Productivity of Labour

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd July 1947.

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Photo of Mr Stanley Prescott Mr Stanley Prescott , Darwen 12:00 am, 3rd July 1947

I am sure the whole Committee listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes). He speaks with authority and personal knowledge of the matter, and equally with common sense. It gives me great pleasure, and I find it very edifying, as I am sure do all other Members of the Committee, to listen to the hon. Gentleman on the too few occasions on which he addresses us.

I also would like to deal primarily with the textile industry in Lancashire. I noted with interest, but also with regret, that the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne referred only in passing to the coal situation. He said it was no good saying that everything depends on coal, and that without it we cannot do anything. I would like to address a few observations to the Committee with regard to the coal situation and its effects on the textile industry, on the recruitment of labour, and on production at the present moment. At present there is a cloud hanging over the whole of the Lancashire textile industry. It is the memory of the experience of last winter, coupled with fears whether it is to be repeated this coming winter. I do not want to enlarge upon what happened last winter; unfortunately we all know it only too well; but the position now—and I speak with some knowledge of these matters—is that managements, by and large, are trying to conserve as much fuel as they can, in accordance with the insistence placed upon that matter by the Minister of Fuel and Power and the President of the Board of Trade. One thing that cannot be done to any great degree is to increase production and to save fuel at the same time.

I mention the following matter because it is also germane to this subject. I am informed that in the textile industry we need some 75,000 additional operatives, and that they are coming in very slowly. It is the female labour which is the slowest in coming in. I put this point to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour. The other day I asked the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade how many spinning mills and weaving sheds still remain closed under the wartime concentration scheme. The answer I received was that 48 spinning mills were still closed, representing some 2,500,000 spindles, and that, on the weaving side, 250 sheds were still closed, representing 73,000 looms. I think the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne and the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. E. Porter) will agree that Lancashire has its own peculiarities, its likes and dislikes, and its native suspicion of certain things. It is true to say that many of the operatives who were put out of the textile industry owing to the war-time concentration scheme would go back to their own mills if they were reopened. It would be more difficult to persuade them to go to other mills, because they have a great regard— and tradition—for the mills in which they, and often their ancestors, worked.

What, therefore, is the reason these additional mills, which were concentrated in war-time, have not been reopened? I believe the main reason is lack of fuel. It is true, of course, that in some respects, the machinery and the mills have deteriorated. It is always said that the labour shortage prevents them from being re-opned, but I do not think that the labour shortage alone has been the deciding factor. I believe there have been other shortages which have prevented many mills from reopening, even in a small way. If they get going in a small way, the operatives may come back. I put that forward for the right hon. Gentleman's consideration. What he can do about it, I do not know, because the coal situation prevents him from reopening these mills, but I think it is a point he should bear in mind when conducting his recruitment campaign for the industry.

On the question of recruiting operatives for the industry, I would again mention the wretched poster "Work or Want." The slogan of the Labour Party used to be "Work or Maintenance." I think the poster is a horrible thing, which does no good. This campaign of urging people to greater productivity must be dealt with on a higher level and psychologically. The fuel crisis considerably injured the recruitment of labour for the textile industry. With the exception of the Austin Motor Works, the textile industry was the first to be hit by the coal crisis, and that crisis has left its mark on the minds of textile operatives who were then not back in the industry, but who might have gone back but for what happened last winter.

I have already dealt with the reopening of the mills and the effect which that would have had if it had been possible. The next point I want to make is with regard to European volunteer workers and their importation into this country for work in the textile industry. The other day, I asked a question about. these workers and the answer I received was that the Government did not know how many European volunteer workers were to be recruited in this country during the next 12 months; that, even if they did, they could not say how many would be suitable for work in the textile industry, and certainly could not say how many of them would already have had experience of that work. Surely, the Government should now know how many European volunteer workers they want to get during the next 12 months. Of that figure, they ought to say, "We will try to get so many people who are suitable for work in the industry." Surely, inquiries could be made before they came to England as to whether they had knowledge or experience of the industry. I am informed by people experienced in these matters that in Europe there are many displaced persons of whom a large percentage have experience of textiles. I do not know whether that is correct, but if it is, cannot they be included among the European volunteer workers brought to this country? I should like to have an answer on that point when the Minister replies.

There are one or two things I should like to say about the five-day week. Personally, I would be quite happy to work as little as possible, and to get as high a wage as possible for doing so. That is only natural. If it was in the interests of the industry and the country, and if production could be maintained, I would be in agreement with the five-day week in the textile industry, but it is common knowledge that since the five-day week was introduced six or seven months ago, there has been a considerable fall in production.