Orders of the Day — Manpower

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th March 1948.

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Photo of Mr William Shepherd Mr William Shepherd , Bucklow 12:00 am, 18th March 1948

The hon. Member for Neath (Mr. D. J. Williams) did some service to the House by pointing out that the maldistribution of labour is perhaps our most signal difficulty at present. The Government are perhaps entitled to say that to put seven million people back in their jobs in a few years is a pretty good job of work. There is a reasonable case for those who sit on the Government Front Bench saying that those of us who cavil at the small percentage of maldistribution are not recognising the good work that has been done. My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Spearman) was at pains to point out that we in this country feel the maldistribution of labour much more quickly than other countries, because we have to use so much of our production for export, and we have to export precisely those products which other people wish to buy and not those that we wish to produce. Therefore, our labour force must be directed specifically into certain channels.

I quarrel with the hon. Member for Neath and other hon. Members opposite about the way in which it is apparently conceived that in a democracy one can order about the labour force. It is an extraordinarily difficult thing in a democracy to try to alter the pattern of its economy. It is particularly difficult to do it when we have a level of employment as high as it is at the present time. Those who face the facts must realise that it is quite impossible even to guide the economic forces which, in our conception as Conservatives, ought to be guided by the State. If we had totalitarian powers we could do it as the Russians do. The Soviet Government sent four million people to the other side of the Urals when German invasion threatened, and issued an order that they were not to return. They have not returned. In this country, with our present democratic outlook and the fact that we have too high a level of employment, it is extremely difficult to control our economy and change the nature of men's employment by the means at our disposal.

There are, I think, definite wastes existing. The first is obviously that of the Civil Service and, to some extent, of the Armed Forces, and the second is in industry itself, where during the war there developed far too many administrative workers. Hon. Members opposite have quoted the relationship between distributive workers and producers. That in itself is alarming, but the figures as presented in Government guide books do not give a complete picture, because if we look at the ratio of administrative people engaged in manufacturing industry to the actual producers, we find that during the last 20 years that ratio has increased enormously and that during the last eight or nine years it has advanced at an ever-increasing rate. Why has it increased? For the simple reason that E.P.T., plenty of profits and easy prices encourage the over-elaboration of administration. Almost every business in this country could cut down the costs of administration. Far too heavy an administrative load is being carried.

As to the Civil Service, it is quite unreasonable for the Government to ask industry to take the position seriously when they have two million local and national civil servants, and it is sheer nonsense for them to say that they cannot do with fewer. Is there a Member in this House who believes that every civil servant employed by the Ministry of Supply is necessary? I hope there is not an hon. Member who believes that. Is there any Member who believes that some very severe pruning in the Ministry of Works could not be carried out with good effect?