With your permission, Sir, I would like, before putting a Private Notice Question to the Prime Minister, to ask if he is aware of the difficulty that Members of this House have in getting communications to him? I have been informed that, on account of there being no messenger, a Private Notice Question which I addressed to him has been put in the post, and sent to the right hon. Member. I call that a very bad system, and I wish to call the attention of the Prime Minister to it, in the hope that it will be rectified.
My Question is as follows: Whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that yesterday at 3 p.m. in Liverpool a demonstration of war factory workers of Merseyside was held; that men and women workers, after years of service in the interests of the nation, are fearing dismissal; and what security of employment can the Government offer to them?
Yes, Sir; I will answer with great pleasure, the Question of which the hon. Gentleman failed to give me Private Notice. I understand that yesterday there was a procession of some workers employed in the Napier aero-engine factory at Liverpool. I am informed that, as a result of programme reduction, the labour force of this factory, engaged on aero-engine production, has already been reduced by 3,000, and will be further reduced by 4,000 in the next four to five months. Practically all the workers so far released have secured other employment. As to the future, I would refer the hon. Member to the reply of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service on 31st May, to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing (Sir F. Sanderson) and of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to the hon. Member for Everton (Mr. Kirby) on 12th June. I can send copies of these replies to the hon. Gentleman if he so desires.
Is the Prime Minister aware that it is not only Napiers who are concerned? I have referred to the Merseyside—both banks of it. All the workers there are dissatisfied, because they feel that numbers of them will be thrown out of work. They are asking whether there cannot be some policy devised to stabilise employment in the change-over from war production to civil production. In other words, can the Government take over the works, and employ the labour?
There is no way in the world of preventing a quite violent dislocation going on in the change-over from war to peace. Every effort to provide against it has been made, and an immense amount of foresight and care has been exercised. But there must be a day when, in fact, everything does have to stop, before new jigs or other plant can be installed, and there must be a considerable proportion of temporary unemployment through this fact of moving. Of course, in the Beveridge Report, a rate of 8 per cent. was calculated, which would mean 600,000, but, at the present time, there are less than 60,000 who are immediately unemployed, and the demand for employment will grow—that is, on the other side—at any rate, for the next year or two. It is in this movement from the one to the other that there will be dislocation. I am sorry for the workers, but the provision of unemployment pay comes into operation.
I think it was quite unnecessary for them to demonstrate in this manner, apart from other considerations, but there will undoubtedly be a continued succession of short stoppages between one factory and another, and one kind of work and another, and anyone who deludes himself into thinking that it could be avoided is doing less than justice to the difficulties.
Will the Prime Minister consider that the Ministers of Supply and Aircraft Production ought to have contracted for house furniture, house parts or something of that sort, to follow on war contracts in factories, just as we have one aeroplane contract following on another? Why should there be any gap at all?
It would not be much use trying to make house parts in a factory which has teen adapted to make aeroplanes until there had, at any rate, been some temporary break in order to put in the new plant.