§ 18. Mr. Neil Maclean
asked the Minister of Labour what steps he is taking to increase the number of skilled workers; and what arrangements he is making to expand training?
§ Mr. Bevin
I am glad to have this opportunity of making a statement on the subject of the need for an increase in the 382 number of skilled workers and the expansion of training. There does appear to me to be a lack of appreciation in industry generally of the enormous need for a rapid expansion of training to meet the requirements of the expanding programme of munition production and the maintenance of a satisfactory export position. In this field it must be recognised that the enemy has paid special attention to this problem and if the Services are to be fully equipped and the necessary exports maintained then the whole of industry must devote more attention to this problem. Up to the moment, so far as training in the workshops is concerned, we have adopted the methods of persuasion, and this was necessary because we had to meet the urgent demands made upon industry by the exigencies of the war and the re-equipping of our Forces over the past three months and had, therefore, to use the facilities and machine tools that were ready at hand for actual productive work. I have done all that I can in co-operation with the Production Departments and the Engineering Employers' Federation to induce employers to undertake the maximum amount of training of men, both at the higher and lower levels of skill, and also the introduction and training of women. I have called in the experts to advise me as to how far and to what extent skilled men can be released, even in the manufacture of machine tools. I have caused the labour supply committees, the inspectors of labour supply and the factory inspectors to stimulate employers in every possible way to undertake training. If training is undertaken in the workshop it doe's mean that for a short period there may be a small sacrifice of immediate production. This temporary sacrifice must be faced but will be made good in very quick time. The Government are satisfied that the war is not going to end in the immediate future, and it is therefore of vital importance to initiate now the necessary steps that not only make good the temporary loss but will so greatly accelerate production a little later.
I am afraid that some employers are to some extent living in a fools' paradise in the matter of skilled labour. They must realise that the scarcity of various classes of skilled labour, as had already been revealed, will, in the absence of extensive 383 provision of training, be greatly accentuated by other factors. For example, large numbers of skilled men have been released from the Forces for return to the engineering factories. In the recent month it reached the figure of over 3,000. But the release is only provisional and with the growing needs of an expanding mechanical army, many of these men may have to go back at a later date. Further, it must not be assumed that the present rules in regard to reservation of certain occupations at certain ages can stand for the duration of the war. Here again there is an increasing demand for men for the Forces, both as tradesmen and for general service and it is by no means certain that the present balance as between industry and the Forces can remain undisturbed.
The training in the factory having regard to these factors must make provision for the training of (a) highly skilled people; (b) those who, with little training, can be turned into effective productive units; and (c) women; and under these three headings it must work in association with a continuous process of up-grading. The lesser skilled men and the women cannot be absorbed unless this up-grading and training process is accelerated. Therefore, with the upgrading the employers create the vacancies, and the necessary action can then be initiated through the Employment Exchange machinery to make the lesser skilled and women available by means of transfer from other industries. There is no excuse for delay. Employers have already been informed that the additional cost of training will be met by the Government. Training is much more effective, both for the works and for those being trained, if it is carried out voluntarily and with good will. I am therefore reluctant to make training obligatory on all employers but conditions may arise when this would have to be done. Employers should not wait for orders and regulations but should co-operate immediately in the solution of this problem.
The next form of training I desire to explain is the Government training centres. While these centres can contribute, they cannot take the place of training in the factory itself. These training centres operated by my Department were originally established for a special purpose in connection with unem 384 ployment, and only accepted men from the depressed areas. When the rearmament drive began the area of recruitment was extended to the whole country, and in the early months of the war my predecessor decided that the centres should be converted entirely from a social service to an essential part of the Government war machine. The capacity of the centres was extended and the technique of rapid training of new entrants to industry was introduced, so that they became highly semi-skilled workers within four months. People with special aptitudes are passed out in less than that time. I decided to take this a stage further by removing the condition that a trainee must be unemployed, and threw the training open to any person. We are drawing the trainees from almost every trade and calling and irrespective of age. We have also rearranged allowances with a view to removing hardship while men are going through the training period. The number of centres has now been increased to 19 training centres and their capacity greatly expanded. I have set myself as a goal a total of 40 centres, and additional sets of premises have been secured and are being adapted. Whether it will be possible to attain this goal depends on a number of factors which are not within my control. They are: instructors, managerial staff, and what is most important, machine tools and other equipment. I regard this as so vital that I have asked that the training centres should be placed in the highest category of priority in order to get them equipped. But this claim has to be balanced against the claims of immediate production. We have aimed to put the present centres on a full treble shift. As soon as the instructors and necessary staff are obtained the annual rate of output from the present centres should be in excess of 100,000 trainees a year. If the goal of 40 centres is achieved, we should be able to double this.
In the obtaining of instructors I desire to pay my tribute to the Amalgamated Engineering Union, and I have also secured a promise of help from the Engineering Employers' Federation. Every engineering employer should earnestly consider whether he cannot release one or two suitable men to become instructors in the training centres. I have increased the scale of pay, and instructors liable to night work will now receive a minimum 385 of £350 a year. I am also in need of persons of managerial capacity, who must be men with good technical qualifications and a substantial period of industrial experience.
The next factor in training is that I have, in association with my right hon. Friends the President of the Board of Education and the Secretary of State for Scotland, initiated a scheme of short courses of training through the technical colleges, and a number of classes are in operation. Many more should begin shortly. I am anxious that the technical colleges should produce at a rate of not less than 50,000 per year. I am also setting up training arrangements in garages, maintenance shops and other shops which have unused capacity, and I am trying in these ways to add substantial additions to the ranks of the trained workers for the war production campaign.
In this total war a combination of all these factors is essential if our needs are to be supplied. If the employers concerned are seized with the importance of training equally with my Department, I am satisfied that, with the aid of our Dominions and the United States of America, and with the fullest use of our man-power and the resources at our command, we can overtake any disparity that may now favour the enemy. It is, therefore, worth while making a supreme effort in this field.
§ Captain Bellenger
The right hon. Gentleman referred to German methods in this connection. Although I am not suggesting that German methods are ours, may I ask him whether he is not of the opinion that, at this stage of the war, these appeals are somewhat dilatory; and will he use the powers which he has, or if he has no powers will he seek powers to enforce on industry the appeal which he has now made to them on a voluntary basis?
§ Mr. Bevin
Parliament gave me the power that was necessary, but it is a little difficult to apply methods of compulsion in every factory alike. When you try to do it purely by regulation, it does not always work out right. I am satisfied that with this appeal to-day and with the response which is already forthcoming, the number of trainees will be doubled very shortly.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I think the House will welcome the statement which has been made by the Minister, as showing further progress towards the planning of industry. Is the Minister aware, however, that one of the great difficulties is that many skilled men have left highly-skilled work, which cannot be done on a piece-work basis, and have been drafted in to piecework jobs; that it will be very difficult in the normal way to get them back on to machine-tool work, where they are paid at time rates, and that this will handicap the right hon. Gentleman's efforts very considerably? Is the Minister in a position to say that he has made any progress in solving that important problem? I would also ask him whether, in his appeal to the managerial side of industry, he could not ask existing managers of many engineering works which are not hard pressed by urgent munitions work to give part of their time each day to this training in a voluntary way? Could he not do that, when dealing with this matter in the different districts?
§ Mr. Bevin
As regards the first question I think I made a statement to the House recently that I hoped the problem of the tool-maker was being solved. That was one of the first jobs which I did, by arranging that the average of the shops should be taken with a plus so that a man on a highly skilled job would go to his proper place, instead of being kept on the belts. A great deal has been done in that direction. With regard to the part-time voluntary method of training, apart from the technical colleges, one must have regard to the students as well as the teachers.
§ Mr. Stephen
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the Army there are 387 skilled engineers working as mess attendants and that the Army refuses to release them?
§ Mr. Bevin
The arrangement with the Army has been worked extremely well. It may be that, temporarily, in the Army, especially now that they are at home, a man may not be actually working at his trade, but I am bound to say this for the Forces that they have responded magnificently to the arrangement which exists between my Ministry and the War Office. Although at the moment men may not be working at their trades, at the same time it would be far too dangerous, with invasion facing us, to ask the Army to disperse all their Service men whom they may at any moment require if there is an attack. The services of these men may be temporarily given to what are regarded as not trade matters, but I am bound to agree that a very large number have to be retained.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir William Allen
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the advisability of establishing a training centre in Northern Ireland, where there are so many unemployed? I know that the Minister of Labour in Northern Ireland sends men over here for training, but we do require a training centre there.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts
Is the Minister satisfied that the number of places in technical colleges for training women is adequate?
§ Mr. Bevin
Because there is not time to train women to the highest skill efficiently to meet this programme, and we have to face the fact, especially in the case of women who are transferred from other trades that when trade revives, they will expect to go back to those trades. We have, first, to get the people up-graded and then to bring the women and the semi-skilled and unskilled men into the lower stages.
§ Mr. Speaker
The Minister has made a very long statement, and it seems to me that it would be preferable that hon. Members should consider it and absorb it, before asking any further questions.
§ Mr. Gallacher
On a point of Order. I would consider that very good advice in the ordinary course, but there seems to me to be something peculiar about that advice, in view of the fact that I have risen on every occasion to put a question.
On a point of Order. May I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister a question about his views on the training of women?