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Export Trade (Services Call-Up)

Volume 415: debated on Monday 12 November 1945

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." [ Mr. Simmons.]

7.57 p.m.

I desire to raise a matter to which I have already drawn attention at Question time, with regard to the position of the export trade, with particular relationship to the present call-up of men to the Forces. When I questioned the Minister of Labour two or three weeks ago on this matter, I thought that the answers I received were not satisfactory. We are constantly told that the export trade is the life of this country and is very vital to us at this moment. Nobody in this House will be inclined to differ from that opinion, but while we are told that the export trade is vital—and, indeed, we have been told that in the last few days by the President of the Board of Trade, who said that our export trade must be multiplied at least by three if we are to survive—we find that difficulties which, I suggest, need not arise, are being placed in our way.

I do not quite understand the position with regard to the Ministry of Labour and National Service. The two Ministries joined into one, on the whole, seem to function harmoniously, but I think that now and then it looks as if the Ministry of Labour, which is responsible for labour, and the Ministry of National Service are like East and West, "and never the twain shall meet." The intentions of one are good, but the frustrations of the other are persistent. At the present moment there is a call-up into the Forces, and when one raises this matter one is informed that one must expect that the leeway resulting from demobilisation must be made good. We are all in a difficulty, because we are still waiting for a Government statement of policy with regard to our commitments in Europe and to the general postwar conscription policy. In the absence of any definition of that policy, I am entitled to say to my right hon. Friend that there are in the Forces more men than are needed, and that even if, as I would hope, the speed of demobilisation were accelerated, there would still be more men than were needed. In view of that, it seems unfortunate that this persistent call-up of people in the export trades should take place.

What is the exact position? So far as I can ascertain—and it is difficult to ascertain the position, for we get soft answers to our Questions and hard dealings from the Departments—the intentions are good but my right hon. Friend knows what is paved with good intentions. The results are by no means as good as the intentions expressed. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will give a soft answer tonight, and I have a good deal of misgiving as to what will be the sum effect after all. It is suggested that the people who are being called up to the Colours—comparatively young men—can be replaced by demobilised men. That is a most fallacious argument, and I intend to make that perfectly plain. None of the skilled men, particularly in the metal tool trades, were taken into the Forces, so that there are none of those to be released. There may be a handful of them who volunteered, but it would be an infinitesimal number. On the other hand, young men of 22 can be expert at machine tool manufacture. They can go into the trade at 14. During recent years, when there has been highly specialised production, they have become very qualified indeed.

It will be within the knowledge of my hon. Friend that we were in a serious position at the beginning of the war, particularly with regard to machine tools. We were behindhand, but that has been put right. Surely the present juncture is just as important. We cannot get ahead with our trade at home or with our export trade unless we have a full complement for the production of machine tools. It is about them that I am particularly concerned. At the moment I am informed that the demand for machine tools is, in ratio to supply, something like 5 to 3·5. This is not a moment, I suggest, in which there should be any further taking away. We are told that this will be done with discrimination. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend has prepared for me one of his eloquent and persuasive statements, in which he will tell me that whatever has to be done will be done with the utmost good will and with meticulous care. That he means that, I have not the slightest doubt, but what, in fact, takes place? Let me make one short quotation with regard to what is happening.

I am told again and again that Class B releases will help to solve the problem. Class B releases have loomed very large in this House in Question and answer, a great deal larger than they have loomed in actual practice. I have tried to get answers from the various Ministries, but I must confess that I do not understand them. I would like my hon. Friend to make clear what is happening under Class B, and if he will do that he will render great service to me and to a great number of other people. We are told that Class B releases are, in the main, block releases. In the machine tool trade—men are being called up and have gone from this trade—if men are to be replaced specially they will have to be specialist men. One of the firms in my constituency wrote to the Ministry on this matter, but the Ministry's answer is of such a character that the firm is left high and dry. This is a quotation from the letter which they received from the Ministry of Works, who say that Class B releases
"consist almost entirely of block releases of men who will be identified and traced by the Service authorities themselves….Generally the nomination of individual craftsmen for inclusion in this class cannot be accepted."
That is a definite statement from the Ministry of Supply. Therefore, it is not the slightest use suggesting that by general Class B releases there will be any readjustment of this leakage in expert men.

Then I have been informed in the House by the Minister that great care would be taken with regard to the calling up of these men, but there again we do not get exactly that kind of result in actual practice. One of the firms in my constituency is gravely concerned because it was visited a short time ago by an inspector who gave a rather dusty answer. This gentleman, who was sent there by the Ministry of Labour and National Service, went to this firm, Messrs. Maiden & Co., Ltd., in my constituency, in October. He said:
"All concerns are being treated alike even very large ones…it having been decided that those of call-up age must be called up, unless there are decided extenuating circumstances."
What on earth is meant by "decided extenuating circumstances" I do not know. There ought to be no question of extenuating circumstances. Either these men are wanted in key industries in connection with the export trade, or they are not, and extenuating circumstances surely do not apply. It looks rather like the old double-barrelled business which I have always found in the Ministry in regard to one-man businesses—"Try compassionate release, and if you can't get that, come back and begin all over again." One does not want that in this matter. Unless we can have our export trade, especially the making of machine tools, in which I am rightly concerned, there may be no real development for the export trade or the home trade, because the manufacture of machine tools is vitally important.

I have thought it right to raise this matter. We are very concerned with this case. I might be accused of being, to use a phrase which is too much bandied about in this House, constituency-minded. I plead "guilty" to that to some extent. That is why I am here—[An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."]. I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for his approval. This is much more than constituency business. It is national business. By our exports we live or we perish. Nobody can persuade me that there is such need to call up men from this important trade as to dislocate it, as is being done. I dare say my hon. Friend is in possession of information. It always surprises me when I notice how very well-informed Ministers and their Departments are when it comes to Debates upon the Adjournment, much more informed than they are at Question time.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the Engineering Industries Association. It is very efficient and represents more than 2,000 engineering firms. I expect he has already, in between his important duties, and on his way to France and back, been able to peruse this substantial memorandum of theirs. I am saying nothing unkind about his journey to France. One can always go to the Folies Bergères and read the mass of correspondence that comes to one day by day. [An Hon. Member: "And get shot at."] That is nothing new; one is continually being shot at here. This very important association has made a strong appeal and has said what they believe to be true, that the call-up is the greatest blow they have yet had. I have no desire to raise matters on the Adjournment merely in order to criticise the Minister. I should find it very hard to criticise my hon. Friend, whom I have known for so long. I believe he understands by now that what I am doing is to ask for favours and appeal for his consideration, and that I am not passing judgment. I will do that afterwards, perhaps.

At the moment I am asking for favours for the business people in my constituency, many of whom, I have no doubt, did their utmost to prevent my getting here. That will not prevent me from doing my utmost to see that they get a square deal. I am concerned that people who are employers and who have to face the question of full employment, as they ought to and as they can, should have help in their difficulty when their key men are taken away. I want to see our industries flourish. I am a believer in the export trade. In fact, if I had my way, exports would increase rather than decrease, although the nature of the exports might probably change very much.

8.10 p.m.

While I am fully in sympathy with my hon. Friend in his desire to increase the export trade, I must point out that if one absolves from service a certain number of persons who would otherwise be available for service in the Armed Forces, it will mean that men who are at present in the Armed Forces and who have been in for many years will have to be retained. We are told that a certain ceiling has been fixed for our Forces. The present figure, I understand, at home and abroad is about 4,500,000 men. I believe that figure is too high. If the Government have accepted the figures of Field-Marshal Montgomery and others, this proposal means that certain men must be retained beyond their age and service group. I would not be doing justice to the 7,700 constituents of mine who are in the Armed Forces if I did not bring this point to the notice of the House. I feel that the figure is far too large, but the Service chiefs have got away with it. Especially as regards the Army in Northern Europe, I think it should be materially reduced.

There has been a grave breach of an undertaking by the Government, and particularly by the Army Council. Officers who were specially selected for military government were told at the time of selection that their acceptance for staff duties in military government would in no way affect their release with their age and service groups. We now find that they are being retained for an indefinite period. Many of those officers were territorial officers, they have served throughout the war, and now they find themselves retained away from their homes in a strange land, under very hard conditions, in many cases, and for an indefinite period. They are in the forefront of what Field-Marshal Montgomery has called the ''battle of the winter. "If, in addition to fighting the battle of the winter, they and the men under them find that the people who ought to relieve them are being kept at home while they themselves are further retained, there will be a great feeling of disappointment in the Army on the Continent and in the Far East.

I do not think that this is fair. The solution is for the Government to press the Service chiefs to reduce their ceiling. Field-Marshal Montgomery has stated that he has reduced his staff by 16 per cent.; in my view it should be reduced by 60 per cent. The important people required in Germany today are the technical people and the military government officers. The others are merely garrison troops, and there is no need to keep swollen staffs for garrison troops. I beg the House to conside this question and to realise its implications. Although the number of men who will be retained may not be large, it will cause a great feeling of hardship among the soldiers. Hon. Members who receive correspondence from their constituents all over the world know that there is nothing that the men who are being kept away from their families for many years will feel more than this. While in sympathy with the object of my hon. Friend's proposal, I think that the way in which he desires the Government to carry it out would be most unfortunate.

8.15 p.m.

I would like to say a word or two in support of the case that has been made by my hon. Friend who opened the Debate, and to call special attention to the predicament in which a large number of small, highly-specialised precision engineers find themselves. They have very small staffs, and throughout the war they have loyally carried out the duties required of them. They are now called upon to carry out their reconversion to peacetime production, especially in the export field. During the war years they have taken on young men and trained them, over a period of four or five years, to do this highly skilled work. They are now finding their staffs denuded of the young men they have trained. We all agree that a great number of the young men under 30 must go into the Services to replace those due for release, but on behalf of firms in this position I appeal for a little more discrimination on the part of the Ministry of Labour. I have many such firms dispersed throughout my constituency, and I would like to quote a letter from one of them. It says:

"The drive today is for exports. We have gone all out and fixed up agencies in South America, the Colonies, France, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, etc., and we have considerable orders. If this drafting of our labour goes on it will be impossible to do anything about them. But the most serious aspect of the situation is that these youths who are being taken are being put into blind-alley jobs in the Army and Air Force; some are going into the cookhouse, and we now have a case where one of these youths who has had four years training and is now very well skilled is going as a storeman."
Itis not good enough to say that the places of the young men who have been trained in this highly-skilled precision engineering can be taken by the men who are coming back. The men who are coming back now have been away for five or six years. They are in the early release groups, and they have not the skill of the young men who have been trained during the past five or six years. I am not saying that they must all be retained; some of them must go. In this particular case, I have a letter from the Minister, received to-day, in which he says that out of seven such in this small firm four have been taken and three given deferment for a short time. In the interests of our export drive and of the needs of this industry, I appeal to the Minister to be a little less heavy-handed.

8.18 p.m.

Though I feel sympathetic towards the hon. Member who raised this matter, I think the weight of the argument rests with the hon. and gallant Member for South Croydon (Lieut.-Colonel Rees-Williams). The gravamen of the whole thing is, as he truly says, that there are far too many men being retained in the Army. Many men have had admirable training in the Army, the Air Force and the Navy. Many men have learnt trades in the Armed Forces, and they would provide valuable recruits to take the places of the young men of 22 and 23 who have been deferred. We are entitled to say to the Ministry of Labour that before they extract more men from the civilian pool of labour they must put back into it hundreds of thousands of the unemployed men now in uniform, particularly in this country.

What were the figures? Quoting from memory, I think we were told that there are more than 2,000,000 men in uniform in this country at the present time. I would go as far as to say that in the light of the country's present urgent civilian needs there should be two classes only—those under training, and those in hospital or awaiting discharge. What can 2,000,000 men in uniform be doing in this country at the present time to justify the pay they get and the food they eat? Surely it is time the Government said to the Service chiefs, "You are keeping far too many men in uniform; the economy of this country will not stand it. You must release not dozens, but hundreds of thousands of men, and you must release them immediately, before you get a single replacement" We are in the position that the scheme which was approved by the House of release by reference to age and length of service is rapidly becoming a thing of ridicule. There are already inequalities between the three Services, there are inequalities between branches in the same Service, and there are inequalities between officers and men.

The question of demobilisation has been raised on the Motion for the Adjournment before, and I am sure it will continue to be raised in the same manner. The case that was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) has not yet been answered. We appreciate the courtesy of the Secretary of State for War in coming here tonight; we are entitled to say to him, and if he has not the power to answer, to the Cabinet as a whole, "What is the answer to the case that was put by the right hon. Member for Woodford? Why are you keeping 4,000,000 men in uniform, 2,000,000 overseas and 2,000,000 in this country, when our export trade has to be built up, and all the requirements of our civilian population have to be met?"

8.22 p.m.

I wish to draw attention to the particular needs of my constituency. The problem affects Enfield acutely owing to the large number of engineering and light engineering industries which operate in that area. The Enfield Manufacturers'Association recently sent a questionnaire to all its members in the area, the results of which I have sent to the Minister of Labour, because those results showed beyond of all question of doubt that there were call-ups taking place in my constituency which were severely handicapping production in that area. One of the reasons for this is that in pre-war days there was a definite shortage of skilled labour in this country, and therefore, there are not in the Army men who are sufficiently qualified to be able to take the places of those key men who are now being called up. The key men who are being called up have for the most part been trained during the war; either they were apprentices at the beginning of the war, or they have been transferred from one job to another, and have become highly skilled during the war. If they are now called up into the Forces, it throws other people in these factories out of work and makes production for export very much more difficult.

I wish to refer to one particular case in my constituency, that of the Enfield Rolling Mills, a plant which engages in the manufacture of copper sheet, brass sheet, zinc and other materials used at home for the purposes of prefabricated houses and the repair of houses and used also in the export trade. In fact, the Enfield Rolling Mills are at present engaged on orders for the export of 4,000 tons of copper sheets to India and the near East and on various similar products in brass, zinc, and so forth. If three men in the rolling mills are called up, as they have been ordered to be at the present time, the firm will be in danger of being unable to fulfil those orders, and it is already turning away export orders because it is in an uncertain position as regards its men. I have sent particulars of this case to the Minister of Labour, and as a result of my representations certain action has been taken. I suggest to the Minister that the call-up of these three key men in this particular factory should not have taken place, because their call up throws 140 people out of work, it causes the withdrawal of certain orders which that fac- tory would otherwise be able to carry out, and those men cannot be replaced from the employment exchange, all efforts having been made to obtain replacements for them. This position should not have been arrived at; action should have been taken by the manpower boards in time to prevent the call-up of the men, and the call up should not have been stopped—if it has been—only after representations were made by a Member of Parliament.

It seems to me that, as regards the call-up of key men in the export trades, the trouble is that the standing instructions which the manpower boards and the manpower officers have at the present time are inadequate to meet the situation. Therefore, I urge the Minister to consider whether it is not necessary to review the standing instructions under which the manpower officers are acting, to see whether those standing instructions are adequate to the needs of today and really protect our export trades, and to see that they are then carried out.

8.26 p.m.

I have sympathy with hon. Members opposite who have enlarged upon the difficulties of manufacturers in reviving the export trade. I wish I were sufficiently ingenuous to believe that if the call-up of those under 30 were postponed those difficulties would be solved, but in my view the cause of the difficulties goes far deeper than that, and it will be for the Government to seek to resolve them in more effective ways than are at present being adopted. It is, indeed, rather astonishing tome that it can be argued at this time that the call-up of those under 30 would have such a damaging effect. During the war people were called up from time to time, and I do not think production suffered. I would say to hon. Members opposite, who have rather criticised the Government's action in this matter, that the real answer is not the postponement of the call-up of those under 30 who have not served, but the acceleration of the demobilisation of those who are still in the Forces.

I quite agree with the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. E. Davies) that it sounds highly wrong that three men should be called up if that would involve the unemployment of no fewer than 140 men, but I suggest that in the vast masses of those who are still in the Forces it would be possible, if demobilisation were proceeding at a proper speed, to find adequate replacements for those men. I hope that the Minister who replies to the Debate will not announce any further concession that will involve retarding the release of one person in the Forces. I venture to intervene in this Debate solely to add my voice in support of that plea and in support of the argument that the right way to deal with this problem and to get our export trade revived as speedily as possible is not the postponement of the call-up of young men under 30, but by an acceleration of the demobilisation of those who have served the country many miles away for so long and with such success.

8.29 p.m.

As the representative of one of the largest engineering constituencies in the country, I wish to make two points. It may be that my remarks will not find favour with my constituents, but I cannot help that. While I have every sympathy with the hon. Member who initiated the Debate, I cannot agree with his arguments. It is true that we have to improve our export trade, but are we to improve it at the cost of the freedom of many of our men who have been in the Forces for so many years? Recently, I put a question to the Minister concerning the release of men who have been in the Services for five years and their replacement by men aged from 30 to 35; in other words, the calling up of a higher age group as well, rather than the retention of young men in the factories who have had, throughout the war, security in the factories, whereas these men, to a very large degree, have been combatants all over the world. The question revolves on key men "Key man" is a loose definition, and can easily be misinterpreted. Early in the war I was works manager of a fairly large factory, and had to deal with the labour officer who came to select men for the call-up. It would have been easy on my part as works manager, dealing with reserved men, to hold on to certain men as key men. It is a too loosely denned term, and it can easily be interpreted in the form of a man working a milling machine, or capstan lathe, men who are doing repetitive work and who can easily be replaced by men coming out of the Forces. I really cannot agree with that. I want to see more men called up and those who have been in the Forces for many years brought home, and the sooner the better.

8.32 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service
(Mr. Ness Edwards)

This has been a short but very interesting Debate and Iam very much obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Lang) for giving me the opportunity of at least trying to make some defence, if any defence is required, for the Ministry to which I am attached. In the first place, I had better make one principle clear. Not a single step will be taken by the Ministry of Labour in relation to men now in civilian employment which will delay a single man coming out of the Forces. I want to make that clear and unambiguously straight statement so that there shall be no misunderstanding about it; and, in the interests of those men who only get a fleeting glimpse of reports of these Debates, the statement ought to go out to reassure them, that whatever pressure might be brought to bear in this House and in the country, no single man will be retained in industry if it means detaining another man in the Forces.

If, as we are told, the limiting factor of demobilisation is transport, how can the question as to whether these young men are called-up from industry or not called-up from industry have the slightest effect upon demobilisation?

I do not think that that interjection is one in which there is much substance. I was invited to make a declaration in the interests of the men in the Forces and I have made that declaration, because there is sufficient cause for their feeling of unrest by reason of the fact that they have been out of the country and away from their families for so long, and do not let us do anything to add fuel to that fire. Equally, I must refrain from interfering with the political activities of our Field-Marshals. They make their statements, no doubt, by authority, but a poor Parliamentary Secretary is not the person to jump into that arena, and I must let those matters be answered by those who are competent to answer them from this Bench and not by myself. Another matter which was not quite within the terms of the question raised was the answer to the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). I can only presume that the reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford would have been the answer he would have given had he made the statement from this Box. That is my view. I can only essay that because of having seen him for so long when, prior to the war, he stood below the Gangway and made such great demands for preparedness, and it is unusual to find him on the opposite side of the House arguing that we should become unprepared especially in the disturbed state of affairs.

May I come to my hon. Friend who opened the Debate. After my hon. Friend put his question down to which he received a very unsatisfactory reply from me, as he thought, and gave notice of this Adjournment, I had all the cases and all the correspondence investigated that came to our Department—[Interruption.]—I am only answering for the Ministry of Labour at the moment. I found that there was only one case in which my hon. Friend raised with our Ministry in connection with this problem. I have all the correspondence here and I want to deal, in particular, with that one case he gave. He raised with our Department the case he has mentioned this evening—that of Maiden and Co., Ltd.—and in this case I find this to be the position. The firm itself made representations in respect of two men only. The Ministry of Supply did not support either application, and that is the Department of the Government which is concerned. How could the Ministry of Labour say that two young men should not be called-up when the Government Department concerned with that production was of the opinion that they ought to be called-up. In these matters the Ministry of Labour acts upon the advice received from Departments concerned, and in this case it was the Ministry of Supply, who, obviously, must know much more about the special needs and the type of production of firms of this nature than the Ministry of Labour.

I would like to interject on that particular point that the case I have raised was a case where the Ministry of Supply had recommended the deferment of three men and the Ministry of Labour turned them down.

I cannot deal with the two cases at once. Perhaps I had better deal with the case of my hon. Friend and then come to the other later on.

May I point out that my hon. Friend's Department has been notified of 10 men engaged in the export trade?

I was talking about the position at the time my hon. Friend raised the question in the House. I come to the further position. This firm are now involved in the case of five further men, the oldest of whom was born in 1921, and these are Keymen. These are men upon whom production is going to depend.

The youngest is now 21 and the Ministry of Supply is being told that these are keymen, these are specialists. With all due respect to my hon. Friend, we must exercise some balance in this business. Many have been taken away who had greater skill and gone to the Army, the Navy and the AirForce as tradesmen, and those men, all young, or others with less skill, ought not to use the argument of their lesser skill as an argument to remain in industry and perhaps keep the other fellows out. Let me go a step further. That is the only case that my hon. Friend has raised with the Department. I am informed that it is the only case in his constituency from that firm.

Our Department does not make mistakes of this nature, especially when it comes to Adjournment Debates. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton) raised the point of the small firms, and complained about craftsmen. Most of these craftsmen are under 25 years of age. My hon. Friend said that when they go into the Army they have to do storekeepers'jobs, and cooking. It is no more for them to go cooking or storekeeping than for any other member. If there is not a vacancy in their trade, must they be kept out? Thousands of teachers have had to go into the infantry, and, after all, we cannot have an army of transport workers or shopkeepers—the engineering industry must make its contribution.

Of course the war is over, but I do not know that all the trouble is over, and the Ministry of Labour does not decide the size of the Army. Our job is to meet the needs of the Manpower Committee which make the allocation, and every Department is represented on the Manpower Committee. Our job is to try and carry out their decisions; we do not decide the size of the civilian army, or the military Army. So that there shall be no doubt about this business, perhaps I had better indicate to the House what the position is. The scheme now operating in the engineering industry is a scheme drawn up and referred to both sides of the industry. They have been advised, and to that extent are parties to it. The Schedule, and the arrangements, have been circulated to the individual engineering employers' associations in this country.

Let us see what the position is. The first thing is that the cases of toolmakers born after 1923, and, in some very special cases, after 1925, are not being reviewed. When I say toolmakers, I do not mean boys of 18 or 19 who have been on a lathe for five or six months. However, let us follow it still further. What are the conditions on which deferment can be granted? In the first place deferment may be granted, and may be renewed, when, on the representations of a Government Department it is established to the satisfaction of the manpower board that both of the following conditions apply:
"(1) The man concerned is employed on the production of materials essential for the requirements of the Forces, or on the production of materials or fitments for the housing programme, or on the production of plant or machinery, or equipment, necessary for the re-equipment of industries (including agriculture), or services essential to the life of the community, or to economic reconstruction, or on production for export, and (2) the withdrawal of the particular man would result in a serious loss of production extending beyond that of one man's output and including that of a number of workers directly dependent on his work and, either, there is no other man employed in the same occupation in the same or another branch of the same undertaking in the same district on work that is not specified"—
In those categories I have mentioned—
"or it is not possible to obtain a substitute capable either with, or without, training of doing the work who would be likely to be available within a month."
Those are the conditions. I was asked if I would make plain to hon. Members what were the conditions, and they will be able to read this in HANSARD tomorrow, and will know the position on which they can act. I did not think my hon. Friend could be so ungenerous. He often speaks so kindly, and is so full of compliments, that I am rather surprised he does not want what he has asked for. That is why I read it, so that the hon. Gentleman should have it plainly. Had I given it in my own words it might have been misleading.

What is the procedure? We are told the employer does not get time to take action, and that these men are constantly whisked away from their factories, and that their factories collapse. We are told that production comes to a stop before the employer can do anything. Let us see if that is true. Under the procedure which is followed, the Manpower Board identifies the cases within the field of the review and writes to the employer concerned, drawing his attention to the need for making additional men available for call-up, and asking him to co-operate wherever possible. That is the first step. But the letter goes to the employer and, in some cases, the letter is followed up by a visit from the inspector of the Manpower Board who, no doubt, discusses it with the employer. The employer is not taken by surprise; he has a letter duly delivered to him, and no man is taken without that step being taken. I hope that is clear. The letter states that if the employer feels that the man is essential in the national interest, and that he should be retained in industry, it is open to the employer to make representations accordingly to the Government Department interested; such representations should be made within three days of the receipt of the letter asking for the individual man.

If the employer does not take the step, away goes the man, but, if the employer wants to keep the man, and he is really a key man, I should think the employer would take immediate action. If the employer takes immediate action, the man's call up is not proceeded with; the Manpower Board considers the representations of the Supply Department under which he is working or which has supervision over his form of production.

I do not doubt the bona fides of my hon. Friend, but I say, emphatically, that there have been cases where men have been taken away while the negotiations are in progress.

That is the procedure which must be carried out. Employees are told what to do. They know what their rights are, and I am satisfied that, in the main, employers exercise those rights. Now let me come to the position of apprentices. Many of the lads referred to today are apprentices. What is their position? When the Army wants them, they are key men; when they get their pay packets, they are apprentices. In the case of apprentices, employers are given 18 days'notice within which they can make their application for further deferment. We are concerned that industry shall have a fair chance to convert itself, and that our export trade shall have the greatest opportunities to develop. We want to see the true conversion going forward as quickly as it possibly can be done.

On the other hand, we want to see every man in this country pulling his weight in the national position. We do not want young men hidden behind peculiar definitions to the detriment of other men in the Armed Forces. The Ministry of Labour will play its part in working this scheme fairly and squarely, and if any hon. Member feels that the Ministry is not acting squarely, as between men in industry, the national civilian needs and military needs, I hope he will raise those cases. Now I am told that the Ministry of Supply, in one case, recommended that a certain man should be kept and the Ministry of Labour re fused. We are refusing quite a number of cases, because it is not our view that men of 18½ are key men and ought to be kept.

I did not say it did. I am referring to a number of cases turned down by my Department despite the recommendation. Only recently we had the case of a lad who had been in the Army only two months, and we were asked for his release because he was a key man. There are conditions to be complied with, and the engineering employers' federation are aware of them. Both sides of the industry are aware, and it is quite possible for the Ministry of Supply, from the information submitted to it, to make recommendations that do not comply with the general standards, and it is possible, in fact, probable, that the case raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield (Mr. E. Davies) falls into that category. It is the job of the Ministry of Labour to hold the balance between these competing demands—the demands of the Armed Forces on the one hand, the demands of civilian industry on the other, and to maintain equity between men in civilian industry as against the men in uniform. That is our job, and I think that, on the whole, that job is being done in such a way as to give very little cause for complaint.