asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in order to speed up essential and urgent war work and the better use of available manpower, he will consider the temporary drafting of soldiers to civil engineering work, such as the construction of aerodromes; and whether he is aware that there is a serious shortage of suitable labour for this work, whilst in the immediate neighbourhood large numbers of soldiers are available who would be suitable and glad to have a temporary change of occupation, the national interest being adequately safeguarded by making these men available for immediate return to their military units in the event of any emergency?
Arrangements already exist, whereby application may be made locally through the Ministry of Labour and National Service, for the employment of soldiers on non-military work of vital national importance for which civilian labour is not obtainable. Limited numbers of soldiers have in fact been employed on aerodrome construction. Owing, however, to the great and growing demands of their military training I can hold out no hope that the numbers available for such purposes can be increased.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that as a result of publicity inspired by the Ministry of Labour which appeared in the Press last week many thousands of people have turned up at Employment Exchanges for civil engineering work but have then been told that there is nothing for them to do?