Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Letters on Labour direction

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: 74, Spital Street, Dartford, Kent
Source: (1) Dartford Chronicle, 26 August 1949 and 2 September 1949 (2) Dartford Chronicle, 9 September 1949 and 16 September 1949 (3) Dartford Chronicle, 23 September 1949 and 30 September 1949
Editorial comments: Item dated by publication of MT’s first letter. Her final letter is from a different address. The dates of writing are not recorded. MT was replying to letters from Norman Dodds MP, who challenged a point made in her Speech to Dartford Young Conservatives, 13 August 1949.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 2256
Themes: Employment, Labour Party & socialism
(1) Dartford Chronicle, 26 August 1949:


To the Editor

Dear Sir,—Believing that Miss Margaret Roberts has no desire to mislead the people, I should like to draw her attention to the report, in your columns of last week, of her speech to a meeting of Young Conservatives, where it appears she stated “people of her generation had had a rather raw deal in the post-war world. When they were ready to go along the road to their careers they were faced with the Direction of Labour Order and more restrictions than any other generation had had to face in this country.”

It occurs to me that much could be said in respect to opportunities open to young people these days when making comparisons with, say, 20 or 30 years ago, but I am chiefly concerned with the amazing reference to the Direction of Labour Order. If Miss Roberts is correct, then I have been completely misinformed about this seemingly devastating Order, and to help me and to interest your readers I do hope she will give the following information: (a) When did the Order become law; (b) how many persons of both sexes and all ages have been “directed” under the Order; (c) under what circumstances can the Ministry of Labour apply the Order to an individual; (d) does Miss Roberts know or has she ever heard of even one young person being deflected by this Order along the road to a career?—Yours faithfully.

Norman N. Dodds,

M.P., Dartford Division.

20, Havelock-road,

Dartford. [end p1] Dartford Chronicle, 2 September 1949:

Labour Direction

To the Editor

Dear Sir,—Here is the information which Mr. Norman Dodds requested me to give in his letter published your last issue.

(a) The Government's plan for direction of labour was issued by the George IsaacsMinister of Labour as the Control of Engagement Order on September 18, 1947, and was to have expired on January 1, 1949. The period has been extended to January 1, 1950, by Statutory Instrument No. 2608, 1948, according to the Ministry of Labour Committee.

The Minister of Labour was acting in exercise of his powers of legislation by decree, conferred on him under the Supplies and Services (Extended Purposes) Act, 1947. Such delegated legislation is not subject to amendment by Parliament.

(b) The number of persons who have been formally directed by the Order are as follows: Between October, 1947, and December, 1948, 29; during the first six months of this year, 66; making a sum total of 95. Comment on the significance of these figures will be reserved until after (c).

(c) The Order applies to all men aged 18 to 50 and to all women aged 18 to 40, except under the following circumstances: (i) Women having a child of under 15 years; (ii) ex-Service personnel during paid resettlement leave; (iii) those engaged in dock work or the employed in a managerial, professional, administrative or executive capacity.

The Order compels employees seeking workers and workers seeking employment to use employment exchanges. Unemployed persons who, after having been offered a choice of jobs, refuse to accept essential work, will be given 14 days to think it over. If they still refuse, they are liable to be directed.

For further details on this point I would refer readers to Statutory Rules and Orders No. 2021, 1947, and to the accompanying “Quiz” leaflet issued by the Ministry of Labour to explain the operation of the Order.

Comment: The small number of cases in which compulsion has had to be applied is often acclaimed by the Socialists. The figures considered alone are misleading. It must not be forgotten that they relate only to the formal directions which the Ministry issues as a last resort. The majority of people, when threatened with direction, “go quietly;” but it is the existence of these powers which causes them to go. Such persons are in fact, though not in law, directed, and they are far more numerous than the hardy spirits who hold out until compelled to give in.

If the above figure, 95, gave a true picture of the amount of control exercised, then clearly the Order is not worth, retaining for such a few. One is therefore driven to the conclusion that the Government considers the very existence of the Order operates a large amount of control.

Not all Socialists agree with the Order. On November 3, 1947, there was a Socialist motion to annul it. The motion was unfortunately lost. Mr. Dodds was one of those who voted for the retention of the Order.

(d) Less than 72 hours before I spoke to the Young Conservatives, my attention was drawn to a case of a person who was negotiating direct with another employer for a better job. He was informed that such action was prohibited under the Order, that he would require to secure his release from his present employment and apply through a labour exchange. There was then no guarantee that the exchange would send him to the job he wanted, but they might direct him to another. He considered the risk of not getting the post too great, and is still in his present work.

While it may be argued that that person was not legally prevented from taking the new job (though he may have been had he chosen to have gone through with it), the fact remains that owing to the existence of the Control of Engagement Order and the wide powers of direction held by the Minister of Labour, he is now one rung lower on the ladder than he would otherwise have been. This is only one instance. I could cite others of a similar nature.—Yours faithfully,

Margaret H. Roberts,

Prospective Conservative candidate, Dartford Division.

74, Spital-street, Dartford.

(2) Dartford Chronicle, 9 September 1949:


To the Editor

Sir,—So Miss Margaret Roberts now admits that only 95 persons have been directed since October, 1947. Mr. Isaacs. Minister of Labour informs me that up to July 31, 1949, the official figures are 19 men and 10 women. Whichever figures are correct I think Miss Roberts will agree that her speech to the Young Conservatives could give an entirely different impression. But why on earth did Miss Roberts go to such great lengths in your columns last week to make out a case because it has absolutely nothing to do with the speech she made about a “raw deal” and the “Order interfering with the careers of young people.” If Miss Roberts will give a little thought to this important matter she will appreciate that the persons directed were all unemployed and that each person had turned down offers of employment through a Labour Exchange—surely Miss Roberts does not think that to be unemployed is a suitable “career” for a young person.

However, in the closing sentences she does hint at a case of a young man who was prevented from bettering himself by the Order but the details as given by Miss Roberts are somewhat confused and I should be grateful if I could have further information to enable me to look into the case.

It is most unfortunate for Miss Roberts that a few days ago (August 30) a well-known journalist and champion of the Liberal cause, writing in the News-Chronicle, had this to say about the Order: “In a world of increasingly tyrannical oppression, we remain a free people, resolute in our heritage, and healthily suspicious of all forms of compulsion however benevolently inspired. It was that healthy instinct which caused the Labour Government's measures for the direction of labour to become a dead letter.” —Yours faithfully,

Norman Dodds.

M.P., Dartford Division. Dartford Chronicle, 16 September 1949:

Labour Direction

To the Editor

Dear Sir,—When this correspondence began, Mr. Dodds put four points to me concerning the Direction of Labour Order. They were answered one by one a week later.

From his letter in last week's issue, it appears that Mr. Dodds has tried hard to skate round the comments made under (b) and (c) of my first reply. As they were both important and relevant, I must take this opportunity of reiterating them. The crux of the correspondence seems to be this: Mr. Dodds considers the direction figures issued to be an accurate measurement of the amount of control exercised by the Order. He therefore seems to agree with the “well-known journalist,” whom he quotes, that the Order is a “dead letter.” I do not concur with this view, as indicated in my letter of a fortnight ago. I therefore put the following points to Mr. Dodds:—

(1) If the Order is a “dead letter,” why was it extended for a further year?

(2) If he personally considers it a “dead letter,” would he be prepared to move its annulment forthwith?

(3) If he refuses, then, on the “dead letter reasoning” set out in his own correspondence, it can only mean one of two things—either he wants to keep this control for control's sake or he agrees with me that the Order is not a “dead letter,” but a live wire.

I should be very grateful if Mr. Dodds would give a little more thought to this important matter, and if he would clarify his position, explicitly, in the next instalment of this public “pen friendship.” —Yours faithfully,

Margaret H. Roberts,

Prospective Conservative candidate, Dartford Division.

74, Spital-street, Dartford. [end p2]

(3) Dartford Chronicle, 23 September 1949:

Labour Direction Order

To the Editor

Dear Sir,—To my new found “pen friend” and your readers I give the two answers asked for: 1. In the sense that A. J. Cummings, the Liberal journalist, referred to the Order as a “dead letter,” my answer is—Yes; 2. As to my supporting a move to annul the Order it is—No.

Mr. Cummings had in mind the rare occasions in which the Order has been invoked, and the Labour Government can be depended upon only to use it in the extreme cases where an individual cannot find employment and consistently refuses the offer of work.

Miss Roberts will by now realise how misleading was her speech to the Young Conservatives, in which she referred to the “raw deal” and interference with the careers of young people as the result of the Order. If the Tory Party came to power much more effective methods would, as in the past, be used to “inspire” a section of the workers, and if Miss Roberts will attend my meeting at the Church Hall on September 30, not only will she receive some first hand information of what happened on Tyneside and Wearside between the two wars, but the opportunity would be given for us to make progress from a “pen friendship” to being on “speaking terms.” —Yours faithfully

Norman N. Dodds.

20, Havelock-road.

Dartford. [end p3] Dartford Chronicle, 30 September 1949:


To the Editor

Dear Sir,—In order not to lose the thread of the argument in the correspondence between Mr. Dodds and myself, it would be advisable to have a “recap.”

First week.—Mr. Dodds asked me to give him some information on the Direction of Labour Order; including the number of directives issued.

Second week.—I replied giving the desired figures, pointing out that they, were not an accurate measure of the amount of control exercised by the Order, as most people “went quietly” when threatened with direction.

Third week.—Mr. Dodds blandly ignored this point and crashed on with his thesis that as the number of directives was very small, the Order was a “dead letter.”

Fourth week.—I repeated my former point and inquired why the Order was retained if it was a “dead letter.” I further asked Mr. Dodds if he would move its annulment.

Fifth week.—Mr. Dodds replied that he considered it a “dead letter” only in the sense that the number of actual directives was small. He refused not only to move its annulment, but even to support anyone else's move to annul it.

This week's instalment.—If the Order is a dead letter only as far as the actual directives are concerned, then it follows that it is very much alive as a threat which in itself is sufficient to control large sections of the population in the event of their wanting to change jobs. At last, therefore, Mr. Dodds has indirectly admitted the truth of what I pointed out to him in my first letter, namely, that the Order exercises far wider control than is indicated by the figures of actual directives. Otherwise why does he wish to retain it?

If anything has been misleading since my original remark it is Mr. Dodds ' persistent efforts to skate round my point. His real attitude was only revealed when I challenged him to try and remove the order.

Finally, sir, I shall have to decline Mr. Dodds ' invitation to his meeting, as I have two political engagements on that same evening. I feel sure another opportunity will occur in the near future for the “pen friendship” to develop from written to verbal lines.—Yours faithfully,

Margaret H. Roberts,

Prospective Conservative candidate,

Dartford Division.

Galley Hill, Darenth-road,