§ Mr. MACKINDER
We have had a very interesting Debate on a very important subject. I think every Member knows, from his morning's post, that this is a subject which interests certain classes, at any rate in this country with an interest that is not new. I think the country at large will be very much comforted by certain figures which were given by the Under-Secretary to the Food Department. But my object in rising now is not to continue the discussion of this matter. I see that the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty is in his place, and I want to take the opportunity of bringing before the House a. matter of at least equal importance and, as it seems to me, of great urgency. The House will remember that about a week ago the First Lord of the 237 Admiralty made a very grave statement here in regard to shipbuilding. In the course of this statement he used two sentences which are deeply resented in the shipbuilding parts of the country. I venture to call to the mind of the House the exact wording of these sentences:The men in the yards are not working as if the life of the country depended upon their exertions. Employers also are not perhaps doing all that can be done to increase output.In view of the circumstances of the nation at this moment; in view of the circumstances of the whole Allied cause; in view of the significance of any utterance of the First Lord of the Admiralty of this country, words such as these can only be described as of the greatest gravity. They amount, taking the two sentences together, to the arraignment before the country for unpatriotic conduct of a whole industry—masters and men. As I have the honour to sit for one of the divisions of Glasgow certain of my friends came to me—I have no doubt they have also been to my colleagues in the representation of the city—and suggested that, in view of the situation thus laid bare my duty and my place was not at Westminster but among my Constituents and upon the Clyde. I do not shirk any patriotic duty which I can see my way to perform with any efficiency, but before going to my Constituents and before seeking to put before them the immense importance of the work upon which the whole region of the Clyde is, directly or indirectly, engaged, it seemed to me necessary to inquire a little as to what there was to be said in defence. Because it is no use talking down to these men—these people who have been arraigned are very intelligent men and, on the whole, with very insignificant exceptions, are as patriotic men as any who are to be found in the country. They are very intelligent men. Shipbuilding on the Clyde is famous the world over. You are dealing, then, with very successful and very efficient business men—managers and controllers—and with such a magnificent industry it goes without saying that you are concerned also with artisans of the highest skill and the greatest experience. More than that, the district to which I refer is well served by independent newspapers of a patriotic character. The situation of the Allied cause and of the country is fully, morning and evening, put before these people in detail, in vividness the like of which is not excelled in any 238 other portion of the country. Therefore, I was asked by my friends to go and speak to people whose whole antecedents show that they are intelligent and energetic and whose opportunities to-day are not those of some remote agricultural or rural part of the country, but the opportunities of a focus of journalistic enterprise and independence.
When I came to inquire as to what the position was, I found that there was a very serious opinion and temper which would have to be met by anyone who went there to speak of the nation's needs. It is a matter commonly admitted in Glasgow itself that the present position in the shipbuilding yards is unsatisfactory. It is held that the conditions under which the work is being done are themselves unsatisfactory. It will be admitted that the Government has its difficulties, and none know this better than those who have to deal with a complicated industry what the difficulties are at the present moment. It is felt that the Government have made mistakes and there has been considerable patience exhibited under those mistakes, but that patience becomes exhausted when the Government, as one of the parties to this tri-partnership, blames the other two parties. I am not a technical expert, and I am not going to discuss plans or patterns in detail. This would not be the right place to do it, and I should not be the right man, and, moreover, it would not be in the national interest. It seems to me to be necessary that we should have it stated here that there is an opinion held by very competent people in regard to the mistakes made by the Government that temper has been roused by the blame which has been attributed to the shipyards. We have to come to an understanding on this matter before we can put the past behind us and leave this attribution of blame to history, and before we can proceed to write off the past, and do our very utmost to save the country and the Alliance from the catastrophe which threatens us.
I feel the responsibility. I have not spoken often during the War, and certainly I have never nagged at the Government, and in what I have to say now I have come to say it face to face with the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope it will not be taken in any spirit of hostility. My sole object is to voice the very real feelings upon the Clyde, make them understood here, and get the Government to face them, because this is a matter of temper and psychology and the good will 239 of men and not a technical matter. I want to be fair. I know there are intrinsic difficulties which the best Government on earth could not avoid. In the first place, the Clyde has suffered from the beginning of the War under the continuing possibility that there might be serious fighting in the North Sea, and that at any moment very heavy repairs might have to be executed there. Notoriously in the early part of the War the Admiralty had to maintain a certain amount of readiness and a good deal of waiting on the part of capable people who could not easily be occupied in the meantime. We have to bear that in mind, because idleness and waiting is not the most conducive attitude to prepare men for strenuous work. There is another difficulty with regard to the blame. I do not want to go into any details, but both masters and workers had constantly before them half-finished ships in the earlier part of the War lying upon the slips month after month, with nothing being done to them, and those men knew well that sister ships launched earlier were doing good war service upon the ocean on behalf of the nation. Naturally the men, not knowing all the difficulties which the Government have to face and keep secret, asked where was the hurry if these ships could be so left. I understand the difficulty. I understand it was necessary to work elsewhere, but at the same time I want the House to appreciate that what has happened in the case of the men on the Clyde is due to an accumulation of circumstances, and the earlier of those circumstances were of the nature I have described.
We come now to the burning question being discussed almost in every home in Glasgow and in the districts in the neighbourhood of the Clyde, and that is the question of standard ships. A considerable number of masters regard the standard ship as a blunder. I do not say that the Government did not seek skilled advice when they decided to adopt the policy of the standard ships, but if the information which I have from experts and experienced and weighty people is correct, then, at any rate, the whole profession of shipbuilding was not sufficiently consulted. Certain plans and drawings were imposed upon the yards. The machinery in the yards differs; some yards could work large things and some had only machinery suitable for working small things. This was discovered after the 240 designs for the standard ships had been distributed, with the result that the plans had to be modified. In other words, so far the ships ceased to be standard, or, at any rate, you had to work up your standard into a greater number of standards suitable to the different shipyards, and to such an extent has that variation of the original standard plans had to be carried to suit the: well-known conditions in that portion of the trade concerned with the building of tramp steamers that many of the builders are of opinion that you would have obtained much speedier results if you had borne in mind that to a large extent tramp shipbuilding was standardised in the different yards before. That is a very different industry from the building of vast passenger and mail steamers. Tramp shipbuilding is carried out with certain plans, specifications, and patterns, which are the property, for current purposes, of the different yards, and the opinion urged upon me is that as the thing has worked out, and as you have ultimately had to multiply the patterns of your standard ships, you would have done better had you gone to those yards and said, We are going to give you orders and repeat orders; go ahead as fast as you can, using your own plans, patterns, guages, and specifications, the same as you have worked them out by the experience of many years. That would have been economy as it seems to anyone who merely listens to the workmen, because, notoriously in repetition work, the thought goes into the original specifications, and once you have those the remainder is easy.
The Government imposed on those yards with all their experience designs and plans to which they were unaccustomed. That was enough to make the masters a little impatient, but it is worse than that. Alterations after the order has been given is a very serious matter, because it affects not only the masters, but the men. I am told that on the Clyde, in the case of ship after ship, after commencing work the design has been altered, and there is one case which is now going the round of discussion in Glasgow, to the effect that four vessels were ordered at the same time in the same yard, of the same dimensions, and they were completed, owing to alterations, as four quite different ships. That is the result of your standards when altered to suit subsequent designs. In fact, there is a statement that the standard ships are designed after having been constructed. That affects the men, because 241 they are very intelligent workers, and when a squad of workers have worked on the steel construction and rivetted it into plates, and then that same squad is ordered to pull the whole work down again in the course of a few days or a week, you cannot expect any very great confidence in those who are supposed to be guiding this industry when the men are asked to work at the utmost possible racing speed owing to the exigencies of the War.
The matter is most serious from the psychological point of view. It is very serious that there should be such a waste of time in alterations. What you want is that the masters, in comradeship with the men, should say, "Come, all together! Let us do our utmost for the nation." The master says to the men, "I have to order you to pull down what you put up yesterday." The men complain that this is stupid, because they are asked to work overtime day and night, and they say, "Why should we do this simply in order to make work for to-morrow?" The master shrugs his shoulders and says, ''It is not my fault; we are serving under superior orders. The all-powerful people up in London have sent these orders, and our men have simply to go forward with them. The masters are servants just as much as the men, and that is not the way to get enthusiasm and confidence in the work of shipbuilding. We all know the state of an Army when it doubts the genius and the insight of its general. Notoriously disillusionment declines into demoralisation. It took a little time for that indecision to have its effects propagated right down. They have now been propagated down. It has taken months, but at last you have worked your industry into such a state of mind that they have no confidence in you. What will be the good of my going down to my friends and Constituents and urging upon them those grave facts which were put before us by the Leader of the douse in moving the Vote of Credit if they turn round to me and say, "We read that in the newspapers and we hear that from you, but we cannot believe that the thing is so urgent as you say. Look what has happened! Yesterday we were hurrying forward, and to-day we have been pulling down what we built yesterday."
The same indecision is also affecting the wage question. I heard an hon. Member say just now that he believed that the Government could get far greater results if they would reveal the facts frankly to 242 the working classes of this country. I believe, if you did not always give in to every injudicious demand in regard to variations of wages and conditions, that you would establish a condition of discipline and of good will and of happiness in the country greater than you have at the present time. You are not asking, remember, for a sudden, short, urgent effort. You are asking for a prolonged effort. We used to talk of this as a short war, but it has become a long war. You are asking men to go on month after month and year after year toiling and building—we hope, before many weeks are over, as fast as the U-boats can destroy. It is the task of Sisyphus. You cannot expect men to work day and night, Sunday and week-day, through whole years. Yet you provide for it. You give extra pay—I do not know what it amounts to, perhaps 50 per cent. —for overtime, and you give perhaps 100 per cent. for work on Sundays. It is simply inhuman not to wish to work overtime and to work on Sundays. If you provide pay on those scales for overtime and for Sunday work, you will certainly have overtime and work on Sundays if it can possibly be arranged. I am not going to attribute any shirking to the men in the remaining portions of the week paid on the ordinary scale, but I say that during those times they will not have the power of producing that which they would have been able to produce if you had worked them only ordinary time. Therefore, I say that your indecision in coming down definitely and saying that wages shall be on a certain scale, that they shall bear a certain ratio to the cost of living, and that there shall be no advances because of other conditions, and your indecision in allowing a state of circumstances to arise which positively tempts men to work under conditions in which they do not produce their best, is a source of demoralisation. I have put the case in general terms. I have, as I have said, heard many details, but I have not felt that it was necessary to put the details, which are technical, to this House. It would be unwise to make detailed statements in regard to so vital a matter. My object to-day in speaking thus has been to lay bare, if I can, not the faults of the Government, but the state of feeling, the state of opinion, and the state of temper which you have got to tackle as a human fact. There is no good in simply blaming the masters and men, arraigning them before the nation, before the Allies, and 243 before the whole world. You only induce deep resentment when you yourselves are in part, at any rate, to blame.
I, for one, am perfectly ready to carry the message put so powerfully last week both by the Leader of the House and by the First Lord of the Admiralty—the message of the nation's need—but before I go to my Constituents and my friends in the North I want to hear no more Departmental defence. We have reached a crisis now when it is insufficient to justify a Department or to put up a technical defence. We want you to take stronger ground than that. We do not care if you admit that there have been mistakes in the past. We want you to take the broad situation and to say that these errors, which accumulating have produced this unfortunate situation, are going to be remedied and to be remedied in a generous and broad spirit. Then, and then only, shall I feel with my friends that we stand on a firm platform and that we can go and say to our men, "You know generally the situation, but you are busy and have not time to read about it in detail. We have come to impress upon you that this really is the crisis of the War and that in your hands and in your industry rests the crisis of crises. Whatever mistakes have been made in the past, you may be perfectly certain that the Admiralty is the first to admit them and is not taking up any of the ordinary Parliamentary defensive positions, but is going to treat you as comrades in the great work and as a human organisation." I have spoken broadly and I have spoken strongly. I am bearing witness to what I know. I have not spoken often in this House and least of all have I attacked the Government. I am not attacking the Government now. I am trying to induce them to understand the very natural circumstances that have arisen on the Clyde and to understand also that they must cure those circumstances, not by blaming the whole industry, but by admitting that they or their officials have made mistakes—the greatest general is the general who makes the fewest mistakes—and that they are going to work with the industry. We started this War with the officials in our Government Departments suspecting the industries with which they had to contract. Under peace conditions it is perfectly possible that suspicion is often a right spirit of caution, but when you came to this War the only possible thing to do was to find 244 out who were the very biggest people connected with your essential industries and to throw yourselves bodily into their hands. That is the spirit which this great industry expects at the present time. That is the spirit which this great industry feels that it has not had up to now. If, as the result of what happened last week, we can now start afresh, I only hope that it is not too late and that we may have effected something which will, at any rate, render the future easier.
§ 7.0 P.M.
Sir WALTER RUNCIMAN
It is the first time that I have risen to speak in this House. I know nothing at all about academics, but I do know something about shipbuilding, and I know how to navigate a ship. I know when I get a good ship and when I get a bad one. I think the statement made the other day by the First Lord of the Admiralty about shipbuilders and their men was grossly incorrect and uncalled-for. It has been very properly resented both by the men and the masters. I know about shipbuilding, because I have been at it all my life, and I am connected with it now. The information that I have is that the output has been delayed on account of beardless novices and apprentices coming down to teach men who have-been accustomed to build for many years. I have built with three distinct firms, and before the War each of those firms was turning out of its yards two vessels a fort night. I challenge anyone in this House or outside it to say that the Yankees can do any better than that. Another yard that I was accustomed to deal with turned out one vessel every three weeks. They had no trouble with their men, or, if they had, it was very natural and human, and they got over it without any Government interference. Wherever the Government comes in there is sure to be trouble both with the men and with the masters. The great fault lies over there (pointing to the Treasury Bench). They have sent men down to teach other men who were practical, and who were geniuses at their work. These men will not stand it, but they are afraid to speak openly about it. Only the other day a builder said to me. The work that we are having to do now would have been greatly accelerated had it not been for the planning and replanning." I have myself built over 100 vessels on the North-East Coast, and I never was more than a quarter of an hour in making the contract. It takes the Government six months to make up their minds what they 245 really do want. If they had carried on the process that was in vogue before the War commenced, and if they had not taken away the best men from the yards, they would have had these vessels turned out just as quickly as they were turned out before the War. The Government is open to the grave indictment of having created the greatest peril with which we are confronted to-day. They would not allow the shipbuilders to have the men to finish the vessels that were in course of construction. Everybody had to go to the War. I am here to state that we wanted men as soldiers, but we wanted men to build the ships to provide the soldiers with the materials with which to fight and to carry their stores, and so on. I am quite sure that this thing will not be remedied until you sweep the decks of all that rubbish (pointing to the Treasury Bench). Some of them I would not carry as ballast. The Government must drop this experimental dodge. They ought not to select men, because they imagine that they can talk well and in a theoretical way. You have to judge of a man by results. If a man comes into my office and begins to talk to me, well, he had better slip downstairs. I do not waste much time over him. The fact of the matter is there has been too much time wasted over theories, new inventions, and things of that sort. When they begin building these freaks —these standardised boats—they actually put bronze propellers in them when they were starving for metal. After months had passed, they all at once realised that they would have to continue on the old plan of putting in iron or steel propellers. That is a most disgraceful state of things. The Government imagine that if they have a high class shipbuilder at the head of a Department to create vessels which I myself am accustomed to build, that he is the best possible man. That is a great error. You want to appoint a man who is accustomed to dealing with that particular article, and who knows all about it. I am drawing a contrast between the liner man and the man who knows the ordinary cargo boat. The liner man knows nothing at all about that speciality but we know all about his speciality. We can do his job; he cannot do ours, and the sooner it is put a stop to the better. We are confronted with one of the gravest problems—it is not a problem at all if you tackle it properly—or rather it 246 is a great peril with which we are confronted. If you do not tackle it you will find that we shall be in a terrible mesa directly. You should throw the yards open to the masters and men and let them carry on their work as they did before the War, and then you will find that the results will be all that you require.
§ Mr. ROCH
The hon. Gentleman who initiated the Debate on this subject was justified in saying that he was calling, attention to one of the most serious questions with which we are confronted at the moment. I hope that the representatives, of the Government and of the Admiralty will not feel, if any criticisms are made of the policy or of what they have done-in the past, that those criticisms will be-offered from any ill-intentioned motive. If we have criticisms to make, this is the place to make them, where they can be answered and dealt with in a proper and satisfactory way. It is possible, in looking at shipbuilding, now that some further light and figures are common property and knowledge, to take a more or less comprehensive survey of the results that have been achieved for some twelve months. When we look at the gravity of the position with which we are faced, when we realise what is now common property, that the net result of the last year is that our tonnage is down by one-fifth or 20 per cent. of our total amount, even allowing for new construction—when we look at that fact, which is now public property, we are entitled to have the fullest explanation from the Government as to whether they have done everything that is possible to remedy the serious position with which we are now confronted. On a previous occasion, I ventured to call the attention of the Admiralty to what I regard as the crucial point of shipbuilding. I am glad to-know that I have been fortified by the eloquence of the hon. Baronet the Member for Hartlepool (Sir W. Runciman), who, in more vigorous language than I shall use, put his finger on the real spot.
I asked the representative of the Admiralty only a few days ago whether he was satisfied that things were right, right at the very top? It is not unfair to ask that question, for the Admiralty in their speeches have not been slow to lay the blame on other people. They have blamed quite impartially both the masters and the men. In saying a few words 247 about the results, the point I wish to emphasise is that there is something still to be done at the top. We have had changes, we have had the control of shipbuilding taken away from the Shipping Controller and we have had it given to the Admiralty, we have had Committees and various people appointed. I will endeavour to show to the right hon. Gentleman that the effect of all this chopping and changing, judged by results, has been that there has been a breakdown in the organisation at the top. When this new organisation was put forward we were given various estimates of what was going to be achieved. Those estimates were given by the Prime Minister and Lord Curzon. I am not going to make a controversial or debating point at all, but it is within everybody's knowledge that estimates were given by these leading members of the War Cabinet showing that we were going to turn out at the rate of from two million to three million tons a year. Those estimates were not made on the authority of those Gentlemen; they were given, I suppose, after survey and after figures and on memoranda supplied to them by the people responsible as to what they could achieve. The estimates which have been made by the Prime Minister and by Lord Curzon have absolutely broken down when you look at the actual figures. The second point I would emphasise is that we were told by the First Lord himself that there was no lack of material in the shipyards. Given the fact that there was no lack of material in the shipyards, we are entitled to ask very carefully and closely what has been the organisation and what have been the results which that organisation has achieved? Let us look at the results which have been achieved. The organisation of the Admiralty designed the standard ship
§ Mr. ROCH
Well, whoever did it—no one knows who did—at any rate, the standard ship was designed. The whole case for the standard ship was that the design of a ship was going to be framed which would enable ships to be turned out quicker than the old design upon which the shipbuilders were in the habit of constructing ships. Now we are able to look at that, tested by the cold logic 248 of results. If you take the last thirteen months, you will find that orders for 345 standard ships were given and only seventeen were delivered in the thirteen months. That requires some explanation which has not been given. If you look at the matter in the terms of tonnage, you will find that the standard ships in thirteen months amount to only 86,000 tons, with a carrying capacity of 130,000 tons. If you take February, you will find, acording to Sir John Ellerman's statement, that only five standard ships of a very small tonnage have been delivered at all. These are ships for which the Government have a special responsibility. Theirs was the policy of initiating the standard ship. They forced them on people who were 10th to build them and who criticised them. I may remind the right hon. Gentleman that one of the strongest critics, whom I regret that illness alone keeps from making some forcible remarks this evening—I refer to my hon. Friend the Member for the West Toxteth Division (Mr. Houston) —derided the standard ships when they were initiated, and unfortunately, like Cassandra's, his prophecies have turned out to be only too true. The evil of these standard ships is that the Government have sought to force on the shipbuilders their own pet design. The result of that has been that in many cases they have forced shipbuilders not to go on with the ships they were then building, in order to make way for the standard ships. I will give the right hon. Gentleman a case in point. This was a ship which is being built for an hon. Member of this House— the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt).
§ Mr. ROCH
It is, I understand, a cargo carrier of over 10,000 tons, which in May of last year was half built. It has been put upon one side in favour of a standard ship, and is not completed yet. The effect of that is that this ship with its large tonnage has not been completed, and the slip, which might have been used if the ship had been got out of the way, has really been at a standstill because of the policy that has been adopted. If you compare the standard ship with the other ship, you will find there a condemnation of the policy, because what ray of light there is on shipbuilding is found only if you look at the results the Government designs show compared with those of shipbuilders who were left free. If you 249 take the last thirteen months, you will find that, exclusive of standard ships, over 1,000,000 tons, with a carrying capacity of 1,500,000 tons, were built by private shipbuilders. That shows the results where the shipbuilders were left to designs which were well known to them, which, I may remind the right hon. Gentleman, were more or less standardised already after the experience of years of time and skill. Indeed, I would quote to him a speech which he must have read, which was made by so great an authority and so big a shipbuilder as Sir John Ellerman, who said, quite explicitly and with the approval of a large number of shipowners and shipbuilders who were present at the meeting:Had the private owners been allowed to build, he had no hesitation in saying that the output of new boats would have been very much greater than it was to-day.I have made a general statement of the policy which the Government was pursuing, and the results they have achieved. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend once more, is he quite satisfied that his organisation right at the top has not broken down, judged by the only test by which you can judge an organisation—namely, the results it has produced? Having criticised, I hope not too strongly, and certainly not in ill-humour, the right hon. Gentleman and the Admiralty, I think he is entitled to say, Well, what ought we to do? I will very shortly, in a general way, make suggestions to him as to what he should do. One does not like to suggest more Committees or more Ministers, but first and foremost I would suggest that when creating a Ministry some practical shipbuilding expert should be put at the head of shipping construction generally—a man who will enjoy the confidence of shipbuilders—with years of practical experience and skill behind him. The second suggestion I would make is to leave this industry alone as far as possible. Give it a minimum of Government interference. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, while we all admit that the War has turned industry upside down, in every industry men are feeling that when the blighting hand of the Government is upon them all their best efforts will be destroyed. So I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, having appointed the really right man, give him his head. Tell him what he wants to do, which is, I suppose, to get the greatest maximum possible of shipbuilding; tell him to go to 250 the Clyde, to go to the shipbuilders, to go to the men, let them make their own arrangements, as they have done for years-and years in the industry to which they have given the best years of their life; and I would say to him, in Heaven's name,, in taking up this reorganisation, do not take another hotel in London! The right place for these masters of industry dealing with shipbuilding is not a hotel in London. It is in the centre where the work is being carried out. We have practical experience of this. The woollen industry was centralised here in London. I admit they got one or two very good men, but it was centralised in a public building in London. Result, failure! If the right hon. Gentleman will inquire of the Reconstruction Minister he will find that once this wool control was taken away from London and put in the more healthy atmosphere of Bradford, and places where textiles are made, and people were carrying on their ordinary vocations, the muddle which was made over wool was put right by that simple remedy of leaving the people who had experience of it to work their own industry in their own way. The same thing is being done in cotton—not in a hotel in London, but done by the people skilled in the cotton industry making their own arrangements with the men, carrying on their own industry in their own way and giving the Government the best results they could possibly look for.
There is one other point. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that in the urgency of the present position he is get-ting the men for the shipyards? He was tackled here by an bon. Member who asked him, how many are you getting of the 20,000 men you have been promised. You are not getting many. Is there obstruction from the Army? If not, why are you not getting the men? After all, important as the Army is, the communications of the Army are now vitally threatened, and have to be protected by the ships which are turned out, and great though the service of 20,000 men in the Army will be in the months that lay before us, the service of 20,000 skilled men in the shipyards working their best is greater than anything they can do in the Army. Those are the points I want to put before the right hon. Gentleman. I have tried to put them as clearly and as fairly as I can, and I hope he will give-a full explanation of what the Admiralty is doing and has done.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
My hon. Friend (Sir W. Runciman) said it never took him more than a quarter of an hour to make and sign a contract for all the numerous ships which he has built. I can only regret that he took so long to fulfil his contract with this House in making his first speech, for it was plain direct hitting, which the House likes. A very strong indictment indeed has been brought by the three hon. Members who have spoken against the Admiralty in reference to this question of shipbuilding. I can only regret exceedingly that it has to be brought against the Admiralty, for why the Admiralty should ever have undertaken this avalanche of merchant shipbuilding which is contemplated I have never been able to understand. It has hindered the conduct of the War. It is not merely merchant shipping which has been hindered. Naval shipbuilding itself has been hindered, and of that the House knows nothing, because nothing has been told it. It would be, of course, impossible for me to refer to the particular ships and valuable ships which have been delayed by the fact that the Admiralty has undertaken this work. I deeply regret it, and if the proposal of my hon. Friend (Mr. Roch) is adopted, I hope merchant shipbuilding will march right out of the building of the Admiralty and be carried out on the spot, as he suggests. Of course, it would be impossible to appoint the ordinary shipbuilder who controls merchant shipbuilding to control Admiralty shipbuilding too, because they are two totally distinct branches.
I must apologise for intervening on another subject, but I am helpless in the matter. I sacrificed my right to speak on the Report stage yesterday in reference to the question of the promotion of captains to the rank of rear-admiral, which has hitherto been governed entirely by seniority, and concerning which the First Lord drew attention to the break that he has made in the case of Commodore Tyrrwhitt. I attach great importance to this question, and I have for years fought to get this system of promotion by seniority altered. It is not a question of promotion by merit versus promotion by seniority, but a question whether you could not run the two systems together and choose officers who have proved that they are thoroughly deserving of promotion side by side with the numbers of officers who are promoted by 252 seniority. We have now 32,000 officers in the Navy. By no possibility can more than a hundred of them reach flag rank during this War, unless it is unduly prolonged. There are 324 captains in the Navy, and it takes 11½ years to get from the bottom of the captains' list on to the rear admirals' list. That means that any captain of five or six years seniority, however great may be his abilities, however distinguished ho may have proved himself in this War, can never reach flag rank during this War. The Admiralty does not apply that doctrine to the commanders' list or the lieutenants' list. There you have promotion entirely by selection. I find that in promoting from commanders to captains last summer the Admiralty dived down to number 345 on the list. In promotions from lieutenants to commander the Admiralty dived down to the man who was number 527 on the list. Yet you have this system of forming up in a queue in regard to captains, except in this single case of Commodore Tyrrwhitt, to whom the new Board of Admiralty, which I hope is a reforming Board, has given the promotion he so thoroughly deserves, and which would not have been obtained otherwise until 1920.
The First Lord said that there had been a preponderance of opinion hitherto in favour of promotion by direct seniority from the captains' list. That is not strictly correct. If you go to the senior officers of the Navy, doubtless you get an opinion in favour of promotion by selection. But the great body of officers in the Navy are junior officers. There are only 102 men on the admirals' list. They are wedded to the system by long habit and long custom—so wedded to it that there is an expression in the Navy among junior officers that the trade union of senior officers in the Navy is the strongest in the word. Anyhow, it must be fairly strong in having succeeded, ever since the year 1786, in keeping this system of promotion by seniority going—a system which has not been claimed, I believe, by any trade union in the world. When I come to look abroad I find that General Pétain, the Commander-in-Chief of the French Army, was a colonel at the beginning of the War. I find that we have something like half a dozen men who were colonels at the beginning of the War who are now lieutenant-generals, commanding armies greater than Wellington ever commanded. I find no parallel whatever to that in the Navy. I 253 cannot help thinking it is wrong. I find that nearly all soldiers are in favour of the system of promoton by merit. Lord Roberts was in favour of it. The Army Committee of 1906 reported strongly in favour of it. They said:We believe the principle of the selection of the best man to be now so firmly established in the Army that there will be no tendency to go back on it.When I go to the American Navy I find that in the past the two greatest American admirals, Farragut and Dewey, were in favour of it. Admiral Sims was promoted through two grades by selection. When I go back to the past history of our own Navy our great admirals were all in favour of it—Anson, Howe, Hood, Hawke, and St. Vincent—and the two best of our modern admirals, to whom I should like to call my hon. and gallant Friend's (Sir H. Meux) attention if he were present, Sir T. Byam Martin and Sir Geoffrey Hornby, were in favour of promotion by selection. We have precedents in the past. In 1747, 1770, and 1789 we resorted to promotion by selection, and the Admiralty have always had power—it was not necessary, as the First Lord said, to say they never recommended the Sovereign that he should on occasion exercise the prerogative which he has always had—but they have power by the Order in Council of 1855 to select whom they like, to promote whom they like, and give him acting rank, only they never exercise that power.
Why I bring this matter particularly before the House of Commons is this: When Lord Howe had on three occasions to defend his promotion by selection in 1787 in the House of Commons he got increasing majorities each time, and he used this argument on one occasion. He said:The protection of the House of Commons was what officers always looked up to and what contributed essentially to preserve a spirit of emulation among them.You cannot get a spirit of emulation among the captains of the Navy if they feel that whatever they do, however great are the services they may render to this country, their promotion will only be automatic and they will have no chance, if they have only six or seven years' seniority, in hoisting their flag in this War, or, if the War lasts another year, men who have ten years' seniority will have no chance of hoisting their flag. The system of promotion by selection is the one that gave us Vernon. He was promoted from captain to vice-admiral. It gave us Anson, who went over sixty-six heads. It 254 is the one that gave us Hawke. At the age of thirty-two he was promoted to rear-admiral, or the same age at which this Parliament confided the organisation of the Parliamentary Armies to Fairfax. The system which gave us those men, the system which exists in the British Army, in all foreign armies, all foreign navies, the system which the Germans brought in as a matter of necessity after their defeats at the Battle of Jena and elsewhere, is one which the Admiralty would be wise to apply, not in one case only, but in a good many cases where they find merit.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
The First Lord desires me to say that he is extremely sorry not to have been present to-day, but his work is very arduous and he is engaged at the present moment on urgent Departmental work which makes it impossible for him to be here. Perhaps my hon. Friends will accept my endeavour to represent him. I would like to deal with the last point first and that is the promotion of captains to acting flag rank. The First Lord himself dealt with that fully in his speech last Tuesday in introducing the Navy Estimates and as my hon. and gallant Friend (Commander Bellairs) knows, or perhaps I may tell him, the matter has been considered very carefully by the Board on the Report of a Committee of the Board and a policy has been adopted to meet war needs in the very best way, and to meet them in such a way as to put out of the question the possibility of the exercise of personal influence or patronage coming into play in determining these appointments. My hon. and gallant Friend may rest quite fully assured that that policy will be carried out in a way which I know he would recommend himself, judging from conversations I have had with him. He will, therefore, excuse me if, having said that, I turn to the very grave problem which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for the Camlachie Division (Mr. Mackinder), whom I thank for having raised it.
I thank all my hon. Friends who have taken part in this Debate for the generally helpful character of their speeches. I fully realise that those speeches are meant to help. They are really a practical contribution to the advice which we are giving to everybody else, to all concerned, directly or indirectly, to pull together on the rope. As I said last Thursday, the more this subject is ventilated in this House and in the country, the quicker we shall get new tonnage 255 —new tonnage which will balance the merchant losses of the day and enable us thereafter to make good the balance of the losses of the past. I reminded the House last Thursday of the simple salient facts of the case as between the merchant tonnage and the unrestricted use of the submarine by the enemy, and I hope I may be forgiven for repeating these simple salient facts, because they are necessary to lead up to the comment I desire to make on several matters of great importance raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Camlachie. I said (1) that we know that the sinking of enemy submarines steadily increases. (2) We know that the means of dealing with the submarine grows steadily. (3) We know that new merchant construction has steadily increased, though I admitted, as I had to do regretfully, that it has not so steadily increased recently. (4) We know, and I explained, that careful and far-seeing plans have been made for further considerable increases in output of new tonnage, particularly by America and ourselves, not forgetting the Dominion of Canada. I explained further—and this is the only assumption that has to be made —that if the enemy submarine activities remain pretty constant at their present level, then, given goodwill and hearty co-operation on the part of all concerned—and that is what my hon. Friend is appealing for—we have before us a date at which the new construction of the day will balance the merchant losses of the day, and with the same continued co-operation and goodwill we shall thereafter be in a position to make good the losses of the past. I am sorry to repeat these facts, but they really are essential, I think, to a clear understanding of the problem. That date can be hastened or retarded, obviously. Retardation also obviously involves the gravest possible danger. It involves the lengthening out, the dangerous lengthening out, of the periods of short supply and struggle. On the other hand, it can be hastened if everybody concerned, Admiralty official, shipbuilder, yard manager, and operative, will throw themselves into the work with good British doggedness and determination.
We have made mistakes, of course; but do not let it be said that we are seeking, or that we wish in any way to pass on our mistakes to the shoulders either of the employers or the employed. That is no good. That will not help us, and 256 we do not desire to do that. That really might be used by a certain small section, of the existence of which my hon. Friend is familiar, as retarding rather than assisting the very thing he desires. We do not desire to charge the mistakes we are making to the workers. Not at all. My hon. Friend (Sir W. Runciman), an a lusty maiden speech, which we all listened to with the greatest possible pleasure, said, Sweep the deck Well, sweep it, so long as you get new tonnage. That is what we have got to get, and must get. Let me say this warning word. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembrokeshire (Mr. Roch), whose two speeches on this matter have been of the greatest assistance, said, Had you not better take this thing right away from the Admiralty, and start afresh. I do appeal to the House not to entertain that idea. You cannot put this into the melting pot once more. You want immediate tonnage, and you are not going to get immediate tonnage by the grave dislocation and grave delay which would inevitably be caused if that advice were followed. If I thought that it was wise advice and that it would give us tonnage, by all means I would recommend it. I do not suggest that the Admiralty organisation at the top is perfect, not at all, but the very drastic proposition of starting afresh with new Ministers or a new Department charged solely with the output of new merchant tonnage would involve a change which, in view of the fact that we want immediate new tonnage, would mean great delay.
My hon. Friend who introduced the subject with nothing but patriotic purpose called my attention to certain questions which I recognise have been largely based upon comment by a special correspondent in the Glasgow Herald It is an article by a special correspondent in the Glasgow Herald of yesterday. I have read that article with considerable interest. Of course, anything that appears in the "Glasgow Herald," conducted as it is with great skill and great knowledge in the midst of a great shipbuilding centre, is worthy of careful attention, and if I make a quotation or two from that special correspondent's article in my reply the hon. Member will realise that I am endeavouring to answer his speech and to give a message to the Clyde, which I know he is anxious, for patriotic purposes, should be given. But before I come to that I would like to make 257 another general observation, an observation which emerges in my mind from the public discussion in this House and out side in the Press, which has most properly arisen on this tonnage problem within the last few days, as a consequence mainly of the disappointing failures in regard to the January output. I observe that there is pretty general agreement in all quarters that one reason—in some quarters it is given as the reason—for the failure is the defectiveness of Admiralty organisation at the top. I hope that in this matter I shall not make what is generally spoken of as an official reply. I am far less concerned with defending Admiralty organisation than I am to get tonnage. But I know enough of the several phases of this very complex problem of shipbuilding to feel entitled to say a word of warning. It may very well be that we have not got the last word in perfect organisation on the Admiralty shipbuilding side. The Department is not twelve months old. We have already made changes called for by day-to-day experience of the working of the problem. I will mention those in a moment. If there are still defects, they must be dealt with promptly and without respect for persons. The problem is far too vital to the British Empire to allow us to be satisfied with second best for the sake of somebody's feedings. Therefore, if the machinery needs improving, let it be improved, and improved at once. But if you make the machinery at the top as perfect as the most severe critic would wish—you may adjust it in such a way that it may satisfy the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Sir W. Runciman) —let the House and the country be under no delusion; you will not get the tonnage unless at the other end, in the yard and elsewhere, everybody pulls on the rope for all he is worth.
The case is not fully stated by a criticism of the machinery at the top, and the House and the country will make a fatal error if they think that they are going to put this thing straight by making all the modifications that may be necessary in the machinery at the top. It may be necessary to do that, and, if it is necessary, let it be done promptly; but I do say that all concerned, whoever he may be, Admiralty official, employer, yard manager, inspector, or operative, we must all out all along the line. The employers and the employed in the shipyards and in the engine shops have got to realise that even after three and a half years of 258 long, wearisome, sustained toil and endeavour—and nobody knows how wearisome it is if he has not loyally and faithfully tried to do his duty these three and a half years—it is a fact that everybody must be all out for the production of ships, just as everybody were all out for shells in 1915. It was shells then, and it is ships now—that is all. If we are to realise the forecast for January to March this year, March will have to give us an output a good deal more than twice the output of February. That is clearly understood.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I have not the precise figures, but they were a great deal better in February than in January. They were almost double, I believe, but they were still below the forecast. If we are to realise the forecast for January-March we shall have to turn out in March an output more than twice that of February.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The Prime Minister stated that the November and December returns were lower than they would have been because thirty-four ships had been converted into oilers.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I have already explained to the House that the last quarter (October—December) gave us a surplus notwithstanding the defection, if I may so call it, of December. In January, after making the widest allowance for bad weather—and it was exceptionally bad—and for holidays, the result was very disappointing. February was better, nearly double January, but it was still below the forecast, and if we are to realise the January-March forecast we shall have to turn out in March twice the output of February, plus the excess we had in hand from the last quarter, October—December, 1917. I was at Trafalgar Square last Friday and I watched with deep interest what went on there. I have just come back from Camberwell where there has been a similar function with a tank, and I can only say that if the enthusiasm which is being put into the tank campaign, if the same splendid emulation, determination, patriotic competition and whole-hearted rivalry which has marked the tank cam- 259 paign is aroused in our shipyards we shall get the tonnage we require. I have no doubt about that. I want to call attention to the article to which reference has been made and which deals with the question of reorganisation. I have already dealt with this matter to some extent. As a matter of fact, readjustments and rearrangements have been at work for some time. Certain changes have already been adopted by the Board as the result of the day-to-day experience of the Controller, and I want to ask this Committee not to believe that these changes are the work of ignorant amateurs who know nothing about shipbuilding. For instance, Mr. James Lithgow was, until recently, responsible for the production of hulls only; he has been commissioned to deal exclusively with merchant shipbuilding in private yards with both hulls and engines. Mr. Lithgow is not an ignorant amateur, but he is the senior partner of Messrs. Russell, shipbuilders, of Port Glasgow, a firm which has specialised in cargo shipbuilding for something like thirty or forty years.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
The Department was formed something like a year ago. I do not know whether he came to it at the outset, but, at any rate, he has been some time in the Department dealing with hulls only, and, of course, it is only recently that his powers have been extended.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
It is only recently that he has been given the whole supervision of hulls and machinery.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Yes, it may be, but he has been in the Department dealing with the hulls only of merchant ships a great deal longer. In pursuance of the same intention of making use of expert experience, the Department of Ship Repairers and Construction of Auxiliary Vessels for the Navy has been transferred from the superintendence of General Collard to that of Sir Thomas Bell. I need not tell the House that he is managing director of John Brown and Co., shipbuilders on the Clyde. General Collard 260 has been given general powers to devote himself exclusively to the development of our national shipyards, the national shipyards intended, as I have said, to supplement the output which we shall get from private yards even when they are extended by the schemes we have in progress of realisation. General Collard will be called upon to devote himself to the development of national shipyards and further to emergency work required to extend the existing private yards and engine shops. It has been pointed out in the various criticisms that the First Lord, the Controller, and the Deputy-Controller of Auxiliary Shipbuilding have no experience of shipbuilding, and although that may be literally true it must be considered in association with the fact that the Controller is himself a shipowner and has been associated for many years with the Orient Line.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
And my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool, who knows all about these things, is also not a shipbuilder.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
He is not to-day. What I want to point out is, however, that the First Lord, the Controller, and the Deputy-Controller of Auxiliary Shipbuilding are advised by a Shipbuilding Council that is composed of a number of leading men in this country, and, although the names of the members of that Council were published as far back as November last, I think it quite well to repeat them to-day. They include:
261 These gentlemen have not executive powers; they constitute an Advisory Board. Their duty is to give the best advice in their power to the Controller at his request, or even on the suggestion of one of their own number. We are also fortunate in having in the direct service of this Department a number of shipbuilding and engineering experts of great experience and very high standing. I have already mentioned Mr. Lithgow and Sir Thomas Bell, and to their names I may add the following:
- Mr. W. S. Abell, chief surveyor of Lloyd's.
- Mr. J. Brown, managing director, Messrs. Scott's Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Greenock.
- Sir George Carter, managing director, Messrs. Cammel, Laird and Company.
- Mr. F. N. Henderson, Messrs. D. and W. Henderson, shipbuilders, Glasgow.
- Mr. W. Summers Hunter, managing director, North-Eastern Marine Engineering Company, Wallsend-on-Tyne.
- Mr. James Marr, Messrs. J. L. Thompson and Company, shipbuilders, Sunder-land.
- Mr. A. C. Ross, director, Messrs. Hawthorn, Leslie and Company.
- Mr. H. B. Rowell, chairman, Messrs. Hawthorn, Leslie and Company.
Therefore, I do not think that the idea that the Department is conducted by a lot of well-meaning, but ignorant amateurs can be considered to be well founded, in view of the composition of this Committee.
- Major Maurice Denny, partner, Messrs. Denny Brothers, Dumbarton.
- Mr. G. S. F. Edwards, director, Messrs. Smith's Dock Company,
- Mr. H. M. Grayson, Messrs. H. and C. Grayson.
- Major J. W. Hamilton, chairman, Messrs. W. Hamilton and Co.
- Mr. Noel Peck, director, Messrs. Barclay Curie and Co.; director, Messrs. Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson; ex-vice-president, Shipbuilding Employers' Federation; ex-chairman, Clyde Shipbuilders' Association.
- Mr. A. W. Sampson, late director, Messrs. Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I cannot charge my memory with the particular dates of their meeting, but if the right hon. Gentleman wishes the information, and will put down a question, I will obtain it.
I desire to ask my right hon. Friend, before he leaves this subject, with reference to the position of Lord Pirrie. I understand there has been a conference between masters and men at the Admiralty, and I should like to be informed what has been the result of the deliberations with Lord Pirrie?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I know that Lord Pirrie has been in consultation with the First Lord, and if the right hon. Gentleman will put a question down I will give him what information I can. I should prefer he would take that course rather than that I should answer in a- general 262 sort of way. Now I come to what has been called the standard ship blunder. The standard ship was an honest endeavour to hasten output by the simple process of standardisation of parts. It was not, once more I must point out, the ill-informed project of amateurs. It was worked out, I am advised, after consultation with leading and representative shipbuilders and marine engineers—the Merchant Shipbuilding Advisory Committee to the Shipping Controller.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I cannot say that they disapproved it. I should not care to answer that question right off, but the object was to expedite the production of shipping by simplification and standardisation. The standard ships have been pulled about. It is not because people are fickle in their minds, and are anxious for change for change's sake. I do not think so for one minute. As experience grew, complaints arose from the shipbuilders that they were being called upon unnecesarily to adapt their capabilities to the ship rather than to adapt the ship to their capabilities. That is what it came to. In order to meet that we desired to give the necessary elasticity and adaptability, and it was, therefore, found desirable to introduce variations, in order to get the thing off anything in the nature of a procrustean bed. You may say this ought to have been foreseen. I do not make any complaint of that. I only know that if wisdom after the event is to be the criterion of sagacity, then one result of this War will be that Solomon will have a great many rivals.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I do not like to say. It is no good bandying this about, and if I cannot answer it is because the matter was then in the hands of the Shipping Controller. I do not give that as an excuse, because it looks like passing it on to someone else, and I do not like doing that, but it was not in our hands, I think. In order to meet that situation, variations were introduced in type and altera- 263 tions in plan. That is the fact, but I do dissent from the proposition that it was merely a matter of fickle change of mind and instability of purpose on the part of someone or other in the Controller's Department. That would really not be fair. There were other things. It is true we had to turn some of them into oilers. That again altered and delayed these ships. We lost oilers, we lost them unexpectedly, and we found it necessary owing to the exigencies of the War, to turn some of these into oilers. There was another thing. The experience of the submarine campaign—and this, of course, could not have been foreseen—brought home to us the necessity for certain changes that had to be made. That meant delay. I do not propose to tell the House what they were, but that fact again delayed these ships. I should like to make one reference to my hon. Friend's speech, namely, to the point of the men getting 50 per cent. more money for overtime, 100 per cent. on Sundays, and the extreme unwisdom of expecting men to give you good output all the time if they are working seven days on end continuously. I cordially agree with that, and I am going to support what I say by a quotation which I will make in a minute. As regards overtime, of course my hon. Friend does not suggest that a man having done a full week's, or a full day's, work in the daytime should not get overtime?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I quite agree; but I am afraid there are great difficulties in that. It never has been, so far as I know, a feature of the shipyard organisation that persons should be paid overtime only after full day time—and my right hon. Friend who presides over the Committee on National Expenditure called attention to that, particularly in his second Report: I know we have had many conferences with my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Henderson), my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Wilkie), and with Mr. John Hill, the representative of the Boilermakers' Society, in an endeavour to secure it—until a full week's pay-time has been put in—and we have been constantly dealing with that problem. As regards Sunday work, where in some oases, indeed, in most cases I rather fancy, double time is paid, just let me point this out. We were so impressed by the aspect of the matter put 264 by my hon. Friend, the absurdity of expecting a man to keep on the stretch continually, that on the 13th April, 1915, we sent to the superintendents of our own Royal Dockyards a letter in which the following occurred. I propose to read it:I am to acquaint you that My Lords, having given this question —that is, the question of Sunday labour,their careful consideration, desire that the employment of workmen in His Majesty's dockyards and naval establishments on Sundays shall be restricted as much as possible. Employment on Sundays should accordingly only be resorted to for particular services, and to a specified extent on each occasion, as may be approved by the Superintendent in order to comply with urgent requirements. The ordering of Sunday work will, it is anticipated, usually be confined to cases in which certain work has to be completed within a limited number of hours or days and hours (rather than in a number of weeks or months), or in which particular jobs on which the progress is precisely in proportion to the time continuously worked on them (that is, machine work jobs) are urgently required. I am to add that arrangements, such as has been made at Portsmouth Dockyard, whereby every employé (and horse) is given twenty-four hours off duty during a week, should be adopted to the fullest extent; those who are required to work on Sundays being given another day off in lieu.That was on the 13th April, 1915, and on the same date we sent to the private yards doing work under contract for us a letter which I will also quote:I am commanded by My Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to acquaint you that they have had under consideration the effect of Sunday labour on the output of naval shipbuilding and engineering work. Recent experience appears to show that over a long period more work will be done without Sunday labour than with it, and they have therefore decided that Sunday labour is to be discontinued forthwith on Admiralty shipbuilding and engineering work, except in cases of urgent fleet repairs or of concentration of labour upon vessels specially selected by the Admiralty for utmost acceleration, and in those cases Admiralty authority should be obtained. It is not desired, however, to exclude the possibility of work beginning with the night shift on Sunday night if that be desired in the general interest of proper organisation.All I can say is—and I have every reason to remember these documents, because I remember going into the matter prior to the 13th April, 1915—that we did not let the grass grow under our feet, but issued these two documents, one to the superintendents of Royal Dockyards, and the other to the managers of private yards so far back as the 13th April, 1915. I find myself on this point in complete agreement with my hon. Friend—namely, that it is impossible to expect maximum output from a man continuously on the 265 stretch all the time. I have dealt, I hope faithfully, with the several points that have been raised, and it only remains for me again to thank hon. Members for the helpful speeches they have made, and to agree that all this ventilation must contribute to the end we have before us—namely, to secure the maximum output from every man and woman concerned in this work.
§ Mr. H. SAMUEL
The subject to which the House has been addressing itself during the last hour or so is, perhaps, in the present state of public affairs, the most important of any that can engage its consideration, and the aspect of the House at this moment does not, I feel sure, in any way represent the depth of feeling with respect to it either among hon. Members or among the public outside. We have had several useful and practical speeches, and although it would, perhaps, be invidious to single out any one of them, I may be allowed, possibly, to make special reference to the speech of my hon. Friend behind me (Sir W. Runciman) who addressed the House for the first time in a speech full of useful knowledge and of practical information. Hitherto my hon. Friend has been content with having given to the House of Commons one of its ablest speakers, and has thought it was legitimate for him to keep silence himself. I am happy that on this occasion he has broken that silence, and I am sure we hope he will intervene frequently in our Debates in the future. I have followed with great care the speech of my right hon. Friend who has just sat down (Dr. Macnamara), a speech which was comprehensive, and which was delivered with his accustomed ability, but when I come to see what it amounts to, to glean from it what is in fact to be done, and what is now being done, he will forgive me if I say that the ultimate product is somewhat more. He tells us that if the German submarines do not increase their activity, if the shipbuilders and their men pull together and show energy and zeal, then the spirit of dogged British determination will pull us through. That is very satisfying so far as it goes, but it does not carry us very much further. He tells us also that, if occasion should arise, the Admiralty would make changes in the organisers of shipbuilding regardless of personal considerations.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say also that they would do so in the future. I do not think they have done so recently. Further, he told us that certainly they do not wish to shift their responsibility on to the shipbuilders and their employés, but that they recognise that they have made mistakes. Of course, we have made mistakes, he said, with that engaging frankness, giving the soft answer which turneth away wrath. Humility of spirit is a very attractive thing, but it is not the same as successful results, and an apology is not a justification. What the House wants is more ships, and we wish to be assured that the measures are now being taken which will give us the more ships. What are alleged to be the causes of the decline, the most disappointing decline, in the output of ships? Although the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken said that the Department did not wish to lay the blame on the shipyards, the First Lord in his speech the other day gave, I think, as the only cause on which he could put his finger of the recent disappointing decline of shipbuilding the unrest among the men.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
What I said was that I did not wish to put any shortcomings of ours upon anybody else.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
The First Lord in his previous speech in dealing with the causes of the decline of shipbuilding pointed to no other, if my memory serves me right, than the unrest among the men and the slackness in the shipyards. How much unrest among the men there is I am not in a position to say, but my hon. Friend who opened this Debate declared that so far as the Clyde was concerned the men were full of patriotic zeal, with the exception of a small minority, and that they had done and could be relied on to do their duty. With respect to the district with which I am well acquainted, the Teeside, part of which I have the honour to represent, I have inquired ever since the War frequently from the leading employers of labour there as to the attitude of the men, and whether they are satisfied as to the way in which the work was being done. I do not think on any occasion have I received are unsatisfactory reply. I, again, within the last few days, put the question to some of them, and received the same assurance that the men are working well, although there is still a certain amount of avoidable 267 absenteeism. Is there enough labour? The right hon. Gentleman was asked by one of the previous speakers to say whether the supply of labour was really adequate. The First Lord of the Admiralty told us the other day that it was. We should be glad to be reassured a little further on that point. It was announced a little while ago that 20,000 men were to be released from the Army to work in the shipyards. Have they been released? The rig-it hon. Gentleman says not yet, but that announcement was made some weeks ago. Can he give us any indication as to how many have been returned?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I can. I said in reply to my right hon. Friend that we hoped to get 1,000 a week during the latter part of February and onwards, and I said last week that up to, I think, the close of February the number we got was roughly about 800.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Speaking from memory, I cannot say offhand, but I gave the facts in reply to a question put by my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
During February, I gather, this has been going on at the rate of 800 a week, and if this has been going on for three or four weeks all that has been brought into the shipyards would be from 2,000 to 3,000 men.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I understood from the right hon. Gentleman that it had been going on at the rate of 800 a week.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
On the 16th of January, in reply to the Member for Tottenham, I said that we hoped to get 1,000a week during the last two weeks in February and onwards, and I gave the figures. I think there were by that time about 800. It must not be supposed that there were 800 a week at that time, but 800 in all were got back from the Army.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
There is an extraordinary disproportion between 800 on the one hand and 20,000 on the other. The Government declare that an increase in the amount of shipbuiuding is a vital and immediate necessity, and have secured the assent of the War Office to the release of 268 20,000 skilled workers from the Army for the purpose. A few weeks later, when a question is asked as to how many of these 20,000 are working in the shipyards, the number was under 800; and on the question, how many more were to come, it is said they hope in the future to get 1,000 a week. Even if they get 1,000 a week, it would take twenty weeks, or almost five months, before they get their number. But these prognostications are almost invariably disappointing in their result, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman and his Department ought to press the War Office for a far more rapid transfer of men to the shipyards than has so far been possible. Then with respect to Sunday labour, the waste of energy by the men working seven days a week, and the waste of money by their working six days a week, one of which is Sunday, for which they get double pay, with the consequence that they do six days' work and receive seven days' pay, which involves a very heavy charge on the taxpayer, my right hon. Friend was asked to give an assurance with respect to that, and the only reply he gave was to mention that in the naval dockyards, where ships of war are being constructed, as long ago as April, 1915, instructions were issued by the Admiralty that Sunday labour was to cease.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Yes, for naval work; but does that apply to yards which have been since brought in and have since been engaged on private shipbuilding?
§ Mr. SAMUEL
My right hon. Friend supports the principle. Our complaint is that these complaints are not followed by action. The principle is accepted, but no result occurs. My right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, who has recently been making inquiries into this matter, states that though as long ago as April, 1915, the Admiralty issued certain instructions, this Sunday labour is still going on to-day. If that is so, I venture, with all friendliness, to suggest to my right hon. Friend that he ought to tell the House of Commons, "It is quite true that we still have Sunday labour, and that men are receiving seven days' pay for six days' work—"
§ Mr. SAMUEL
From the speech of the right hon. Gentleman one would not have gathered it—"and it is quite true that they are sometimes exhausted by overwork, but the Admiralty will stop it. An order will be issued at once that this shall cease, and the principle which we admit is the right one shall be carried into effect." It is not enough to say, "We accept it," when we find month after month going by and the same practice which is condemned on the floor of the House continued on the Clyde and the other shipbuilding rivers. I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that there is great difficulty in stopping Sunday labour and Sunday pay, unless it is done simultaneously over the whole area of the industry, because it is, not unnaturally, very popular with the men, and if one shipyard tried to stop it the men Would flock into the other yards where the practice was continued, and therefore if it is done at all it should be done by a general Admiralty Order. Next we come to the standard ship. That is a matter for experts. But we gather from the right hon. Gentleman that the standardising of ships did in fact cause delay, and that the de-standardising, which has since followed, has caused more delay. Therefore, you have got a double delay owing to what appears to have been a very unfortunate experiment. If it was anticipated that there would be serious initial delay in order to secure more rapidity of output, it was for experts to say whether the initial delay was worth while in order to secure greater rapidity later on. But it appears from what the right hon. Gentleman has told us to-day that the result has been far from satisfactory, and that the outcome of the experiment in standard ships—I do not know whether he used it as a quotation or was expressng his own view—was to be regarded as a blunder.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I will not saddle the right hon. Gentleman with the use of that term. One of the main causes of the trouble in which we now find ourselves is one which he cannot remedy, and to attempt to undo which would make matters worse. It is the constant transfer of this whole question from one Department to another and one Minister to another.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
My right hon. Friend is quite right in resisting the attempt to 270 secure yet another transfer of the whole of this vast business. Within a period of sixteen months no fewer than four different Ministers have been entrusted with the business of supervising the mercantile marine shipbuilding of this country. In the first place, my right hon. Friend the late President of the Board of Trade gave it his most close attention up to the time when he resigned office with the Government of which he was a member, and it was not merely transferred from him, but it was transferred from his Department to the Department of the newly created Ministry of Shipping. Hardly had it been in their hands for four or five months when the Government transferred it to the Admiralty, at that time under the presidency of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Trinity College, Dublin. As soon as he had secured a grasp of the subject he left that Department and the work was transferred to a fourth Minister, the present First Lord of the Admiralty, who now has it in charge. What else could be expected with this continual transfer of a question full of complexities, with innumerable ramifications touching a score of different interests, from one Minister to another, but disappointing results in the actual output? Lastly, there is an allegation made by the shipowners themselves that too much State control has been the main contributing cause to the failure of shipping. We have innumerable controllers, committees, co-ordinators, but what we lack in ships is absolutely in strict ratio, and the more control, the less construction. I should have been very glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that they now propose to give greater latitude to the shipbuilding yards in the management of affairs, which they very thoroughly understand—an understanding which has enabled them to raise this country to the premier position in shipbuilding of the whole world. A little less regulation, a little less endeavour to procure uniformity, trusting the shipbuilders themselves to conduct their trade in their own way, I think would be likely to result in more satisfactory achievements. Unquestionably, there is deep disquiet in this country at the failure of this the greatest shipbuilding country in the world, in our moment of supreme need, in producing the utmost output of ships for our own service and for the service of our Allies, and I think the Government should assure the 271 House that there will be a complete review of the whole organisation. I hope they will be able to give us a definite assurance that matters in the immediate future will be put on a much better footing, or else invite the House itself to introduce a Parliamentary inquiry into the whole subject, with the view of making proposals for the better administration of the most vital part of our national services.