Oliver Lyttelton – 1943 Speech on War Production Plans

Below is the text of the speech made by Oliver Lyttelton, the then Minister of Production, in the House of Commons on 19 January 1943.

I should like to take this, which’ is the earliest, opportunity of making a short statement to the House about our war production plans for 1943, and particularly about certain developments taking place, which might otherwise lead to misunderstanding in industry and elsewhere. Nineteen forty-three will be a peak year in our war production; and the total labour force employed in the munitions industries during the year will considerably exceed the numbers employed in 1942. In order to obtain the additional labour force required and at the same time to satisfy the requirements of the Forces, there will have to be, by means of concentration or otherwise, further withdrawals of labour from the less essential industries and further mobilisation of women into industry, both for munitions work and as replacements for those transferred from the less essential industries. At the same time transfers of labour within the munition industries themselves must take place. In 1943 our plans demand that the increased emphasis should be placed on the manufacture of ships, of aircraft, of anti-U-boat devices, of tanks, and of certain specialised types of Army equipment. There are other types of equipment where the production ​ and the stocks which we have accumulated are already very great. In these cases we can afford, and it is necessary, to plan reductions in our programmes. In this way we shall achieve the requisite increase in output of weapons of all classes needed for maximum impact on the enemy during 1943.

Managers and workers who are affected by the changes in programmes which I have just described must realise that, notwithstanding any temporary dislocation that may occur, these changes are part of an ordered plan. If men and women find themselves being transferred to new work they will understand that it is because the new work is even more vitally important than that upon which they were previously engaged. If there is some temporary dislocation to management or to labour, the great and insistent demand for man and woman-power will quickly reabsorb them into new activities.

I would appeal to Members of this House, whose influence can be of so much importance in their constituencies, as well as to the managements of all companies, to give every assistance to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service in his difficult task, by explaining to their workpeople why the changes are necessary. If they are understood, doubt and uncertainty will not occur. In conclusion, I would emphasise that the number affected by these changes will, by comparison with the total number engaged, be small; for, as I have said, the coming year will be a peak year in our war production, and the total numbers employed as a whole will be much greater than in 1942. In short, while our plans necessitate certain changes in the production lines, the total volume of output must mount steadily. I am confident of our ability to achieve these objectives.

Mr. Stokes

Will the right hon. Gentleman take an early opportunity of informing the House more precisely as to the Government’s intentions with regard to the production of tanks, and particularly tank engines, and has he anything to tell the House about his visit to the United States?

Mr. Lyttelton

I will certainly take an early opportunity if one is offered to me.

Sir H. Williams

As it is proposed that we should discuss this matter in Secret ​ Session on the next two Sitting Days, and as the Minister has appealed to us to explain to our constituents what it is all about, shall we not be put into a very difficult position if we do not abandon the plan for a Secret Session? The vagueness of the Minister’s statement passes comprehension. If it is to be explained in Secret Session, Members will be in an impossible position.

Mr. Lyttelton

The reason I made this statement is so that the information should be made public.

Mr. Bellenger

Will the right hon. Gentleman elucidate further the question of whether these plans contemplate substantial transference of labour from one locality to another, or whether the reorganisation will take place only in the existing factories?

Mr. Lyttelton

There will be a certain transference from one part of the country to another; but the object, naturally, is to reduce that to a minimum. The transference to which I am referring is from one side of munitions production to another.

Mr. James Griffiths

As I gather that the proposals the Minister has outlined involve fairly substantial transfers of labour from one industry to another, might I ask whether that policy has been considered by the trade unions?

Mr. Lyttelton

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Griffiths

And agreed?

Mr. Lyttelton

The Government, I think, must be the judges of what types of munitions are to be made; but the fullest consultation has taken place regarding these transfers, and every effort will be made to effect them with the least possible dislocation.

Mr. Simmonds

Would my right hon. Friend repeat the assurance which he gave to the House before Christmas, that in the case of vital war industries the Minister of National Service would not remove men and women from the industries where the Supply Departments concerned stated that the production in those units was essential? [HON. MEMBERS: “Answer.”] This is a very vital point. Will my right hon. Friend confirm the assurance that he gave the House in previous circumstances, before Christmas, that the Minister of National Service will not remove from essential ​ war work men and women for transfer unless the Supply Department interested in the production of the undertaking concerned has been consulted and has confirmed the view that the change is in the national interest?

Mr. Lyttelton

Certainly, I can give that general assurance.

Sir Irving Albery

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the workers readily make any sacrifice which is called for, provided that there is a proper measure of equality in the sacrifice, but that there are at present considerable grievances about transfer, in respect both of pay and of hours, and will he have that matter looked into?

Mr. Lyttelton

We have that particular point very much in mind. I am afraid there will occasionally be inequalities.

Mr. Kirkwood

The Minister asked Members of Parliament to use their influence in their constituencies, because, as he forecast, there was bound to be trouble when he started to shift men and women from one district to another. Is he aware that the Minister of Labour is introducing the opposite policy, of saying—and saying to me in particular time and again—”Do not interfere at all; leave it to the trade union movement.” But I have settled disputes which the trade union movement have failed to check. What is the policy of the Government? Is it to allow themselves to be saddled with a dictatorship by the Minister of Labour, who is trying to push his cause? [Interruption.] I know what I am up against, and I am prepared to face even the Minister of Labour. This is a very serious business—very serious for me, because I have been a member of my trade union for 50 years, although not a paid trade union agitator. Is the policy of the Government the policy that the Minister of Labour tries to lay down, that Members of Parliament who are members of trade unions should not use their influence to get things put right? Is the Minister still in favour of our using the House of Commons, which I hope is still the most important body in this country? I will use it to fight for my class.

Mr. Lyttelton

On this matter I take a very simple view. The policy of the Government is to make the right weapons and at the same time to transfer labour with ​ as little disturbance as possible from one district to another. The statement which I have just read to the House was agreed upon with the Minister of Labour. It is a perfectly simple matter, and I asked Members of the House to explain in the country that, owing to the existence of stocks and so forth, some quite drastic changes in our production lines were about to take place.