round.

I was attacked to-day by the hon. Member for Westhoughton, but I claim to have done more in his own industry to establish joint industrial councils and regulations in two years than he has been able to do for 40 years. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] My hon. Friend at the back of those benches appreciates the truth of that statement. There are seven councils in that industry, covering the whole of the industry, and I am told I have poisoned the working classes.

Photo of Mr Rhys Davies Mr Rhys Davies , Westhoughton

Will my right hon. Friend pardon me—

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

I decline to give way. My hon. Friend must take his medicine as well as I have to take mine. If there is a day's Debate, I am willing to defend the whole of the Ministry of Labour.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

Other people have opinions. Do not get so haughty about it, and about not giving way to the hon. Member. Who are you? You are an ordinary human being.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

For the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) to lecture me on coolness is a very good thing. Let me now deal with the general working of the Order, and with the problem of dealing with these individuals. The first question is of transference and direction. National Service officers, in the three months ended in February, had to deal with 413,000 cases. The number of cases in which we have had complaints is infinitesimal. As to labour turnover cases, that is the movement of labour from one job to another, there were 381,000 in round figures during those three months. There were 31,000 cases connected with discipline of one kind or another.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

All kinds of discipline—absenteeism, failure to obey directions, and so on.

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil Merthyr

What about the figures of prosecution?

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

I will come to them in a moment.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

I will come to them in a minute, if the hon. Member will bear with me. Those were complaints which reached the Department about people not turning up. I want hon. Members to keep that figure of 31,000 in their minds and to compare it with the number of prosecutions. Penalties imposed and legal proceedings taken have been negligible. There are 6,500,000 people under the Essential Work Order—I am not referring to the Restriction of Engagement. Order. The figure will probably soon rise to nearly 8,000,000, because I am being pressed by trade unions and employers to bring more under the Essential Work Orders. Frequent deputations are coming. Proceedings taken represent one worker per 10,000 covered by the Orders since they have been operated. Imprisonment has been imposed in one per 50,000. Of the women imprisoned, three were for offences under the Order—[An HON. MEMBER: "Two were from Scotland"]—and 12 for refusing to obey a direction. That makes a total of 15.

Employers have been prosecuted—three under the Order and 23 under the Restriction of Engagement Order. None have been imprisoned. More drastic steps have been taken to deal with employers who have refused to carry out the Order. In certain cases managements have been removed. In other cases, as is well known by Scottish Members, I proposed, had they not yielded, to de-schedule the works altogether and take the people away. One has to devise other and more drastic methods for dealing with the recalcitrant position. The other point put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) was whether we could review the question of penalties. I can assure him that I have gone into the matter with my colleagues very carefully from time to time. I say publicly that the best thing which can happen for us is to get the men or women to work. If the magistracy of the country use the system of binding over and the man or woman concerned obeys, that is much preferable for me. If they do not obey, you cannot dispense with the final sanction without interfering with the whole penalties under the Defence of the Realm; my part of the business is only one branch of the Defence of the Realm Regulations, and therefore the penalties that are imposed, the final sanctions under the Acts, must remain the same.

I would ask hon. Members to appreciate the magnitude of this problem, and they will then see the task which the Ministry of Labour has had to perform. You must take this question of the Orders against the background of the whole man-power position. I have sat in this House many times and have heard indirect criticisms of myself and my Department, to the effect that I have not been drastic and ruthless enough. I have seen letters in the Press saying that I have failed, that I am a weakling and that I do not get the war effort going speedily enough. Others criticise me because I am too ruthless. Between the two, I think I am about right. I do not take much notice of either, unless there are facts which call for investigation. I worked out a plan when I became a Minister, and I have refused to submit to clamour during the whole time I have been in office. I do not believe in being diverted from the task I have had to do because some people have got upset about it. The Orders have to be seen against the whole range of the population, and if I give some figures which have never been revealed before, hon. Members will see what my Ministry have had to accomplish as their contribution to the total war effort.

The basis upon which I worked when I first took office was on the population between the ages of 14 and 64. You do find people of over the age of 65 working, but I think the only proper calculable basis is the numbers between those years. The population in the United Kingdom between the ages of 14 and 65 is 33,300,000. In the Armed Forces, Civil Defence and industry—that is, all types of industry, including carrying on the life of the country—the number now employed or occupied is 22,000,000 out of that total of 33,000,000. No country in the history of the world has mobilised its man-power to such a point as we have had to do in this war. There is also this additional point which I would ask the House to appreciate. Of the balance between 22,000,000 and 33,000,000—or, to put it another way, in the 22,000,000, there are not taken into account part-time and voluntary workers, married women with domestic responsibilities—thousands of whom are taking in lodgers and evacuees and giving just as much service to the State as if they were working in a factory, they are rendering a great national service; again private domestic servants are not included, nor are school children and other students over 14, the many thousands of persons giving voluntary unpaid service with the W.V.S., and other organisations, in canteens and nursery schools, and so on; and then there are the people not capable of work through age or other reasons—the sick, the blind and the disabled. There are therefore 22,000,000 men and women effectively occupied out of the total of 33,000,000, excluding all those other classes, which, I venture to suggest, if I had the statistics, would amount to another 2,000,000, probably more.

My final word, therefore, is that the number of cases you can raise against me, the number of prosecutions that have occurred in the mobilisation of the manpower of this country to the present point is infinitesimal. The figures I have given are the best justification of the claim that this great mobilisation of man-power has gone on with scarcely a ripple on the surface of public life, with scarcely a disturbance, with strikes lower than ever they have been in the history of the country since the industrial revolution, with disturbances unknown and with a man-power production higher than it has ever been in the history of British industry, notwithstanding all the criticisms that may be made against us. All that, together with an Army which, when its chance comes, will demonstrate the power, the character and the courage of the British people; its members mobilised, trained and developed, and their places taken in the world of industry by women, by older or less efficient men, or by a distribution of man-power unprecedented in the history of the country. I could not have done it, neither could any other Minister have done it, except for the underlying principles and administration of the Essential Work Orders, in which we have taken the greatest possible care. We may slip up here and there, but the man-power of this country is now mobilised to such a point that the great test between now and the end of the war is not a test between British and German man-power; it is a test between British and German managerial ability. It is a question of whether industry can show its utmost capacity in the utilisation of this great force. That does not mean that more physical energy must be got out of the people; it means that every possible labour aid must be used in order that their energy may be used to the fullest advantage.

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil Merthyr

And a vastly improved organisation.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bevin Mr Ernest Bevin , Wandsworth Central

Certainly. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals for having had to crowd this into a very short speech. Perhaps, however, I have lifted the veil a little, enough to enable hon. Members to see the magnitude of the task and of the steps taken to accomplish it.