§ The Minister of Supply (Sir Andrew Duncan)
Before I refer to the Eleventh Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure in detail, I think it would be for the convenience of the House that I should give a further brief picture of the dimensions of our Royal Ordnance factory organisation. There are 42 Royal Ordnance factories, of which 24 are engineering, 8 make explosives, and 10 are engaged in filling. They employ 300,000 people, 60 per cent. of whom are women, 32½per cent. semiskilled and unskilled men, and only 7½per cent. skilled men. The engineer- 1072 ing factories engage in a very wide range of high precision work. They make guns, gun carriages, small arms, the components for gun ammunition, and small arms ammunition, but their principal output is guns. At the present time they are responsible for 66⅔per cent. of the total gun output of the country, whereas a year ago they were responsible for only 50 per cent. of the total output. With improvement in efficiency, with more workers coming into employment, with improvement in design and with the mass production of components in associated factories, the output of guns has gone up very considerably indeed, and to-day the Royal Ordnance factories are producing from the gun factories four and a half times as many guns as they were producing 12 months ago. One factory alone to-day is producing a number of guns equal to 75 per cent. of the total number per month that were produced throughout the whole country in the last war when production was at its peak, and, over all, the Royal Ordnance factories are to-day producing twice as many guns as they were originally rated to produce. They have, therefore, become a powerful and very flexible instrument of production, and great credit is due to the Director-General of Ordnance Factories, who has the prime responsibility for the running of these factories.
On the explosives factory side we make something like 60 to 70 per cent. of the total explosives output of the country, and it is a long time since the supply of explosives gave us any trouble. In no case at the present time is the filling of shells, bombs or cartridges in any way limited by the supply of the principal explosives. Whereas the skill of our engineering industry in this country was a very sound foundation for our gun-making, there was really no counterpart on the filling side and the development of filling factories was behind the development of gun factories at the outbreak of war. The rapid growth of these factories, therefore, has accentuated to a considerable degree the difficulties that are in any case inherent in this kind of industrial activity. Individual factories have been recruiting five, six or seven thousand people, and the total personnel of most of these factories ranges from 10,000 to 25,000 persons. Not only is the labour new to the technique of filling but a great proportion is new to factory life altogether. By 1073 the end of 1941 these factories could be said to be completed and at the beginning of 1942 we agreed a programme with the War Office for their requirements for the whole of 1942 and set a target figure for them. The target figure was deemed by-many of our factories to be too high, but I am glad to be able to say that by the end of June the rate reached was 98 per cent. of the target, and with the rise in output there should be no difficulty at all in more than meeting the requirements for the full year.
During the last 12 months we have recruited 66 per cent. more people into our Royal Ordnance factories engaged in filling. We now have two and one-third times the production of a year ago, and what is very interesting and important is that the increase in output per individual operating in these filling factories is 40 per cent. more than it was a year ago. There is really no peace-time parallel to a development and production of this kind and the variations which take place in war, whether by land or air, or sea—the filling factories serve all three Services—make changes in programme from time to time quite inevitable, but as in the gun factories so in the filling factories we are now in a strong and flexible position to meet all sudden developments.
However gratifying our production results may be, neither the Minister nor a Departmental head would have any right to do anything but welcome help from any review made by a detached or representative committee of this House. We would not wish to fail either in appreciating or accepting guidance which makes for the improved efficiency of this national organisation. It is not possible, however, to accept all the statements made in the Report as statements of fact nor is it possible to agree that, in reaching their conclusions, the Committee had in mind all the material considerations that were bound to be in the minds both of Ministers and Departmental heads at the time when decisions had to be taken. I hope I may be allowed to express the view that great value would have accrued had there been an opportunity for the Ministry to discuss with the Committee their draft conclusions before they were either printed or debated.
§ Sir John Wardlaw-Milne (Kidderminster)
I am sure that my right hon. 1074 Friend is aware that such a procedure would be out of Order.
§ Sir A. Duncan
Is out of Order. I make the suggestion, nevertheless, so that it can be put into Order in some way.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
Such a change must be made by the House of Commons and presumably initiated by the Government.
§ Sir A. Duncan
I am making the suggestion to the House of Commons, and I hope the seed will fall on fertile ground. With regard to the Report itself, I shall take first the large range of questions which relate to filling factory capacity, to labour in the filling factories and to the hostels.
§ On the question of filling capacity, there was a period in the war when on any prudent calculation the present filling capacity would have seemed likely to be quite inadequate. Indeed at one stage a much larger number of factories was contemplated. On present requirements and in the present state of the ammunition programme, we have, it is true, some surplus of filling capacity. That surplus constitutes a necessary, valuable and wise insurance. If there were no occupational hazards in this industry, if there were no hazards from the air and if there were no hazards of other kinds we might well concentrate more than we have done, although even then there must be practical limits to concentration. I am, however, very glad to observe that the Committee do not put their recommendation higher than that the possibility of concentration should be carefully examined. It must be examined in the light of the uncertainties of the future and the possibilities of higher requirements. We do keep in the Department careful records of and a close watch on surplus capacity, even temporary surplus capacity. All buildings which are reasonably suitable for storage in these factories—many of course are quite unsuitable for it—have already been turned over to our storage branch at the Ministry of Supply and a great many of them are in use for storage purposes.
§ With regard to the labour requirements of these factories, there has been from 1075 the beginning until to-day the closest possible liaison with the Ministry of Labour. It is through the Ministry of Labour that we find our personnel for these factories and it is to the Ministry of Labour that we intimate as far ahead as it is possible to do that, owing to changes in programme or for any other reason, releases of labour will be possible when such releases are likely to take place. In regard to the question of miners at one of the factories named in the Report, I would like to make it clear, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour stated in answer to a Question yesterday, that right at the beginning all ex-face workers below the grade of supervisor engaged in our Royal Ordnance factories were made available to the Ministry of Labour when their transfer back to the mines was wanted. However, a great many of them—in fact, it would be fairer to put it the other way and say very few of them—were found to be within the physical age and other qualifications necessary for their return to the mines. Nevertheless, in accordance with the Select Committee's recommendation, we, with the Ministry of Labour, are prepared to accept the view that there should now be a joint survey, in detail, of these factories. We must not lose any chance of looking into things thoroughly. We have also asked the Ministry of Labour to join with us in investigating the question of the dilution and employment of women which, also, was a recommendation of the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Culverwell (Bristol, West)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is not so much a question of his being blamed as the fact that these miners are still in ordnance factories? The point is that they were available, and the Ministry of Labour did not take them away. It is a question of divided responsibility between Government Departments.
§ Sir A. Duncan
I feel confident that the Ministry of Labour has missed no chance in taking from ordnance factories any miners who fall within the qualifications for return to the pits. I would emphasise to the House that the relationship between ourselves and the Ministry of Labour is of the closest, mostly friendly and co-operative character. In regard to the recruitment campaign, to which reference is made in the Report, it was initiated last autumn in agreement with the Ministry of 1076 Labour. In the spring of this year we again consulted with the Ministry of Labour and greatly reduced activities of that kind, engaged in by the Ministry of Supply. In answer to the recommendation made by the Select Committee we propose to close this section for special recruitment altogether.
In considering the recommendations and observations of the Select Committee as to hostels, I think it is necessary to remember how difficult it is to reconstruct the conditions that existed when decisions were first taken on these matters. I feel certain that members of the Select Committee will themselves agree that it is difficult completely to put their minds back to over a year ago. Efficiency in factories has greatly improved; in fact it has improved more than it was reasonable to anticipate, and that, of course, has meant that the numbers of workers required are less. There has been freedom from air raids, which has made it likely that people are willing to travel—and it certainly has made it possible for them to travel—much longer distances than they could have been expected to travel at the time when the severe "blitzing" was on, as it was when these hostels were originally planned. Transport has been excellently maintained; one might almost say surprisingly well maintained. Concentration of industry and the registration of women have also made much more local labour available for these filling factories than was apparent before these steps were taken. For all these reasons I think we must, in considering what the Committee calls "this remarkable miscalculation," be guided rather by the advice given to us by the Select Committee in July, 1941, than by that given to us in 1942. In 1941 the conditions and the outlook were different and the advice was also different. Then the Committee recommended that the provision of hostels should be increased and speeded up as a matter of urgency.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
I was responsible for that document, and as the officials of the Ministry told us that in a certain factory there were to be twice the number of people as there were then, and as the increase in the factory has been about 15 per cent., the right hon. Gentleman must not blame us for supplying misleading information.
§ Sir A. Duncan
I gathered the impression from this Report and other Reports 1077 that the Select Committee did apply their minds to all these things for themselves. I have no means of knowing how evidence was obtained.
§ Sir H. Williams
I do not want to make it difficult for the right hon. Gentleman, but the fact is perfectly well known to the Ministry. A factory was designed to employ 45,000 people, and when I visited it with my colleagues there were 19,000 people at work. We were told that the factory was to get 45,000 people. That applies to the bulk of the hostels built now and not wanted.
§ Sir A. Duncan
That may relate to a particular factory, but it remains true that when correspondence took place, following the Report in which the need for greatly increasing the number of hostels was accepted by the Select Committee, the Committee did not revise their recommendation. However, there is no need for us to quarrel about this matter. In the light of the circumstances at the time it was the right thing for the Select Committee to do and the right thing for the Ministry of Supply to do. To think that there was any guesswork about this is to be under a misapprehension. The subject of hostels was very carefully considered in collaboration by the Ministries of Supply, Health and Labour, and plans were only decided after the closest consultation with all the local people concerned. Even now, it would be quite unsafe to make any final assessment on this question of hostels. Circumstances may yet change and all hostels may be required, but in the meantime 14 out of the 16 surplus hostels to which the Report refers have been taken over by other Departments, which have been extremely fortunately placed in having them. Seven of those which were suspended are now to be completed for other Departments. In regard to the hostels occupied by our own workers, careful attention will certainly be given to the Select Committee's observations. The managing associations in charge of these hostels give the closest attention to the psychological questions that arise and are striving all the time to improve the comfort and homeliness of the hostels.
Now, on the range of questions that relate to factory conditions and the smooth running of these factories, I must say that we are very conscious of the importance of the smooth and regular supply of components, 1078 to which the Select Committee direct our attention. I am glad to say that conditions in that respect have greatly improved. Both the output of ammunition and stocks of components have improved. Stocks of balanced sets are substantially higher than six months ago. The great majority of components and materials to be assembled into rounds of ammunition come from innumerable trade factories. Only a small proportion come from ordnance factories, and the closest attention must be given to the movement of this large mass of components into the filling factories. Our machinery for ensuring that there is every care taken in the assembly and stocking of components is given very close attention.
With regard to the liaison that exists between the design and the production of components, I fully accept what the Select Committee says, subject only to one limitation, and that is that the user's purpose must be served. If every design by a producer were accepted as the last word, there is no doubt that the user's purpose would not be served.
All classes of components are inspected before despatch for filling. There must of necessity, of course, be occasional exceptions to that general rule, because of new designs having to be tried out on a larger scale than that of a small trial. I believe it is true that the case to which the Select Committee's Report refers was an exception in respect of small arms which was put right as far back as March of this year.
§ Sir A. Duncan
Yes, it is satisfactory now. On the questions of factory performance, the exchange of information, and promotion to the grade of overlooker, we accept the Select Committee's recommendations. Attention is drawn by the Select Committee to economies which might be drawn from the unification of the Inspection Departments of the Admiralty, the Ministry of Supply, and the Ministry of Aircraft Production. As the Select Committee point out, there are considerable administrative and technical difficulties in effecting complete unification, but the advantages are realised, and considerable progress has already been made in this direction. A further development along those lines is now being 1079 discussed by the Ministry of Production and the Supply Ministries, and the House can rely upon us to give the fullest possible effect to the proposals and observations of the Select Committee. On the subject of time and motion studies and incentive bonus schemes, we are in general agreement with the Select Committee's observations and conclusions, but in suggesting that the embodiment of these methods should have taken place in the original lay-out, it seems to me that the Select Committee are overlooking that the bulk of these plans were made in the early and less knowledgeable days of the war. In so far as they can be incorporated in lay-out, of course they should be. I think the Select Committee err also in thinking that even now the Ministry are giving more attention to time study than to motion study. But subject to these reservations, I am bound to confess that I find the observations of the Committee on that subject a matter of great interest to us.
There are only two major questions in the Report that are left to be considered, both of them matters of very great importance. One is absence from work. There is no denying that absence from work is still a serious problem in Royal Ordnance factories, particularly on the filling side, as it is in a great many other places where there have been large influxes of new labour, and particularly where large numbers of married women are employed. During most of the period covered by the review, these factories were receiving large influxes of new labour and there was less opportunity during that time to focus upon this problem as a whole the attention which we now give to it; during the last six months however close attention has been directed to it both at headquarters and in the factories. At headquarters a Committee presided over by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Assheton), whose sympathy with and experience of these matters is well known, is giving constant attention to this question. A notable improvement has already taken place within the last few months, particularly in the lessening of casual absence—non-accountable absence—but the problem is not one that is easy of solution, particularly in those filling factories where there are very long distances for people to travel to and 1080 from work. In these days of curtailment of shopping facilities, and in view of the domestic and family circumstances and responsibilities of the women, one has to be tolerant and patient—indeed, it is only with patience that this improvement can be effected. Large numbers of these people have been rooted up from their normal environment and ordinary habits, and it is a delicate task to build them now into a real community in their new environment, and certainly it is a very difficult task to build them up into an industrial entity within which the importance of regular attendance at work is recognised as an element in the smooth running of the shop.
Headquarters can guide policy in these matters. They can examine the causes and they can formulate remedies. They can initiate ideas and they can effect interchange of experience. They can organise a steadier flow of work—and that is very important. Headquarters can do all these things, but it is in the factory itself that the real problem must be effectively tackled in the end. As the Select Committee point out in their Report, we now have a staff of labour officers in these factories who have been asked to give priority to the consideration of this subject. We also have, under the more recent Regulations and the Essential Work Order, absentee committees which are appointed in all these works. I would like to pay a tribute to the zeal and enthusiasm with which these committees are setting about their task.
§ Mr. Dunn (Rother Valley)
Will the Minister say a word or two about the factories where attendance is quite good?
§ Sir A. Duncan
These are committees composed of representatives of the workers and managements who give weekly, and sometimes daily, study to the records of those who are absent and try to discover why they have been absent—the whole object, of course, being to avoid prosecutions, because prosecutions are in the end the least satisfactory method of dealing with this subject—and to ensure that there is throughout the factory an understanding of the need of regular attendance if a smooth flow of work is to be maintained. I would like to recognise the help we have had from 1081 the district officials of trade unions who have lent their weight by addressing meetings in the canteens. I would like also to acknowledge the very great assistance we have had from a number of hon. Members who have taken special care of and interest in the factories within their constituencies. The Select Committee's observations on the whole range of this subject will receive most careful study, and in so far as we can benefit by the advice they give, we hope to do so. We had hoped that the initiation of a three-shift system in the filling factories and the lessening of hours generally would have given us greater relief on this question of absence from work than we have yet had from it. In 30 out of 42 factories the hours are 60 or less for men and 55 or less for women, and reduction to these standards will be achieved, I hope, in the remaining 12 factories within the next three months. I accept the rebuke which the Select Committee's Report administers. The Government certainly should be an example in these matters, and the standard having been accepted, we should work to it as faithfully as we can.
§ Mr. Benson (Chesterfield)
Can the Minister tell us what the effect on production has been per hour where the total hours per week have been reduced?
§ Sir A. Duncan
It has really been very mixed, although I think a fair deduction would be that in course of time we are likely to get more output from those factories where the hours are reasonable. I do not think I could myself subscribe to any other view than that, and that is the aim we are now putting to ourselves quite definitely in respect of those factories that still have to have their hours reduced.
there remains only the question of the headquarters set-up of the Royal Ordnance factory organisation of the Ministry. Originally the final authority for the whole range of Royal Ordnance factories was vested in a Director-General of Ordnance Factories. The over-all programme of production in these factories was, of course, a matter which had to be coordinated within the Ministry of Supply so that the total output could be integrated between the Royal Ordnance and other factories. There were certain other headquarters co-ordinations which were necessary. The Ministry of Supply as a whole has a central responsibility to the Ministry 1082 of Labour to see that all bottle-necks, whether they be in private or in Royal Ordnance factories, are relieved, and also that that Ministry is supported in all its efforts to secure up-grading, whether in private or Royal Ordnance factories, to secure the substitution of women for men wherever practical, and the proper use of labour. There are certain other Departmental requirements which apply more widely to Royal Ordnance factories; there are wages, conditions, medical welfare and canteen arrangements which apply equally as a matter of principle to our experimental stations and other forms of direct labour for which the Ministry of Supply is responsible.
All these services constitute what is called functional control, and I am very glad to see that the Select Committee do not question that principle. They think the pendulum may have swung too far, but the pendulum has a habit of doing that, even in a Select Committee's Report. It may be that readjustments may be necessary to bring more direct authority and responsibility to the headquarters organisation, and to bring a more definite link of responsibility with the superintendents of the factories. We shall certainly examine the position afresh in the light of the Committee's recommendations with a view to a clear definition of headquarters responsibility, and to seeing that the superintendent is really captain of his own ship. The Committee drew special attention to a change in the Director-Generalship which took place about 11 or 12 months ago, and to this new arrangement they ascribe a great many shortcomings, some of which I cannot accept, but many of which relate in their origin to the period before the split took place. However, I do not think that is important for this purpose. The change which took place was that the Director-General of Ordnance Factories, instead of having the responsibility for engineering, explosives and filling, now has responsibility for engineering and explosives and a certain administrative responsibility in relation to filling. A separate Director-General of Filling Factories was appointed with sole responsibility for production in the filling factories, and also with certain administrative responsibilities for them.
The filling factories were and are a special problem. They are quite distinct in their production from the other Royal Ordnance factories. They have a safety 1083 element which compels ultimate responsibility of a very onerous character, and their labour is no more interchangeable with the engineering labour of the ordnance factories than with the engineering labour of other factories—in any case the release and interchange of labour is a matter for the Ministry of Labour. I would remind the House that the components—and the flow of components is a matter of great importance—come to these factories not, except in very small part, from engineering factories of the Royal Ordnance organisation, but from private factories all over the country. Therefore, in almost every sense, from the productive point of view these filling factories are capable of being regarded as a separate entity. The Director-General of these filling factories was formerly the Deputy Director-General. He is a man who has shown rare aptitude for leadership and has established a morale which is quite priceless in those sections which demand great care against internal accidents and great calmness in air raids. I wish I could give some details to the House of examples of fortitude shown in one of these factories in a recent air-raid. The leadership which the Director-General of Filling has given in these matters is one to which I cannot pay too high a tribute.
I am glad the Select Committee do not express disapproval of the work which the Regional Directors have done under the present Director-General of Filling Factories; indeed, they commend with appreciation, the work which has been done. They feel, however, that the arrangement at the top looks lopsided. I have to admit that, as constituted at present, it does look lopsided, but lopsided things sometimes work very well, and this has produced very excellent results. I certainly must, in the light of what the Select Committee has said in the Report, be prepared, and I am prepared, to review the whole of this matter with the greatst possible care, but I feel it would be wrong to do it too hastily because there are a great number of considerations involved.
That, I think, covers all the questions raised in the Select Committee's Report. I end as I began by saying that even if it is necessary to dissent from many of the statements and some of the conclusions, I accept the Committee's Report as constituting a call for stock-taking, 1084 both in the organisation and in the functioning of the national factory organisation. In a growth so speedy and so big, there may well be many directions in which, now that the mechanism is in full working order, its operations can be consolidated into a better ordered whole. Even so, I ask the House to pause before applying the ordinary standards of criticism of administrative competence without some reservations, not too many, for the emergency conditions under which so much of this has had to be done. I feel certain that the Select Committee would say that the improvements of this machine must be tackled with a sympathy and an understanding of the dimensions of many of the human problems which are involved. I would claim, however, that this country has every reason to be proud of this Royal Ordnance effort in productive State enterprise, and no one connected with it has any other ambition than that it should be made still more effective.
§ Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)
I am sure that the House must have listened to the speech of the Minister of Supply with a good deal of satisfaction. The problem dealt with in this Report is admittedly very difficult for the reason the Minister has stated, that we are dealing, not with a static problem and some system of factories set up under more or less ideal conditions, but with an organisation which has not only been set up under emergency conditions, but has had to develop under emergency conditions, and which has had to change from week to week, sometimes almost from day to day, as the users of their products alter their demands. One of the great disadvantages of Select Committee Reports is that they give one a picture of a particular set of conditions at a particular time, and those conditions may very easily have been materially altered by the time the Report comes to be published, and still more by the time it comes to be discussed. I find, and I think others find, that it is a little difficult sometimes to understand exactly what the scope of a Select Committee is. Unfortunately, in contradistinction to the Reports of the Public Accounts Committee, there is no evidence published, and there is no reference to the evidence except in the most general fashion. That makes it extremely difficult to judge how far the criticisms that we get in these Reports are justified. I 1085 do not mean that they are not made in good faith. Of course they are, and they are very valuable, but to judge of their real value you want the whole of the facts before you. Sometimes in reading these Reports I have the impression that I am listening to one end of a telephone conversation all the time, and I say to myself, I wonder what the reply to that is. I wish I could hear the fellow speaking at the other end of the wire. To-day we have had the Minister of Supply supplying the other part of the conversation, but even now it is very difficult indeed, without the evidence in front of us, to judge what the real position is.
§ Miss Ward (Wallsend)
Is the hon. Member aware that the House can at any time ask for a Debate on one of our Reports, and the Minister can always give the answer that the hon. Member is so rightly asking for? We should be delighted.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Is the hon. Member further aware that periodically the Committee issues a Report and gives a list of recommendations, and alongside them gives the replies from the Department?
§ Mr. Colegate
I am fully aware of that, but it does not really meet my point, nor does what the hon. Lady said meet it. It is all very well to have a Report in front of you and then say, "Do not read it or, if you do, do not make up your mind. Wait until you can get an opportunity for a Debate." How many opportunities have we had on these Select Committee Reports, and how many are we likely to have with the press of Parliamentary Business at present? We do not have Debates on these Reports shortly after they are issued, and when we read them we have not the evidence on which they are based before us. You can tell exactly what has happened. You can see this emergency organisation growing up. You can see the constant process of adaptation going on, and you can easily at any given moment come in and criticise the position.
May I deal for a few moments with the question of absenteeism? It is a very difficult question. I have defended the miners when they have been accused, because I know what the difficulties are and why some of the absenteeism arises. Consider the conditions in these factories. I believe a large number of the people in 1086 them have never worked in factories before. If you have not worked in a factory, it is difficult to get into the frame of mind to arrange your life so that you can always attend at regular hours, and it is difficult for people who have home ties to which they have been accustomed to attend to put all those matters aside and so organise their life that they can attend at absolutely regular hours. It would be remarkable if there were not absenteeism. Naturally one wants to see the figures improved, and the Minister has been able to give us an assurance that they are being improved and will be still further improved in the future. Absenteeism is not a question that you can deal with by a general resolution. Whether it is in the mine or in the factory, it is a matter for very patient work and very serious investigation by itself as to its causes and then endeavouring to remove them by such means as may be available. No one has given more help in removing them than trade union officials, and they will tell you how difficult it is to reduce the percentage, even when the men and the unions concerned are all whole-heartedly in favour of trying to effect an improvement, because it is a slow business. I do not think there is anything disturbing in the Report nor anything which, as far as I can gather, is not being dealt with.
The Report refers to a particular group of factories which has seen a most enormous expansion, one of the biggest industrial expansions that can be imagined. A large number of these factories were non-existent before the war, and they now employ altogether some 300,000 hands. Some of the matters complained of, we are told, had already been put right as far back as March last, and, consequently, the Report, in that respect as in others, is out of date. That again draws attention to the method by which these Reports are produced. It is extraordinarily unfortunate that when a Report is published the Press immediately picks out any sensational features in it. These are given large headlines and a great feeling of unrest is created among people when they feel that the ordnance factories are being very badly run. That was the suggestion in some Press reports, and as a rule there is no official reply. The hon. Lady said we could ask for a Debate, but how many people who read those headlines, and the 1087 allegations of inefficiency against the factories, will take the trouble to read this Debate to-day? Very few, even if it is fully reported. A great many papers cannot find much space for Parliamentary reports. I think it is time we found a more regular and more convenient method of dealing with Select Committee's Reports. Some of them have not been debated at all. Some of the suggestions made are immense and far-reaching, and others are very trifling. There is the celebrated Report of a Committee which recommended that ladies engaged in forestry in Scotland should be provided with cinemas.
§ Mr. Colegate
I am very glad to hear it. I am sure that most of the recommendations which are practicable are dealt with effectively by the Government Departments concerned, and that is assured by the Minister's speech to-day. That does not detract from my point that the Committee deal with a vast number of matters, some of small detail, and that we do not necessarily know what action has been taken. The hon. Member has herself supplied me with evidence, of which I had not heard and I do not think anybody has, that that recommendation has been satisfactorily dealt with. Some of the Committee's Reports are adopted and some are not, and the ordinary Member of the House has no assured method of knowing how the Reports are dealt with except by Reports issued at long intervals showing what action has been taken. By that time the Reports are out of date.
It is essential, in view of the remarks that are sometimes made on these Reports, that the country should understand that the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Production have achieved one of the most remarkable industrial miracles that could be imagined. We have now an enormous outflow of production, and in spite of the difficulties under which it has been done the work has proceeded with a speed and, indeed, a regularity which are much greater than might have been ex- 1088 pected. There have been blitzes, and there will undoubtedly be blitzes again, and it is essential that there should be surplus factories and room in the hostels in case workers' homes are destroyed. That being so, an attempt should be made to get the public to see things in their proper proportion and to see that a vast amount of production is being turned out under conditions which reflect great credit on all concerned. By that I do not mean so much the Ministries as, more particularly, the managers and technical staffs in the factories. They have had a terrible task and very little praise, and some of them feel that their efforts are insufficiently appreciated. Therefore, this Debate serves a very useful purpose if for no other reason than that it puts things in their proper proportion and enables us to see that the work, with suggestions here and there which are being adopted, is going forward on a scale which is essential in order to supply the Forces with the things that they require.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
I would like to congratulate the Minister on the way he has received this Report. He has received it in the way that the Select Committee and the House would like a Minister to receive a report, not as something antagonistic but as a report to the House of investigations which are intended to be helpful. If I may refer to the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate), I would like to make one or two explanations with regard to the work of the Select Committee. The Committee had for their purpose the asking of questions on behalf of this House. The questions are asked in private and the evidence is taken in secret, but that has the enormous advantage that people speak to the Select Committee without reserve and say what they think. Even the Minister could not go to his officials or to any Department under him and be quite sure that they would speak to him without reserve and make criticisms and suggestions about what should be done and should not be done. That power is given to the Select Committee. Therefore, on frequent occasions the Committee have been able to obtain information about what is going on in the country that even the Ministry itself could not obtain.
More than that, the Committee have visited factories in all parts of the country, 1089 and they not only ask questions but see things for themselves. Very often they have been able to help the Ministry without reporting to this House at all. The very fact that the Committee ask a question and elicit that something is wrong makes it unnecessary to report to the House in order to have it put right, because fortunately everybody in the industry and the Ministry wants to put things right. The Minister has been able to tell us to-day that a number of things discussed in this Report have been put right. That willingness has in my experience always been exhibited by the Departments. I would like the House to realise that the effective work of this Committee is not what they report to the House. The fact that they are in existence, that they are going to make investigations or are making investigations means that people keep a critical eye on themselves, which is far more important than anything which even the Select Committee could do. I remember an occasion when a Member of this House was anxious that the Select Committee should conduct a certain investigation which could not be done immediately. A fortnight or three weeks later he became greatly alarmed because the Committee had not begun investigations, and he said that unless they did so quickly all the things would be put right because it was known that the Committee were coming. I say that to show the importance of having such a Committee in existence. The fact that they exist has a deterrent effect on carelessness and it is an incentive to keep up to scratch.
With regard to ordnance factories, it is not a question of blaming the Government or of being wise after the event, but I think the Minister himself will agree, looking back, that these factories were too big for efficient handling. When you are thinking of a factory of 40,000 people you are thinking of a town, but it is a town which has to be built in a scattered fashion with far fewer people to the acre than would exist in a normal town. The physical difficulty of managing such a factory is an obstacle in itself. The transport difficulty is a further obstacle. As the Minister said, some of the people have to travel 40 and 50 miles to work in an ordnance factory. The complications involved in that and in bringing transport into new parts of the country make it difficult to bring efficiency in a 1090 factory of these dimensions. It is, however, no good crying over spilt milk; we have to make the best of it. For that reason, perhaps, hostels were being built in these isolated places. I can speak from personal knowledge of the hostels when I say that, except that they hardly give the people enough width to go along the passages, they are remarkably fine places, and I have assured people in my part of the country whose daughters have been going to the hostels that they would be very happy from the point of view of social life and the general facilities provided. I think the Ministry have done a good job in the matter of hostels, and that those who are going to the unoccupied ones will find them very satisfactory.
An earlier Report of the Committee with which I was rather more closely associated than with this one dealt with absenteeism in Royal Ordnance factories, especially the filling factories. At that time the word "absenteeism" had been coined. It conveys the impression of culpable absence from work. All absence from work is not culpable. Think of these factories which were working a seven days' week, with married women travelling 20 to 30 miles a day to work. Such a woman had to work seven days a week and was at the same time in charge of her home and responsible for purchasing goods for the home. How could she ever get anything from the shops if she had to work seven days a week? It was impossible. Therefore she was absent from work some part of the time in order to get to the shops. That was put down as absenteeism and called "culpable absenteeism." It makes a farce of an investigation of absence from work if such cases are mixed up. We found-that in one factory, not a filling factory, absence from work over the whole workshop was 0.7 per cent., and I was at a factory recently where the absence was 0.1 per cent. I think those are very creditable figures from the point of view of real absenteeism. Statements were made about there being 25 per cent. absenteeism. When a careful investigation was made into that allegation it was found that there was only about 5 per cent. real absenteeism. People who make these loose charges, including some employers, I am sorry to say, do great disservice by giving a misleading picture of the actual situation.
§ The question of transport is also very important in the case of these filling factories, and I hope the Minister will use his influence to see that facilities are provided for repairing the many omnibuses which are laid up. We found this to be a serious handicap to securing 100 per cent. attendance at factories. People could not get a bus in the morning and so could not get to work that day. When all these things are taken into account we get: down to what may be called "culpable absenteeism," and there we are dealing with something which must be handled in the tactful way the Minister has suggested.
§ Time and motion study has been referred to. I think it is important that a watch should be kept upon the efficiency of factories. Some factories have done a remarkable job. I have been at a Royal Ordnance factory with a manager who had never made guns before, with machinery which never made guns before, in a new building in which guns had never been made before, and with girls who had never made anything before. The manager started from that basis. That factory is now turning out guns of an efficiency which engineers did not believe girls could produce. That is largely because these workers were recruited from girls with secondary school education, who are efficient in themselves and who have acquired a skill which enables them to do jobs in a way that would be a credit to skilled engineers. These things ought to be borne in mind, because what has been accomplished has been a great triumph. I agree with what was said by the hon. Gentleman that what we have accomplished with the help of our educational system and the adaptability of our people can only be described as an industrial miracle.
§ I would make one other reference to certain things that might be overlooked. When a factory has got into production and is running nice and smoothly there is a tendency to think that we ought not to disturb the smooth tenor of the way. That may lead to inefficiency, and I have had criticism from some whom I am sure the Minister of Supply would recognise as experts that in certain ordnance factories there is a tendency to take more man-hours for the production of certain articles than would be required if they were properly tooled up. There is still too much 1092 hand-work, even where girls are being employed. I suggest there ought to be a comparison between some of the other factories and the Royal Ordnance factories to test up the man-hours on certain jobs, but that involves going into details and could only be done over a considerable period of time. Generally, I should like to pay a tribute to the work which has been done, which I think is a very great credit to the resourcefulness of this country and its citizens. Factories have sprung up where there were only fields before and have become great hives of industry. Instead of failing to accomplish the task set them they have so far overtaken their job that for the first time the Government have been criticised for having done more than they ought to have done and not less.
§ Miss Ward (Wallsend)
I should like to pay my tribute to the manner in which my right hon. Friend has received the Reports of the Select Committee. I have always found him a most reasonable Minister, and what I like more than anything else is that when he writes to me, so to speak, behind the scenes, his replies always have an individual touch. He has so much experience of industry and is so much on top of his job that I am always pleased when I know that he is taking up a problem and investigating it from top to bottom. I was particularly interested in the speech made by the hon. Gentleman who preceded my hon. Friend who has just sat down. It is rather curious that neither of us appears to know the name of the other's constituency. If I may say so, I do not think he put up a particularly good case against the Select Committee's Reports.
§ Mr. Colegate
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I did not put up a case against the Select Committee's Reports. I think they are interesting documents. My point was, rather, that it is a pity we cannot have them published with some of the evidence, or in any case with the Department's replies. They are given later I know; very often they come some months later.
§ Mr. Colegate
No. It is not necessary to attack the Select Committee's Reports in order to support the Government. The Government welcome them.
§ Miss Ward
That was made perfectly plain by my right hon. Friend. I would make this observation on the remark of my hon. Friend about the length of time that the replies take. The Committee would be delighted if the replies could be forthcoming the next week. The length of time is the responsibility of the appropriate Government Departments and not of the Select Committee, and I hope that the Government will take note of what has been said. If I may digress, we have been waiting for a long time for the reply from the Service Departments to the Select Committee's report on the medical services for the women's Services. The Select Committee reported last March, and we have still not received the reply from the various Service Departments. Actually, the argument used by the hon. Member was very effective, from the point of view of the Select Committee, and I thank him for his intervention.
I should like to say a word about absenteeism. It is a very difficult matter to handle. One recognises that in these tremendously large factories, with a vast amount of green labour, the problem presented to those who are trying to control the labour is very difficult. I find a weakness in co-operation between one Government Department and another, and indeed that is one of the fundamental weaknesses of our whole war machine. Let me give one very simple illustration. Everybody has referred in very sympathetic terms to the problems of married women, for example to their problems of shopping, and looking after their children. Let us take the problem of war-time nurseries. Suppose my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour says that a war-time nursery ought to be established. He is dependent for his information, in relation to Royal Ordnance factories, upon information from the Ministry of Supply. Instructions go out to the local authority. It then becomes the responsibility of the Minister of Health. I have never found strong action taken by the Ministry of Health against local authorities, who are not prepared, without very great pressure, to establish these war-time nurseries. Therefore, in spite of the fact that both the 1094 Minister of Supply and the Minister of Labour believe that in certain districts war-time nurseries should be established in order to help women who have children and who have also undertaken responsible war work in the factories, they cannot help them, and it reacts upon absenteeism.
I am thinking now of ordnance factories in the North of England It is two years since the first attempts were made to establish war-time nurseries. I realise that there have been many problems and difficulties in the way of local authorities in setting up these nurseries, but I should feel much happier if the responsibility for action was vested in one Department. The whole tradition of the relationship of the Ministry of Health with the local authorities prevents such quick decisions as could be the case if pressure were exercised direct from the Ministry of Supply. It is not at all an effective piece of machinery at the present time, and all Government Departments would be very well advised to look at the divided responsibility on matters of this kind as between one Department and another. More adequate Governmental co-ordination would probably help in the solving of this problem of absenteeism.
Take again the shopping question. Into it come the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Labour, the Home Office and the local authorities. Again, we have divided responsibility. Until recently these rather individual problems of women have not been tackled with that sympathetic understanding of which one found traces in the speech of my right hon. Friend. But in fact he should not be called upon to consider relatively small details of that kind. I appreciate that he has vast and weighty problems to consider, vitally affecting our war effort. A Minister charged with the responsibility that he has should not have to consider for one moment details of that kind. I only wish that, somehow, some machinery could be devised which would give some power to somebody to take really effective action, so that we should not have this perpetual playing at ball between one Government Department and another. The, Government may not believe me, but I am sympathetic, when I write to the Minister on shopping and war-time nursery problems.
When my right hon. Friend is looking into the question of organisation of 1095 ordnance factories. I hope that he and his Parliamentary Secretary will try to decide that whoever has to look into the problems I have mentioned has the authority to settle them straight away. The hon. Gentleman who spoke from the other side of the House referred very sympathetically to absenteeism. I know how complicated these problems are in relation to ordnance factories. I want to point out however that there have been factories built up by private enterprise, with a first-class system of organisation, employing green labour and with a comparable number of people as are employed in Royal Ordnance factories, but they have a lower percentage of culpable absenteeism. I cannot help feeling that it is easier for a decentralised body, with responsibility, to cope with the difficulties that arise, rather than for a centralised Government Department to do so.
Have my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary realised how very—"obstructive" is not quite the right word, but damping-down a governmental machine can be upon initiative inside factory life? I know there are some grand people inside the Ministry of Supply doing a full-time job, conscious of their responsibility and struggling to improve matters. On the other hand, it seems to me that the machine sometimes overwhelms initiative inside the Department. I should very much like to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary whether, in headquarters organisation, he has taken the evidence that we have taken, and if he has come, on balance, to the conclusion to which we have come whether he has the power to put right the things that are wrong. That, in my own mind, is what I question. The whole gigantic machine of government is so vast and complicated that sometimes it impedes its own efforts. I wonder whether it would be possible for the Parliamentary Secretary, who looks after the Royal Ordnance factory side, to accept responsibility and have full power to reorganise the internal machine.
The Minister said, with regard to absenteeism, that the labour management department of the Royal Ordnance factories has been charged with the responsibility of dealing with absenteeism. Here I would like to pay a tribute to some of the men and women who are engaged in labour management at the Royal Ord- 1096 nance factories. The Ministry of Supply have taken out of private industry some of the very best and most experienced labour and personnel managers, both men and women, and I have gained the impression, as I have gone round those factories, that they have not got jobs comparable to their experience. They are very experienced in the handling of people, but the usual channels of communication sometimes make life extraordinarily difficult for them. It is even difficult for Members of Parliament, who after all have free access to anyone they like to see, but the usual channels of communication for taking effective action inside the Royal Ordnance factories sometimes take a very long time to set in motion. Although my right hon. Friend has now charged the labour management side of the Royal Ordnance factories with the responsibility of an investigation into absenteeism, I should very much like to know who will be responsible for putting their findings into operation.
It is always very difficult and a little unfair to criticise machinery when one is not concerned in it, but I have gained the impression, and I know I am right without going into any very great detail, that labour management—and if I may say so the medical side as well—has not been properly integrated with the production side in the Royal Ordnance factories. As has happened in many other Government Departments, the whole policy of the Department has been to concentrate on production, and I believe that the superintendents have been told that if their production is up to the target figure it does not matter how much labour they use in reaching it. That is not the right approach, and I am perfectly certain that my right hon. Friend would agree with me on that. Efficient management is vastly important, and you can only get efficient management if due attention is paid to the human machine. Time and time again when people have been in a position to talk to me frankly and freely I have heard expressions of regret that Government Departments always concentrate on the machine and never on the human machine.
It would not be unfair if I said that part of the labour problem inside the Royal Ordnance factories is partly the result of lack of welfare, although I am glad to say there has been very real 1097 improvement lately. This lack of welfare is due to the fact that in the past the "Woolwich mentality" has been accepted by the Government as a standard. Those of us who are progressive in our views on the handling of labour are not very much impressed with the "Woolwich mentality." My right hon. Friend referred to the question of long hours, and expressed a very enlightened view which we all knew he held. Again I apologise, because I do not think that he ought to be bothered with matters of this kind, but has he ever, as an individual and as a matter of interest, investigated the Woolwich approach to welfare, the Woolwich approach to hours, the Woolwich approach to safety, or the Woolwich approach to medical work inside factories? I am not blaming the people who are responsible for Woolwich, but I am blaming past Governments, and past Houses of Commons of which I have been a Member, because we have never realised as we ought to have done the background against which the workers of this country ought to have been asked to make their contribution.
A great deal of lip-service has been paid by various Ministers to the effect of shorter hours. Only the other day in the Debate on factory legislation my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour said that there would be a tightening up, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply said in all truth that the Government ought to set a standard. May I take one very small illustration, that is, the question of the employment of nurses in the Royal Ordnance factories? Is my right hon. Friend aware that a Parliamentary Secretary who is no longer associated with the Government, in excusing to me the fact that the Royal Ordnance factories were not paying the standard of wages which they ought to have been paying to their nurses, did so by stating that there were so few of them? I never knew that justice depended on numbers. I then turned to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, and told him that I was surprised that he was using the Royal College of Nursing as a training ground for nurses in industry, while at the same time he did not subscribe to the standards and conditions under which they thought that nurses ought to be employed. I may say that the Ministry of Labour took action, and I am glad that there has been an improve- 1098 ment in the conditions of nurses in the Royal Ordnance factories, but the standard should have been set there for nurses throughout the country.
The standard with regard to hours also should be set by the Royal Ordnance factories. You cannot bring pressure to bear on private employers unless you can show your own example, because private employers have exactly the same problems of the lack of skilled labour in building up their war production, and, what is more, employers cannot exercise as much pressure on Government Departments as Government Departments can exercise on themselves. Therefore, I think that my right hon. Friend would do well reexamine exactly what is the position with regard to hours, and to learn also what welfare, labour and personnel management really mean in the factory. I am quite certain that if he has time to do that he will set the standard which he himself admits is the standard which ought to be put into operation by an enlightened and progressive Government.
In conclusion, I hope that we shall get our headquarters organisation right. I hope that when people wish to voice criticisms, those criticisms will be listened to. I am not at all impressed by the type of Governmental machinery that operates in this country at present, under which someone who may have a very wide experience of industry finds himself, as a temporary civil servant, in a Government Department, but unable to give the benefit of his experience to that Department except by working through about 10 other people who may not have as much experience. I know it is very dangerous for me, with my little knowledge, to express a view of that kind, but we are all trying to make a common contribution to the biggest cause for which this country has ever stood in the whole history of our civilisation. It is very frustrating to people who have never been used to the deadening effect of a machine to find that their ideas and knowledge can be thrust aside because those who are responsible for the running of the Department cannot somehow get over the difficulties that have grown up in this vast and gigantic machine.
We are all out for a common purpose, we all want to make a common contribution. I sometimes wish we could have more Parliamentary Secretaries who could 1099 undertake specific jobs and really see them through from the beginning to the end. I rather feel that the Parliamentary Secretary who deals with the Royal Ordnance factory side with a very wide experience should not be asked to undertake any other routine work, but should be able to concentrate the whole of his experience on the management of the Royal Ordnance factories. I cannot see why he should not have got all the evidence which was made available to the Select Committee. The Ministers have such a volume of work that it is difficult for them to attend to the detail, and I cannot help feeling that arising out of this Report of the Select Committee there is nothing wrong with the major policy; it is detail that is wrong, and we all know what a long time it takes to put small details right individually. I end by saying how grateful I am to my right hon. Friend for the way in which he has received the Report. It is very valuable to have experience on the Select Committee properly used. I am conscious of the responsibilities resting on individual Members of Parliament. It is a valuable asset if one can talk to people with complete frankness, if people can come along and say, "This is what is worrying us," if there is no question of giving away a superior or a subordinate, no question of protecting themselves against dismissal, if they can talk perfectly freely and frankly. Though perhaps the Select Committee's Report may have caused some consternation in the Ministry of Supply, I cannot help feeling that at the bottom of his heart the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary realise that we tried to make a very real contribution in the knowledge that once we get our machinery effectively organised, the sooner will come the end of the war.
§ Mr. Cyril Lloyd (Dudley)
My right hon. Friend's review of the position of the ordnance factories, and of this Report of the Select Committee, does, I think, make an opportunity for consideration of the work of the Select Committee itself. I have a feeling that the Select Committee itself is to some extent under judgment to-day, because the question arises whether the work they are doing is first of all useful to this House—they are the servants of this House—secondly, whether it is effective, and thirdly, whether it has, 1100 in the way in which it is presented to this House, a useful effect on the public at large. I feel that the methods of the work of the Select Committee are open to criticism in all these respects. We have an old-established method of examination of public accounts by the Public Accounts Committee, which proceeds with a very exact, dignified procedure but admittedly long after the events have taken place. At the other end of the scale we have Treasury control of expenditure. The House has seen fit to appoint the Committee with very wide terms of reference indeed, in such a form that it seems to me it is likely for a time to form a constitutional element of our Government. It goes on from Session to Session in a way which seems to suggest that it is to be overlasting. I am not sure how many Reports it has presented—this is the eleventh of this Parliamentary Session—but it has presented an enormous number of Reports, which are all used on the same endeavour, to serve this House.
I do not wish for a moment to be thought to be criticising the members of the Committee. It would ill become me to do so, but I think the House may sometimes stand back and look at this rather monstrous child they have brought into being, sometimes with alarm, sometimes almost with consternation. For one thing, it occupies the time of Members of this House to an extent that it practically raises the question of whether this House is the executive management of industry itself. All industry is working on behalf of the Government; a very large proportion of it is directly under the Ministry of Supply. If that is the true lay-out of industry to-day, the Ministry of Supply are expected to manage industry under a constant fire of criticism from a very large and influential Committee of Members of this House. I venture to think that that is not the way to get an enthusiastic and confident spirit into those responsible for running the great factories engaged on war work. The paralysing effect of the intrusion of criticism from this House is very well known and recognised outside, and everyone knows that the moment a shaft of criticism is directed towards any particular factory, whether it be private or Royal Ordnance factory, a tremendous commotion is created, which probably reacts very seriously on production itself.
§ Sir H. Williams
Can the hon. Member quote a single example where production 1101 has been adversely affected by any visit of any sub-committee of the Select Committee?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I do not wish in the short time at my disposal to get down to detail. I have a pretty wide knowledge of production throughout the country, but I do not intend to be led into the discussion of details and away from my main theme. My main theme is that my right hon. Friend indicated in his speech that if the House does not entirely approve of the methods of this Committee, these methods can be adjusted, probably by the House itself. I would suggest that if we must have a large body of criticism directed at Ministers, keeping them under constant fire, the procedure could at any rate be simplified, and that the fire might be withheld, or at any rate there might be some greater inter-collaboration between the Committee and the Ministries before a Report of this sort is put before the public. We must remember that these meetings of the Committee are held in private. People, whether they are servants of the Ministry or not, are examined in camera. I do not think the Ministry are consulted as to who the witnesses should be, or, indeed, as to what their case is. When the Committee, in all its force, propose to visit a factory, I believe that that fact is somewhat trumpeted abroad, and, naturally, considerable preparations are made.
§ Sir H. Williams
The hon. Gentleman is making many strange statements. These visits are never trumpeted abroad by the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I do not want to pursue that point. My point is this—it is not strictly against the Committee itself. I am simply trying to suggest that a simpler and quicker method might be found of investigating and ameliorating the many complaints and difficulties which are constantly coming forward, not only in public but to every Member of this House. It must be remembered that the Ministry are operating industry on a 1102 quite unprecedented scale. No one who has been responsible for the operation of even the smallest industry can fail to know that in any operation a certain number of misfortunes occur. There must always be certain losses on development and certain delays in securing efficiency. If the ordinary experience of that kind is multiplied in proportion to the scale on which the Ministry are operating, I do not think it will be found that the inefficiency is out of scale. I feel that the Report itself justifies the point I have been trying to make, because the summary of recommendations comes down, from the production engineer's point of view, almost to a series of copybook maxims. I will not trouble the House with them all: let me take one or two. It is said that:Stocks of material and components should be accumulated in order to secure a proper flow of supplies.Surely that is not a thing which it wants a heavy Parliamentary Committee to suggest to industry. Let me take the next:Designing staffs should pay more attention to ease and economy in producing the completed product, and no design should be accepted which has not been fully tested from the production point of view.That is one of the most foolish recommendations which has ever come to my notice. Production means production in quantity.
§ Mr. Lloyd
He has accepted it in general, but not in detail. Production in war means mass production. Mass production means months and months of preparation. Do the Committee really mean that before a design is accepted it must be put into mass production, and that then it must be seen whether it is successful or not? That would mean that its acceptance must await its production in quantity.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
I am sure the hon. Member does not mean to be unfair to the Committee. I am not a member of the Committee. Does he not think that when they use the word "production" they mean, not mass production but production in the ordinary sense of the word?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I will read what the recommendation says: 1103no design should be accepted which has not been fully tested from the production point of view.That may be capable of many interpretations, but to my mind it is at best a copybook maxim, which would be found written up in most of the drawing offices of this country.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
May I say from personal experience in my own works that I get any number of articles ordered which are almost incapable of being produced one at a time, far less by mass production?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I wish I could follow the argument of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) on that subject. I should enjoy it if he would come outside with me and discuss the matter. But for the moment I would press the point that this Committee in its work has such a wide field that it is neither up to date nor really performing the exploratory duty which I think the House hoped it might perform. If its functions could be simplified I think it would be more useful. As far as the Ordnance factories themselves are concerned, I welcome the report of my right hon. Friend, who has very properly stressed the difference between these factories and ordinary engineering factories. These factories have had to be built up with a different background. They are not in the true sense production factories at all, and they have many difficulties which are not common to the ordinary factory working on war production. They naturally, therefore, have to be staffed on empirical lines. There is no doubt constantly going on within the Ordnance factory range a gradual improvement in efficiency. I do not see why the Committee should question the fact that the Ministry are doing that work well.
I welcome also my right hon. Friend's general report on the achievements in the general war effort. It is desirable that we should have some means of hearing specific and obvious faults. I do not think that a Select Committee is the right method, because the most glaring fault one hears of is almost always the result of one useless man in a very large core of employment. If you use the committee method, so dear to democracy, the Committee produces the results of its investigation probably long after that man 1104 has been removed to some other sphere—and, very likely, has received his due meed of decoration. It would be helpful if the operations of this House in the critical sphere could be more simple and more quickly performed.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
I have just had—I will not say the pleasure—the amazement of listening to one of the most extraordinary speeches ever made in this House. I have the greatest respect for the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. C. Lloyd)—I have had his friendship for many years—but I do not think that in all the rest of his life he has talked so much nonsense as he has during the last 10 minutes. I wonder how many of the Reports of the Select Committee he has read. I will willingly give way.
§ Sir H. Williams
I congratulate my hon. Friend. He is the only Member of the House who has read such a large number.
§ Sir H. Williams
He spoke of factory people resenting the visits of the Select Committee. I know of no such case. For two years I was chairman of the Supply Sub-committee which had the function of watching the operations of the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Works and Buildings, and I found more than a welcome wherever we went.
§ Sir H. Williams
Not a bit of it. We were always kept waiting at the entrance to Royal Ordnance factories, and they did not appear to expect us, as very little trouble was taken over our visit in a ceremonial sense. The visits to such works must necessarily be secret, and thus relate to things that cannot be publicised. But whenever we have visited a factory the actual arrangements have been made through the Ministry of Supply or Ministry of Aircraft Production or whatever Ministry is interested in the particular production. As to the idea that we were publicised when we visited factories, if my hon. Friend only saw what happened sometimes when a Minis- 1105 ter goes to a factory, he would find something very different. No special arrangements have ever been made for visits of the Select Committee. My hon. Friend does not like the verdict on this occasion, so he says, "Change the jury." I wonder whether my hon. Friend really wrote his own speech to-day. He talks about copybook maxims. If he devoted one-tenth of the time that some of us have devoted to this problem, he would know that these copybook maxims are not being carried out. The Minister of Production referred to the design of the Bofors platform. Why was it redesigned? Because of a visit that some of us paid to a number of factories where we received as witnesses certain people who are making this thing. We were told of the stupidity of the design in a factory not very far from my hon. Friend's constituency. What is the use of coming here and accusing the Committee of talking platitudes and all the rest of it when we find that these platitudes are not being given effect to? I remember visiting a Royal Ordnance factory in April, 1940, and seeing the design of the platform of another kind of gun so incredibly stupid that it made the works management weep.
Surely it is somebody's business to draw attention to these follies. My hon. Friend says that we ought not to do it. I hope that he will not make a speech like that again and talk about copybook maxims. It is the most disgusting speech I have heard in this House for many a long year from the point of view of the public interest. My hon. Friend wants no reform; he thinks that everything is lovely and that the Royal Ordnance factories are perfect. Anyway, I will not trouble the House any more about his speech. My right hon. Friend the Minister, for whom I have the profoundest respect, is asked to do what is an almost impossible job, so great is its magnitude, and he is to-day a little bit on the grill. In his defence—and I do not blame him—he attacked the 17th Report of last Session because something which it said does not agree with the nth Report.
§ Sir H. Williams
Then my right hon. Friend drew attention to it generally. It may be a good lawyer's point that he used to make in the old days before he ascended or descended from the legal profession. There is severe condemna- 1106 tion in the Report about the hostels policy. It was in May of last year when some of my colleagues and I visited two Royal Ordnance factories in the North of England. We went with nothing in particular in our minds. We had one or two complaints in mind connected with the construction of the factories. We had nothing before us and no advanced information with regard to operations. There is no harm in saying what I am saying. Herr Hitler knows all about these factories. The bulk of them were started before the war, and I am certain that there were full reports in Berlin about their magnitude long before the war started. I want the House to realise what one of these places is really like. Imagine a fence of anything from 12 to 16 miles in length, perhaps, rather irregular or circular or a quadrangle, an unclimbable fence. Inside there was what was to be an electrified fence. It has never been electrified. We drew attention to that in our report and to the fact that they had wasted a lot of money, but we will forget all that as my right hon. Friend had nothing to do with it. What is there inside? There is not a factory as hon. Members understand it, but from 1,200 to probably 1,500 separate buildings, most of them rather small and separated from one another by huge banks of earth so that if one should blow up, it would not damage the rest. There were 40 miles of roadway on the site. If one of the superintendents tried to walk through all the shops it would take a fortnight. How could any human being manage such a place, sited in some rural area to get to which the workpeople had to travel many miles? The mistake was made in 1936. They ought not to have built them that size. Most of my right hon. Friend's troubles arose from the mistakes of predecessors. I do not know how anybody could decide to build a factory of the magnitude I have described to employ 45,000 on a three-shift system when it could not possibly be supervised effectively by any human being.
That is the fact which dominates this problem, and my right hon. Friend and his colleagues have no responsibility. It all happened before the Ministry of Supply came into being. We went on a visit to the place in the North of England to find out about things, and we had not been inside more than an hour before we realised that absenteeism dominated the whole situation 1107 from some points of view. We took a great deal of trouble and invited the works committee and everybody whom we thought could give us information to help us, and they all gave their information separately. Everybody knew that what they said to us could not go back to anybody above them. That was a great advantage. They had perfect freedom of speech. We came back and wrote the Seventeenth Report to which reference has been made. In that Report we said we wanted to see the rapid extension of the hostel system, but these hostels are now not wanted. On what evidence did we do that? We went to a great factory. My right hon. Friend knows it, and I do not need to indicate the place. It was designed to employ 45,000 on a three-shift system. At least that is what the superintendent and his colleagues told us. They were at that moment employing about 18,000. They were rather more conveniently situated with respect to transport than some of the other factories. They were near a main trunk road and a railway, and the general circumstances were rather good, but they realised that, if they were to have 45,000 people, they would have to take a large number of people from other parts of the country and have to house them in hostels. Therefore, in the light of the fact that this factory was going to employ, according to official evidence, another 27,000 people, naturally we recommended that hostels should be provided With the utmost expedition. What is the position at that factory to-day? I have not the precise information. My right hon. Friend referred to a factory employing 25,000, and I think we must be talking about the same factory. I think that that 25,000 is going to be reduced.
Therefore the situation described to us by officials of the Ministry 13 or 14 months ago, is now altered by the policy of the Ministry. Why has the Ministry changed its policy? Filling factories fill many thousands of shells, and we have not used a great many shells, and nobody could anticipate that. We were producing shells long before the war and we must have a vast store. That is obvious to anybody, and I am not disclosing any secrets. At some stage or another it was decided that it was not worth while seeking to extend the production of that particular article, so a decision was taken at some time by somebody that this fac- 1108 tory—and it is true of others—was not to employ 45,000 people but only about 20,000. When that decision was taken certain consequential action should have been taken that does not appear to have been taken. I do not know what day the decision was taken; all I know is that in May, 1941, there were to be 45,000, people employed. The number now employed, I believe, is 25,000, and it is likely to drop to 20,000. That is a complete change.
In our Report, in which absenteeism is dealt with, we also recommended the abolition of excessive hours of labour, on which I have been reporting now for two years. Excessive hours of labour have been the greatest curse of the whole matter; they have forced up prices, tired people, upset the whole balance of production and wrecked our wages policy. The first Report I was associated with, early in 1940, drew attention to this excessive overtime and all the rest of it, but everybody being afraid to say, "We will go back to more or less pre-war hours," because they thought somebody might point the finger of scorn at them and say they were not doing their bit, it was allowed to continue. If I had my way, I would go back to the 47-hour week to-morrow. People are now working excessive hours. You can reduce hours too much, I agree, but I think the 47-hour week in operation in peace-time industry, generally speaking, gave efficient results. All this overtime is wrong; it is demoralising, and it leads to profiteering in wages and waste. Here am I, rather a right wing Conservative, taking a view that ought to be a prerogative of the Labour party, but my colleagues and I have been convinced of this from the beginning. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Labour party is always right."] No, you want to go too far, and then you get into trouble
We recommended piece-work hesitatingly, because filling work carries with it an element of danger. It was quite obvious output was bad, but it was also obvious that the bulk of the work was not dangerous, so we deliberately recommended piece-work in this Report. Ultimately, the Ministry diffidently agreed, and they have been surprised to get a much bigger output, but they never assumed that unless they expanded the programme they would not want so many people. Between these reports I remem- 1109 ber receiving a written statement saying, "If we introduce piece-work, we shall not have enough components on which people can work." The feeling was that piecework must not be reduced because it would lead to a big output. That is on record, I think. I do not say that the Minister has seen it himself. That is one of the disabilities of our procedure—
§ Sir H. Williams
It does not matter; it was in relation to filling at a factory. If the effect of introducing piece-work was that there would not be enough components, it meant that some labour could be shipped elsewhere. That is quite obvious. Here we have the Ministry of Labour ordering all sorts of people away from my constituency, especially women, whom they call "mobile" women. That does not seem to me to be a polite term; I should hate to be called a "mobile" man, because I should not know what offence I had committed. As I say, the Ministry has ordered tens of thousands of people to places where they are not wanted. It must have been obvious months ago that the filling programme could have been accomplished with far fewer people. The Minister says that we have 42 Royal Ordnance factories, and I suggest that they have cost probably between£200,000,000 and£300,000,000. Some individual factories have cost as much as£12,000,000. There cannot be any secret about this; I am not giving away information to the enemy. About half that space will be idle, some of it on the filling side—
§ Sir H. Williams
Well, 45,000 people were to be employed in this factory; now there are to be only 25,000. Where are we? There is no escaping that fact. Take other parts of the country that I can mention. How many women have been needlessly sent from their homes? The Committee refers to one factory which wanted to get rid of 6,000 and another which wanted to get rid of 7,000, and I say that many tens of thousands of women have been torn away from their homes and sent where they are not wanted, causing grave social unrest. Make no mistake, the introduction of conscription for women was very unpopular in this country. I was one 1110 of those who declined to support the Bill for their conscription when it was introduced. I was horrified, because I thought it was a terrible mistake and totally unnecessary. Men are in a different category, but the conscription of women was a psychological blunder of primary magnitude. Women were driven into factories where they were not wanted, and when they got into hostels and it came to the week-end they went away and came back on the following Tuesday. They wanted to be dismissed. Absenteeism is, on Mondays, deplorable and it is now creeping into Tuesdays. The week-enders have gone home "fed up." It is the plain truth.
I tried to get figures for absenteeism in Royal Ordnance factories by a Question to the Minister of Labour recently, and his answer was that it was not in the public interest to print them. I say that it was to avoid disclosure of what is a primary blunder, a first-rate blunder. I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Dudley has not come back. If he had had his way, it would have been impossible to have had this Debate to-day and to draw attention to these grave mistakes, involving the loss of many millions of pounds, both capital and current expenditure. In one lot of hostels I think the all-in payment was 22s. 6d. a week, and it was said that no girl earning less than 24s. would be charged rent and keep. So the girls, being Scottish or Welsh or whatever they were, earned 24s. and took a rest for the rest of the week.
§ Sir H. Williams
Yes, no doubt Yorkshire as well. These girls, having worked for only a few days, had nothing to pay for board and lodging and so were left with their 24s. to spend. That was happening, but I am glad to say it has been brought to an end. It was a deplorable state of affairs. The Minister is not to blame in the slightest degree for the fact that these gigantic, elephantine factories have been sited in semi-rural areas, involving every kind of difficulty as regards transport and shopping, to which reference has already been made. In conclusion, I ask the Minister not to think I am attacking him; I have too much respect for the splendid work he has done. But he has a job so gigantic 1111 that he cannot keep an eye on it all the time. I hope that the result of this Debate will be a decision to give effect to the recommendations of the Report when the Government approve of them and that when that decision has been taken there will be follow-up by the proper organisation to make sure that results come from the decision.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
The Debate so far, and particularly the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, must have made it quite clear to the House that a Report of the kind now under discussion has a peculiar value not only to the House and to the country, but to the Department which is under consideration, because a Committee which is independent of the Executive, which is responsible to the House alone, and which is able to get evidence with a pledge of confidence, is in a far better position to get at the truth of what is taking place than any inquiry which a Minister himself might undertake. My right hon. Friend, in the course of his remarks, about which I make no complaint whatever, because I think he dealt with the subject in an admirable way, started by suggesting that some of the facts contained in the Report were not quite accurate. I listened very patiently and carefully to the rest of his speech to ascertain the particular facts about which he complained, and I am bound to say that I missed them. My right hon. Friend did not like some of the conclusions that we came to, but as far as my memory goes, there was not a single fact contained in the Report that he challenged, and if the Parliamentary Secretary intends to deal with the subject, I should be very grateful to know what facts are challenged.
I think it is fair to the sub-committee, of which I have the honour to be chairman, to tell the House of the great care that was taken not only in providing accurate facts, but in getting all possible explanations of those facts. The House might say that we took too much care, because in all we took evidence from 98 witnesses, of whom 40 were representatives of the managements, 36 representatives of the workers, and 22 headquarters witnesses; and may I say about the headquarters witnessess that, apart from some of those whom we saw locally, all the 1112 headquarters witnesses were chosen by the Department. If their evidence was not what it should have been, the Department is to blame and not the sub-committee. In addition to the large amount of evidence that we took, we received a considerable number of memoranda all of which were relevant to the inquiry. We visited 16 factories, which was a very good sample of the total of 42. Those factories were spread over all parts of the country, and we were in every region, the regions being the regions into which the Royal Ordnance factories were divided. Therefore, I am sure the House will agree that this was a very careful and comprehensive investigation, and I may claim that it was carried out in an impartial manner and without any preconceived views. The House may have its own opinions as to the ability with which the inquiry was conducted, but I hope there will be no two views as to the impartial manner in which it was conducted. In reinforcement of that, may I say that the sub-committee consisted of representatives of all parties who, probably, before the war could never have been induced to put their names to any single document, but who in this case were unanimous about the Report. Furthermore, the procedure was that the first draft was prepared by me, as chairman; it was accepted by the sub-committee with, certain minor modifications; and it was subsequently considered by the full Committee on two occasions and again, with amendments which did not affect the principle of the Report, they accepted it unanimously. Accordingly, I may claim that this Report does represent the fully considered view of the Select Committee after a very full and comprehensive inquiry.
I do not disagree at all with my right hon. Friend about the importance of the Royal Ordnance factories in our war production and the great part they are playing to-day. The Minister gave us a very interesting account of the work that is being done in these Royal Ordnance factories, and it was rather interesting to get the complete details that he gave us, because I had always been led to believe that it was contrary to public security even to state the number of Royal Ordnance factories in the country. My right hon. Friend came out glibly with this very secret information, and also told us all the things we are doing in these factories. 1113 If we had only known that it was all right to say it, we might have said something more in the Report. While I would not attempt to vary one word of what my right hon. Friend said about the excellent work that is being done in those factories, it is the business of the Select Committee to discover and inform the House of the weaknesses and inefficiencies which exist in those factories, some of which, I agree, are inherent in the rapid and indeed spectacular way in which the factories have grown.
But while it is the duty of the Select Committee to place these weaknesses and inefficiencies before the House, we should be rendering an ill service if thereby the true picture were distorted. It was a source of great regret to me personally to find that in certain quarters, including the Press, the particular weaknesses to which we thought it necessary to draw attention were emphasised, but on the contrary, the good work, to which also we drew attention, that is being done by the Royal Ordnance factories was either passed over quickly or totally ignored. I think it is fair to my right hon. Friend and to the Ministry which he represents that the House should have a true picture, in its right proportions, of what is taking place. In fact, as we said in the Report, there has been a very great improvement in the past year in the Royal Ordnance factories, since my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) reported on them, and possibly due to his report; and particularly in regard to the engineering factories, about which little is said in the Report, because, in fact, there is not very much scope for criticism, I think it right to say that some of the new engineering factories are among the most efficient in the country and that their costs are among the lowest. But we consider that by drawing attention to the deficiencies we are making the best contribution to the further development of these factories, and my right hon. Friend would be the last to say that they are not capable of further development. That is the atmosphere in which this Report was prepared.
I would like now, like my right hon. Friend, to say a few words about some of the specific matters dealt with in the Report. The first thing which my right hon. Friend mentioned was the question of redundant capacity, and may I say that I thought he was very kind to him- 1114 self in dealing with this question? He talked about the spare capacity constituting a necessary, valuable, and wise insurance, but nobody knows better than he does that one can pay too big a premium for an insurance, so big a premium as to make it perhaps hardly worth while insuring; and the premium that is being paid in respect of the filling factories, in particular, is 37 per cent. of idle capacity. The figure of 37 per cent. is very high indeed, and I should like to ask my right hon. Friend whether it is his deliberate policy to provide that amount of spare capacity as an insurance, or whether it is not the fact that it has come about quite accidentally as a result of the lack of balance between the production of components and filling.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
This is a very important matter. Was the figure of 37 per cent. redundant capacity spread over a period of time or was the investigation made in respect of a short period of time?
§ Mr. Silkin
Redundant capacity was gradually increasing, and it represents the situation at a particular moment. For all I know, the amount of redundant capacity may be slightly higher to-day, because that was the general tendency, but at the time the Report was published the figure was 37 per cent., and I submit that it goes far beyond providing a reason able insurance and that it was never intended to provide this spare capacity to meet such a contingency. If there is to be this spare capacity, why is it limited to filling factories and not extended to engineering and aircraft factories? I suggest that to have 37 per cent. spare capacity in filling factories as an insurance against the unknown is not really applying one's mind to the problem. My right hon. Friend should consider most carefully the recommendations made by the Committee in this respect, and the possibility of closing down, even if it is only a temporary closing down, one or more of the filling factories and transferring the labour. By that means he will attain a very valuable reserve of skilled personnel and skilled management, as well as of machinery.
§ Mr. Silkin
That is a contingency which we have to face all the time. It is hardly feasible that the whole of a filling factory could be blitzed, because in some cases there are over 1,000 separate shops, so designed that a hit on one would not affect the others. While it is only prudent to consider the possibility of a factory being blitzed, I submit that one can be too cautious in making provision for that contingency. My right hon. Friend then dealt with the recommendations regarding redundant labour. In my judgment, and this is purely my own personal opinion, I should think that some 20,000 to 30,000 unwanted persons in Royal Ordnance factories could be transferred.
§ Sir A. Duncan indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Silkin
I made it quite clear that this is not in the Report. The Report states that a large number of persons could be transferred, and I am expressing my opinion that the number is something in the order of 20,000 to 30,000. Since the Report was made, a substantial number of persons have been transferred; in one factory 1,000 persons were removed—that is, in one factory only, which is not even one of the most important. I suggest that my right hon. Friend is not seized with the magnitude of the problem, and, when the joint survey takes place between himself and the Ministry of Labour, I have very little doubt, if it is done efficiently and carefully, that the figures I have mentioned will not be found to be an exaggeration. There can be no doubt that there is a redundancy of labour, but, whether it is of the order I have mentioned, or whether it is a smaller figure, it is a fact that a number of filling factories do not always carry out their programmes. This is due frequently to a shortage of empties; the copybook maxim, to which reference has been made, has not apparently been carried out. It is common sense to have a reasonable supply of empties if the filling factories are to be fully occupied. As I say, that 1116 has not been the case, and in practically every filling factory we visited we found they were unable to carry out certain items of their programme because of the shortage of components. It is a very important, if pedestrian, recommendation, and therefore it is as well to remind the Minister of these elementary facts.
Perhaps the trump card of my right hon. Friend was hostile. My right hon. Friend made great play in drawing attention to the differences between the Report made a year ago and the present Report. I confess there is an inconsistency, and that it is inconsistent to suggest a year ago that we wanted more hostels and to suggest to-day that we have too many; but it is quite conceivable that my right hon. Friend and his predecessor were, as a result of the Report presented a year ago, so active that they did not know when to stop. To-day we have four times as many hostels as we require, and, while my right hon. Friend may be congratulated on dealing so quickly with the criticisms in that Report, it does not exonerate him to-day for the over-provision of hostels for which we are now glad to find customers at any price. My right hon. Friend congratulated himself that 14 redundant hostels were to be taken over.
§ Mr. Silkin
Surely they were provided for the workers and not for that purpose. Undoubtedly a miscalculation was made in regard to the provision of hostels. We have set out in the Report the way in which the calculations were made. Someone worked out the number of workers who would be engaged in a filling factory; someone calculated the number who would be living at home within 12 miles of the factory; someone calculated the number of persons who would have to be brought in from outside; someone worked out the number of billets which could be found within a reasonable distance, and then, by a simple process of arithmetic, a calculation was made of the number of persons for whom hostels would have to be provided. I submit that on every one of these calculations someone has blundered. They have blundered over the number of people who would be employed when the hostels were finished, because they "failed to take into account the increase in efficiency which would take place in that period, and that therefore fewer 1117 workers would be required when the hostels were finished. It was assumed that workers who had to travel more than 12 miles would be willing to go into hostels, which was a fundamental error. There was an under-estimate of the number of people for whom billets should be provided, and there was a failure to take into account the question of whether the hostels would be popular, and whether people would be willing to live in them. I suggest that the calculation was made by some academic person sitting at a desk who may have been good at arithmetic, but was not good at anything else, and you got this extraordinary situation, that by that calculation you got provision for four times as many people as you really required. When my hon. Friend made his recommendation about hostels he suggested that they should be close to the works. Is it likely that they would be popular if people had to travel to their work and back? The case for a hostel is that you save a journey. If you have to make the journey all the same—and in some cases they are four or five miles from the factory—it might have been foreseen that people would not be willing to make the journey and that, if they had to make one they would rather live at home and perhaps, if necessary, make even a longer journey.
There is a number of other matters contained in the Report, and I am gratified to find that in the majority of cases the recommendations will be taken seriously and that they are either accepted in principle or will be carefully investigated. But it is remarkable to me that it should have been necessary in a Report of this kind for some of the matters to come under consideration. If investigation had not been made, the probability is that things would have been left as they were. For instance, you find that in a number of our factories each of the production Departments is carrying out its own inspection, and in certain cases you have three different inspection Departments each independently inspecting. It seems to me that that is a matter that ought to have been taken up a long time ago. It may be difficult to unify, but in one case it has been possible to get one production Department to inspect for the other two. Surely that is one of those obvious things that one Member complained of in our recommendations which have not been dealt with. The need for uniform methods 1118 and standards of inspection is an elementary thing. In fact, at different factories you get different methods and standards of inspection. A gun which might be passed in one factory will not be passed in another, and it is causing a good deal of confusion and delay. There is a fruitful line of inquiry for the right hon. Gentleman. If he will look at the high proportion of skilled men in certain factories as against others, he will find that it ought to be possible to release a considerable number, and knowing, as he does, the great need for skilled men in other industries, I know that he will not be diffident about releasing them.
One thing that struck all of us very much was the high quality of the superintendents whom we saw. They are carrying out a very difficult task, because they cannot possibly know what is going on everywhere in the factory. They have a good deal of administration to do, but they do their best, and, on the whole, they are a very competent and capable body of men. But we were shocked at the remuneration that they receive. Any man in outside industry doing a similar job would probably think himself underpaid if he got three or four times the salary. Surely a man responsible for the organisation of 25,000 workers is worth£5,000 a year, and they are getting£1,500. I think that is a matter that the right hon. Gentleman ought to put right somehow. It is to their credit that, in spite of this low remuneration, they are doing excellent work. One thing that struck us was that, in spite of their high quality, they were not getting the responsibility that they ought to have. For instance, we were told by one superintendent—though I believe it is a matter of some doubt whether it was correct or not—that he could not appoint a foreman without getting approval from headquarters. He certainly cannot appoint a shop manager without getting approva1. It seems very odd that you can trust these men with the enormous responsibility that they have and yet you cannot let them appoint a foreman, shop manager or assistant shop manager without having to get approval, and the Departments are not always very quick in giving it. In one case that was mentioned to us a foreman had been provisionally appointed and was doing the job, but the approval did not come through for between two and three months. When it came through the pay 1119 was retrospective, but, while they were waiting for approval, he was only getting his former pay. It is not very satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman might look at it again and see whether it is not possible to give this fine body of men a greater sense of responsibility than they have.
§ Sir P. Hannon
Did the hon. Member receive any definite complaint from the superintendents that they were not adequately paid?
§ Mr. Silkin
No, and that is very much to their credit. The question did not arise until they were pressed as to whether they were satisfied with their responsibility, but the fact remains that when they were pressed they had not the responsibility that they were entitled to. Then there are so many organisations inside the factory for which they have no responsibility at all. If a canteen is not satisfactory the superintendent is not in a position to deal with it. He can use his personality in improving it, but he cannot do more than that. He is not responsible for the canteen. He is not responsible, of course, for the hostels. But a superintendent should be king in his own castle and should be responsible for everything that takes place inside the factory, and that is not the position to-day. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say he proposes to dispense with his recruiting organisation. I could never feel that it was justifiable, and it seemed to me to be a reflection on the work of the Ministry of Labour, and although the Ministry of Labour acquiesced, they were only acquiescing in their own condemnation, because surely recruiting is a matter for the Ministry of Labour, and it seemed to me they were admitting that they were not able to do their own job.
I am glad that attention is being given to the question of absenteeism. It is a very serious matter in the Royal Ordnance factories. If you could reduce it to reasonable proportions, you could dispense with thousands more workers. The right hon. Gentleman will not quarrel with that figure, because absenteeism in some places amounts to 20 or 25 per cent., not all of which is justifiable. Therefore, it is a very important matter to go into. I am not satisfied that it has been seriously gone into in the past six months. My right hon. Friend stated that there had been an inquiry in the last six months, but 1120 we were told that even the figures that were supplied were not comparable and that until quite recently the figures of absenteeism were not even properly looked at. Only within the last two months have the figures been looked at by somebody. The previous position was that the returns of absenteeism were sent to headquarters, but it appeared to be nobody's job to study the returns and only in exceptional cases was anything done. Even to-day, however, the returns from the different factories are not strictly comparable. Perhaps since the Report was issued my right hon. Friend has had more luck, but at the time when we were taking evidence that was the statement made to us.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
When the figure of 20 per cent. is given, is overtime taken into consideration? Have these men been doing overtime, and is that considered when they are absent on other days?
§ Mr. Silkin
It is women whose absenteeism rises to these astronomical figures. They are working a three-shift system, and there is no question of overtime. I am not going into the question why absenteeism arises. We all know many factories which cause absenteeism, but the fact is that it is very high in a number of filling factories.
The Report seems to me to disclose two fundamental weaknesses in the organisation of the Royal Ordnance factories. My right hon. Friend admits that the organisation is lopsided, but thinks that it is none the worse for that. I do not think one would seek out a lopsided organisation. The position is that there is no one person other than the Minister who is responsible for the organisation of the Royal Ordnance factories. There is one man, the Director-General of Royal Ordnance Factories, who is responsible for the engineering factories and for the administration of the fining and explosive factories. There is another Director-General, of equal rank, who is responsible for production in the filling factories, but not for maintenance and administration. There is a further man who is in charge of the explosive factories who is responsible for their production, but not for their administration and maintenance. We get a very blurred picture at times. There is a confusion of responsibility, and 1121 when we tried to ascertain whose was the responsibility for the alleged redundancy of labour in the factories it was difficult to ascertain whether that was a matter of administration or a matter of production. It seems to me reasonable that there should be one person whom we could go to and fire at who has complete responsibility for all the different types of Government factories. I recognised the factors which my right hon. Friend mentioned and that filling factories could be treated as separate, but here is a group of factories that are State-owned, and no one person is responsible for their administration and production. I hope that my right hon. Friend will see his way to look at this and to appoint a person—he would have to be a very exceptional person and he would want finding, but I think he could be found—who should have complete charge of the production and administration of the Royal Ordnance factories.
The other weakness which it seems to me is responsible for a good deal of the trouble is that the labour division, which is responsible for hours of work, conditions, wages, canteens, hostels, welfare and so on, is not an integral part, as it should be, of the organisation of the Royal Ordnance factories. I recognise that the existing division is doing a certain amount of work in respect of privately-owned factories as well, but it has not the same responsibility for them as it has for the Royal Ordnance factories. Its position is* really advisory so far as the privately-owned factories are concerned. It has no executive powers of control over them, but it has a definite responsibility for the State-owned factories. The organisation would be considerably improved if there were a labour division inside the Royal Ordnance factory organisation. I recognise that that would involve the necessity of having a division outside which would be responsible for the labour activities of the privately-owned factories and perhaps that would not be altogether a tidy arrangement. Nevertheless, the advantages of having a labour organisation inside the Royal Ordnance factories, fully acquainted with what is going on and with the needs of the factories, as an integral part of the factories would be much greater than the disadvantages. These are the two main recommendations of the Committee. My right hon. Friend has promised that they 1122 will be carefully considered, and I know that they will be.
This Debate will have served a useful purpose if it causes my right hon. Friend and his Department seriously to shake themselves up and to look with fresh eyes at the work and the organisation of the Royal Ordnance factories. I think that they have been a little too inclined to feel pleased with what is happening—as, indeed, they have every justification for doing—and too little inclined to look at the weaknesses. These factories have already made a valuable contribution to our war effort, but potentially they are capable of immensely more. I am confident that if the recommendations contained in the Report are accepted and promptly implemented the House and the country will have reason to feel proud of their achievements.
§ Mr. Dunn (Rother Valley)
The hon Gentleman the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) and my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) have given their experiences as members of the Committee on National Expenditure. The hon. Member for South Croydon painted a critical and sombre picture. The contribution of the hon. Member for Peckham appeared to me to be like the proverbial egg, good in parts and bad in parts. I do not come to the Debate as a member of the Committee on National Expenditure, whose job is more or less to defend the Committee's Reports. I come as a Member of Parliament who is acquainted with three or four factories of one kind or another and who, week in and week out, religiously makes it part of my business to visit those factories. The hon. Member for Peckham says that he has visited 16 of them. I speak as a constituency man and not as a member of that Committee. Speaking from my own personal investigatins—not uncritical, though at the same time wishing to be helpful to the war effort—I say that I come to this Debate in no sense critical of the Department at all. I come fortified with the knowledge that in my belief the factories with which I am personally acquainted are efficiently run. I have studied the recommendations of the Select Committee, and there is scarcely one of them that is not in operation in these factories. I think hon. Members who make it part of their duty to visit factories week in and week out 1123 and hear what both the managerial side and the workpeople have to say are entitled to express an opinion upon this Report. People sitting in London and making these reports examine the position from the standpoint of the whole country, but individual members are entitled to give their experiences about the factories with which they are personally acquainted.
On 3rd September, 1939, I gave my vote for the prosecution of this war, for it to be prosecuted as speedily as possible to a successful issue, and all my actions from then until now have had this background: Will what I am doing help the prosecution of this war to a successful issue? If I cast a vote in this House or speak in my constituency or in this House, I have always at the back of my mind this consideration: Will what I am doing help the successful prosecution of this war? I have tried to bring the people in my area to adopt the same outlook and take the same line of thought. I do not say that this Debate or the Report is intended to be critical of the Minister. I take the view that the Minister is doing a good job of work, and from my experience in the country I say that he is in as strong a position as any member of this Select Committee to make an assessment of our war effort at the present time.
I will give two experiences, the first a major one and the second a minor one—minor only in the sense that one factory is a large one and the other is a smaller one. Two years ago the site of that factory was green fields. The person who built the factory was a woman and not connected with Wimpey's or anyone else. I think she did a good job of work and made a great contribution to the war effort. The Minister made a rather cryptic reference to "green labour." We have women working in those factories who previously had never seen the inside of a factory, and now they are doing highly skilled engineering work. As I have said, two years ago the site was green fields, and now I believe it is a fact that the factory has passed its target figure of output. Therefore I have not a lot of sympathy with those who are so highly critical in one direction or another, because I feel it to be a reflection upon those whom I represent. More than 3,000 women, mostly miners' wives or daughters, have 1124 entered that factory and are doing highly skilled precision work, and in less than two years they have reached the target figure. That does not show inefficiency, or give any ground for criticism against those who are in charge on the managerial side.
Before that factory came into production I went to a Royal Ordnance factory to see the work which was being done there, and I am not ashamed to say that I felt very sceptical whether the women who were going into these factories, who had never seen a factory or a machine before—except, perhaps, a sewing machine in their own homes—would be able to do the job. I can tell the House now that not only are they doing the job but that in regard to absenteeism their record is a direct contradiction of what the two previous speakers have said. I have been amazed to hear some of the statements in this House. The Minister knows that when he paid a midnight visit to this particular factory the first thing he found was that the superintendent of the factory was on the job, although in my view he ought to have been at home. We examined the question of absenteeism. This was before the tightening-up of the machinery, before this recommendation was made. We found that the voluntary absenteeism at that factory, where nearly 4,500 people were working, was 1.56 per cent., and the over-all figure of absenteeism, including absence through sickness, accident, releases and all sorts of other causes, was 5.56. Therefore, I do not think we should be critical of the type of people of whom I am speaking. They have done a good job of work and made a tremendous contribution to the war effort.
I thought the Minister did not give the men and women in various parts of the country all the credit to which they are entitled for the work they are doing. Many of them have children to look after, others have husbands working in the pits or serving in various branches of the Services, and when absenteeism has been reduced to 1.56 per cent.—and it has remained stationary at that figure—I say we are entitled to claim for those women a word of praise even from the Minister, who knows that what I am stating is correct. I should have liked the Minister to say right out to the women, "You are doing a good job of work, and the country is proud of you."
§ Mr. Dunn
Yes, but I thought he might have used a little different language from what he actually did. I thought he desired to make the absenteeism a general thing. With regard to the smaller factories, the powers-that-be asked the people who are running one of these factories to step up their production, and they offered to step it up by 50 per cent. I am glad to say that in nine months this-small factory stepped up its production by, not 50, but 1,500 per cent. Such people are entitled to recognition in this House.
§ Mr. Dunn
They were doing highly skilled work with a special steel alloy in this small factory. In order that there should be no misunderstanding about it, I took the Minister to this small factory. It is not a Royal Ordnance factory in the usual sense; it was in existence before the war. In efficiency and management, the small factories make as important a contribution to the war effort as the big factories about which there is so much talk. In my view some of the big factories are far too large. The point is that this small factory is now producing at least 1,450 per cent. higher than it was asked to do.
The conditions prevailing in the administration departments of the Royal Ordnance factories are not quite fair and reasonable. It is true that, in the main, the women are now working eight-hour shifts and in many factories are working three successive shifts, but, on the administration side, girls and women are working very long hours indeed, while their pay is far too small. I say that from personal knowledge. When the Minister of Labour made an appeal for women, my own girl answered the call and went into the administration side of a Royal Ordnance factory. The hours are from nine in the morning till seven at night, on Saturday morning from nine until 12, and on Sunday from nine until five. Such hours are too long. The age of the girls is from 17 to 21. Were it not for the excessive overtime they work, and did they not live at home, the girls could riot maintain themselves in decency and comfort on the wages they receive.
§ Sir P. Hannon
Is the hon. Member drawing a comparison between those engaged on the administrative staffs and those actually working in the factories?
§ Mr. Dunn
Yes, Sir, but now I am referring entirely to the girls upon the administration side, and I say that wages on a basis of 27s. 6d. per week up to about 35s. for excessive overtime are not sufficient. I have already spoken to the Parliamentary Secretary on this matter. These girls are doing a good job of work which is reasonably highly skilled. They are grammar school girls who have been kept at school until 16 or 17 years of age. I agree with the hon. Member who has just interrupted that there is no comparison between their wages and the wages of girls on the production side. The girls on the administration side are underpaid, and I ask the Minister to look into the question. If the matter of hours cannot be got over, I ask him to look at the pay and enable these girls to live in decency and comfort.
I have already stated that I visit these factories once or twice a week, and I am annoyed every time I go to certain factories. I have to sign the book, and I do not object to that, because I think it is right. You could not have every Tom, Dick and Harry running over every Royal Ordnance factory; but I object to going cap in hand to some superintendent of a factory or foreman to direct me up and down a factory when I want to see what is taking place. As a Member of Parliament I have tried to make a helpful contribution to the running of factories, and I think it is a bit beyond the mark if I have to go and say, "Please can I go here, there or somewhere else?" I am not pleading for anything special for Members of Parliament, but if a Member of Parliament wants to see inside a factory and to know what is taking place, he should be at liberty, after signing the book and making the superintendent aware that he is on the premises, to look round the factory as he likes and form his own opinion.
In regard to superintendents generally, the hon. Member who has just spoken paid a rather high compliment to them. I support what he said. Never mind what criticism may be levelled at this Report, the superintendents I have met are an admirable set of people who are making a definite contribution to the war 1127 effort, and this House should be proud of them. The remuneration that they receive is inadequate. As to hostels, I have always shared the view that we should have built houses, instead of building hostels at prices which are fabulous in relation to their structure. We should have a national asset when the war is over if we had built houses, and the housing problem would not be so rampart as it is in some of these districts. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are in the wrong place."] I have made a plea over and over again for more houses to be built. In some of these districts we are herding people together, and it is a disgrace. All standards of morality have been broken down in some places, in consequence of the fact that hostels have been built round factories, instead of houses which are decent, comfortable and respectable for people to live in. I beg the Minister to look at this question of hostels and houses, and see whether something can be done. I have confidence in the administration of the Department, and I conclude by paying a tribute to the Minister and his staff. No one is working harder than he is. He visits the factories every week-end, and in my view he is more competent to judge the general position of the war effort than the Select Committee who have made this Report. I would therefore like to say a word of appreciation of the good work which the Minister has done.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
I agree very largely with what my hon. Friend opposite has just said. During the last couple of years there has been developing in this House a supercritical faculty; committees are appointed to examine into administrations outside the House, and notwithstanding the exigencies of war and the stress imposed upon Ministers in the discharge of their obligations in the preparation for defence, there is too much criticism of the Ministers and of what they have had to do in connection with the war effort. Therefore, I am glad that my hon. Friend who has just spoken has borne testimony from his own personal experience, as I can bear from mine, to the work that has been done in the various factories throughout the country, where workpeople and managements are putting their best into the contribution they are making to victory. One sometimes forgets the magnitude of the task imposed upon those responsible 1128 for the organisation of those factories at the time their development had to be undertaken. If one looks back for a couple of years, the immense problem which had to be faced at the time because of our unpreparedness before the war can be realised, and, in looking at the heavy task that lay upon the shoulders of those who were called in to organise production, one must be a little tolerant and sympathetic, because the work had to be done in very difficult circumstances.
I would like to say at once, as one who has been in constant contact with the development of organisations for production since the war broke out and even long before it, one cannot pay too high a tribute to the Minister himself, and to those responsible to him, for the work which has been accomplished. I am delighted to pay a tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) as chairman of the sub-committee of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, but there is more to be done besides having interviews with managements and workpeople. There ought to be some process of check upon the actual figures, and the circumstances at the moment ought not to be the guiding consideration in arriving at a report. One ought to be able to discover what were the processes of development before the investigation was made, and how the great productive organisations have come into existence. I am bound to say, with all due respect to my hon. Friend for the admirable work he has done, that I think he ought to have spent a longer time on an examination of the conditions which prevailed during the development and organisation of these factories. My hon. Friend has quite rightly called attention to the organisation of hostels, but what does he expect? When we brought great numbers of girls down from Scotland and the Border country—
Sir P. Harmon
—we had to provide them with accommodation. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) would make a mighty row in this House if he thought that girls were coming down from Scotland to the Midlands without proper accommodation being provided for them.
§ Sir P. Hannon
It is in the nature of things, in providing hostel accommodation for these workers, that sometimes there would be too much accommodation, but surely that cannot be made a complaint against the Minister or against those responsible to the Minister for the organisation and erection of these factories.
§ Mr. Silkin
Is it not a matter for complaint when you have four times as much accommodation as we really require?
§ Sir P. Hannon
I think that four times is rather an exaggerated figure to apply in this particular case. I have been to a good many of the shadow factories, and while I have found that the hostel organisation is admirable and in some respects more than absolutely necessary, I have always thought it was the duty of those responsible for the administration of the works to see that when girls came in accommodation was provided for them. I think it is far better to have additional accommodation available, rather than that girls should come into a new district, remote from their own homes, and not have proper accommodation provided for them.
All this gigantic organisation for war production was rushed upon the country in the atmosphere of a disturbed outlook, without any great knowledge of the consequences involved, and there must be a tolerant attitude to those responsible for this vast organisation. The whole of the country to-day, with all our splendid workpeople and efficient managements, is organised in working together for war production. I do not think that we in this House ought to be continually carping and criticising the effort that has been made. Those of us who have the opportunity from day to day of visiting our factories and of going among the workpeople see what energy, enthusiasm and loyalty they are putting into their efforts. I cannot help feeling how grateful we ought to be for what has been done in these fateful days. When I think of the great work accomplished by the Director-General of Ordnance and by his colleague who is responsible for the engineering side of the shadow factories, I cannot help feeling that this House ought to be grateful that we have public servants of that quality to undertake such great tasks when their services were called upon.
Of the Minister himself I may say this: I have been in this House for 22 years, 1130 and I have seen a great many changes. I have sometimes seen this House inclined to lose its head a bit, now and again I have seen the atmosphere surcharged with a little surplus excitement, and I have heard contributions to Debates which might have been better left out altogether. I feel that all through that time I have never known a great public servant throw himself into the administration of his Department with more foresight, energy, enthusiasm and constructive capacity than the present Minister of Supply, whose public career in this country is a credit to the profession to which he belongs.
In a Debate like this do not let us be carried away by an outburst of criticism. Let us examine the facts and coolly reflect upon the story of the past and of what has been accomplished by those responsible for the development of these factories. How little was known and how much had to be learnt in the process of their development. We should treat kindly, considerately and gratefully the efforts made by the officers in the various Departments of defence organisation and supply, who were responsible for building up, with great effect and in my judgment beneficent results, in the interests of the safety of this country, the productive organisation which exists to-day. Our hostels are a great accession to our war production organisation, and I would not like to leave the ladies who are in charge of these hostels—they have been carefully selected and are doing their duties admirably—under the impression that we like the suggestion made from the other side of the House that there is any danger to the morals of the people who occupy the hostels. My experience is that the wardens of our factory hostels are just as careful of the morals and the safety of our girls as any other person. I am prepared to defend these splendid women in charge of these working girls in any corner of the country at any time.
This Debate has served a useful purpose. I hope it will serve as a model for the House while we have almost day after day this long series of Reports by the Select Committee. We are not always carried away by the conclusions which these admirable colleagues of ours arrive at. There are perhaps occasions on which they are sometimes in a hurry to reach conclusions. Sometimes perhaps they have not examined the whole of the facts 1131 before they come to a decision. We Members of the House of Commons are entitled to examine and check for ourselves, and exercise our own judgment on the facts presented in this series of Reports. They are all valuable, all helpful, all suggestive, but not always conclusive regarding the administration of Departments in the public service. I hope that as a result of this Debate the Members of the House will make themselves more familiar with the immense work which is being done in these great factories throughout me country. You cannot visit one of these factories, go among the workpeople, meet the management, and cross-examine them if you like, without observing the vast effort which is being made to win the war by the magnificent co-ordinated effort of management and workpeople. Not the least interesting part of the story of these days to be told in the future is that in these great factories and from the central directing organisation at headquarters there is a co-operative effort of supreme moment and value playing its part in deciding the destinies of the country in the grimmest time through which it has ever passed.
§ Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)
I will not detain the House long. I have no desire to join this mutual admiration society in paying tribute to the Ministry of Supply, but I would not be true to myself unless I paid a tribute to the Ministry, because I have had a good deal of contact not only with the present Minister of Supply but every other Minister of Supply we have had since this war broke out. I have gone with every Minister of Supply to different factories, not only in my native land, but all over England. My only complaint about that is that we have too few factories in Scotland, to the standing disgrace of the present Government. The Minister of Supply is not responsible for that, but the Ministry of Supply is responsible for the carrying-out of the work in the factories. My experience leads me to say that they have revolutionised production. We are beyond the wildest dream, not of lawyers but of engineers who have made munitions, who have had charge of munition workers, and who made records in the last war in the production of munitions. The present production is away beyond our wildest dreams. I have done all I can time and time again, and I have got 1132 many concessions, not only from the present Minister, but from every Minister who has been in the job. I have got them to dispense with managements when they have found that these were not satisfactory. That never happened before. It is only -now that we are producing men in charge of a Department like this who have the strength of character which enables them to decide. Formerly it was only the workers who were said to be at fault. Now, not only on one occasion but on several occasions we have succeeded in having the management displaced.
I would ask the country, not only the House—I am dealing at the moment with the shop stewards all over the country—to remember that it is not simply the workers who have been diluted, it is not simply the working engineer and his work that have been diluted. The managerial staff has been diluted. It is really marvellous what has been done, when you think of the factories that have been put up, huge factories, and I would say to my hon. Friend that I am all out for the big factory. It has always been the wee man, as we call him, who in the past and in the present has kept down wages. Do not forget that. It has always been the big employer who could afford, not only to pay good wages, but to give decent conditions. The small employer could not do it either as a shopkeeper or as an engineer. If the House would only consider what was presented to the Minister of Production or the Minister of Supply, they would recognise that it was a situation that was absolutely deplorable. The whole tendency up to the war was to retard production. In fact, a responsible Member of this House said that shipbuilding in this country was finished. I said in reply—and you will remember the incident, Sir—that if shipbuilding and engineering in this country were finished, Britain was finished, and that I did not believe a word of it. The result of that was an atmosphere and an approach—not of the worker, because all he has got is his labour power—but of those who were in control, those who had the say as to whether the work would he carried on or not, "No, we are going to shut down the shipyards. We are going to shut down the engineering shops."
No encouragement had been given to produce engineers and shipbuilders. With all due respect to miners and everybody 1133 else, this country cannot be carried on without shipbuilders and engineers. The best engineers were driven to America. Take my own constituency, which I know better than any other constituency, though I know many intimately, particularly those concerned with engineering and shipbuilding. Where did all the engineers of the leading shipyards come from in the past? The high school at Clydebank. I asked a managing director a year ago to find out how many of his shipbuilders, either in the shipyard or in the engine shop, came from the high school at Clydebank. The answer was, "Not one." The same thing applies all over the country. The reason is that the fathers had been so badly treated that it was not worth their while to send their boys there. I said, "Where are you getting them from?" The answer was, "From the poorest localities in Glasgow." That was not the result of the workers' action, but the result of the action of many individuals, who at the start of the war were in control of industry in this country. It was they who really carried out the policy of ca'canny, with no regard to what was to be the fate of this great British Empire. Their only concern was with their own little kingdom, and they were prepared to sacrifice everything for that. When the war broke out there was a scarcity of engineers. There was not only a scarcity of the actual working engineers or technicians in the trade, but there was an atmosphere created against the idea of being an engineer. When I went into engineering it was considered by young boys a great thing to be an engineer. But a prejudice was created against it, with the result that we have nearly lost the British Empire. That terrible situation was left to the Ministries of Supply and Production to tackle. I pay tribute to them, and to the present Ministers, for having done all that men could do in the most trying circumstances. In many cases they have had to attempt to get blood from a stone.
Individuals talk about absenteeism, and sit in judgment on my class. Only a week ago last Monday, I had occasion to go to the Sheriff Court in Glasgow, to see individuals sitting in judgment on workers who happened to have taken a day off, after working seven days a week. These workers just had a break from the monotony which is affecting Members of this House so much that they will be glad 1134 to get away for a long Recess. Think of the monotony in the workshop, where people have nothing else to think of from early morning to dewy eve, from the cradle to the grave, but their work. These people are hauled up before the sheriff for absenteeism. How many hours do you think the sheriff works in a week? The case in which I was interested was supposed to come on at 10 o'clock. The sheriff turned up at 11. A Member of this House who is an advocate, was on the job too, and he can bear me out. The court adjourned for lunch from half-past 12 until two. Then they came back, and the judge said, in my hearing, to the advocate from Edinburgh, "You will be wanting to get your train at four o'clock." They finished up at half-past four, and the case is adjourned until September. The authorities could have finished it in an hour. I am telling the House this in order that Members may know the type of man who sits in judgment on the workers because of absenteeism. It is such things as this which make it all the harder for the Minister of Production and the Minister of Supply, because they create a deep-seated antagonism against those who are in authority.
I ask the Minister of Supply to carry out the policy he is adopting at the moment in recognising the shop committees. I would also ask another thing, which is very important. I have asked him privately many times, and I am now going to ask him publicly. He is evidently a very powerful man. All and sundry are paying tribute to his great power, ability and ingenuity. The hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) said enough to make him blush, as the hon. Member usually does. I am going to appeal to him, along the same lines as my hon. Friend has done. We do not want any hostels in my constituency; we want houses. Not one house has been built to replace those destroyed. We require a large number of houses, and we are not getting any. I would appeal to the Minister of Supply, and to the Secretary of State for Scotland and all his assistants. They inform me, and they inform my constituents as well, that they have done all that is humanly possible to get houses. I would now appeal publicly to the Minister of Supply, if he has influence, to use it to see that the folk I represent here get houses. Tribute has 1135 been paid to the Minister of Supply, and I hope that he will not let us down.
Shop stewards want me to get all they request me to get from the Minister of Supply. I know that the Minister of Supply cannot meet all their demands, but I hope that he will play the game by the men. A good many men in the workshops have not the enthusiasm in this war that they had in the last. I told Lord Aberconway, who wanted to know what was wrong, that the workers, rightly or wrongly, considered that there are employers all over the country whose only concern is what is likely to be their own fate after the war, and they are keeping their eye on how they can play the game so that their shipyards, engineering shops and their factories will be all right after the war. Unless the situation is faced very seriously by all concerned, we may lose the war, and if we lose the war, they will not have any shipyards, and the landowners will not have any land. I ask those who have influence with the powers-that-be to try and counteract that spirit which is abroad, so that we can give the workers an assurance in a definite form. In the last war our General Secretary, George N. Barnes, and Arthur Henderson, the Secretary of the Labour party, were both in the War Cabinet. They were two of the strongest men our movement ever produced. What was our fate after that war, after we had received all the promises and guarantees? I have these guarantees, some of them in the original, that even my union has not got.
But what was the result? In 1920 the wages of the engineers were less than the wages of the scavengers in the streets of London. Do you think the workers have such short memories that they will believe that after the war they will come back to a land fit for heroes to live in? This is the sort of thing they are putting up to me every day. A deputation left work at a factory and defied everything only last week to come and see me. They defied the authorities and the police, and they left their work. I want that sort of situation to be faced, and if the Minister of Supply is prepared to make some pronouncement along the right lines, then he will get the workers to work enthusiastically, and they will produce munitions far beyond anything that has ever been done before.
Mr. Amnion (Camberwell, North)
I am sure we have heard with interest the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), and I hope that the Government and those responsible will take notice of certain safeguards that should be observed for the protection of workers after we have won the war. But, as my hon. Friend says, that is by no means settled, and we have to get the right spirit engendered in all our people in order to achieve that object.
It is worth while recalling that it is only three years ago since the Select Committee was appointed and that during that time they have issued no fewer than 51 published Reports, to say nothing of private reports to Ministers under the sanction granted by this House. Somebody has raised the question of whether or not it has been worth while, and whether we have not introduced some new constitutional feature into the situation. This is not new. A similar Committee was set up during the last war. As was pointed out at the inception of this Committee, the ordinary control of finance has now been removed from the House. This Committee has certain functions in that respect. It keeps an eye on finance and sees that we get a good return for our money. The Committee has no idea of carping and criticising but rather desires to keep up to the mark the work of the Government and to encourage, and, here and there, to help, the Government and the Departments where there are some possibilities of waste or some lag which would not in the ordinary way come under the purview of the Minister.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Dunn) is not quite correct when he says that the Minister would be in a better position than the Committee to notice and to bring pressure to bear upon any grievances which might arise. In the first place it is much too large for the Minister himself to have everything under his purview, and, secondly, the Committee itself is able to get evidence which is quite free from any bias or fear of intimidation and the fact that it is given under a pledge of secrecy enables the Committee to get a good deal of information which is useful to the Minister himself. From that angle, that justifies—if any justification is needed—the Select Committee, and is its raison d'etre. The Minister has expressed his appreciation of 1137 the Report and has given rise to indications that the recommendations will be noted. One must be grateful to the Minister for such receptivity and resilience in his office at the present time. We only wish that that could be said of other Departments. The Minister's speech is an acknowledgment of the value of the Committee's Report; he himself admits that the Committee have made valuable recommendations and, although he questions some of the facts, no statements in support have been advanced. If there are inaccuracies, I hope they will be mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies to the Debate.
I am sure we shall all agree with the Minister that the setting up of this great scheme of Royal Ordnance factories is a real miracle of industry. To start from nothing and raise an army of 300,000 men and women workers, a large number of whom have never previously been in this sort of work, is a feat of which any nation can be proud. All those concerned have every reason for gratification. It is fair to say to the Minister that some of the troubles mentioned have been a legacy left to him by others who have gone before. The figures are very impressive and I am bound to say I can see some reason in the Minister putting up a defence against some statements in the Report about factories and hostels. After all, we have to remember that had this been a shooting war in a greater sense than it has been up to now, all those spaces in factories would probably have been filled because there would have been a greater demand than there is at present for implements of war I have not the slightest doubt that that may also have had an effect on the hostels themselves. In addition we have to remember that a larger number of people had to be recruited originally because there was not much skilled labour. This was shown by the Minister when he said that only 7½per cent. of 300,000 people were skilled workers. People had to be brought in from offices and all sorts of places to do work with which they had not been previously acquainted. That, in itself, made for a larger army of workers than might otherwise have been necessary.
As time went on, people became more skilled, armaments piled up, the demand for them was not so great and so we arrived at the position we are in to-day. 1138 The Select Committee are rather calling attention to the fact that in spite of the alteration there has not been a recognition of the position that a smaller number of workers is needed and that there is a greater amount of space than is absolutely necessary. Even so, I am a little sceptical because I remember what happened in regard to shipbuilding. We had a lot of space, we gave it away and at the present moment we wish we had not done so. The same applies to skilled labour which, to a large extent, vanished. Although I support the recommendations of the Select Committee we must bear in mind that the public outside, particularly, were misled because the Press fastened on the more adverse criticisms rather than on a full survey of the Report and gave an exaggerated picture.
With regard to hostels there was—let us be frank—a miscalculation as to the numbers of people to be accommodated. Many of us were disappointed that the hostels were not used in the manner in which we thought they might have been used. We all know that workmen do not like eating on their job, however good the accommodation for them may be and that they have an objection to living on their job. Many of us remember the model estates at Bourneville and other places, when people preferred to live some distance away from work and paid bigger prices for inferior accommodation, rather than live in the accommodation provided for them. I suspect that the same kind of thing has operated here. Anybody who has worked with large bodies of men knows that those are factors which have to be taken into account and they were probably not taken into account by those who drew up these schemes and who were not acquainted with this human factor and reactions of working people.
I think the Select Committee has done a good service and one which is necessary. As I have already said, 51 Reports have been published to say nothing of the private Reports which went to Ministers. Yet this is the only Report which has been discussed by the House. Again and again Members have raised questions in this House, but these Reports poured out to them more information than they would have obtained, I think, in Secret Session. These Reports would have kept them in touch with all that is happening and placed them in a position to raise any 1139 questions they wished to raise. Certainly, it is an indictment of the House that, having all this material, we have waited until now before having a Debate, and it is a curious coincidence that the Debate should be on the Royal Ordnance factories. There have been plenty of Reports, equally critical, on industries run under private aegis which have not attracted the same attention.
§ Mr. Ammon
I quite agree. I am pointing out that we have not availed ourselves of the opportunities and that now we are having a Debate on a Report that is not really of such vital importance as some of the other Reports may have been. It is true, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), that 37 per cent. of vacant space in the factories may be a very high premium to pay for insurance, but we must take into consideration certain factors which existed at the time when the staff were recruited, and we must also bear in mind that if and when there is an outbreak of what I may call, for want of a better term, the shooting war, we may be very glad to have this space held in reserve.
§ Sir P. Hannon
The hon. Gentleman will remember that when I put a question to the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), he said that that was the percentage at the time he visited the factories, and that it did not extend over a particular period of time.
§ Mr. Ammon
That is so. There are also other factors to be considered. One hon. Member said that there was not a likelihood that all the factories would be destroyed by bombing. I do not know about that. We have enjoyed the advantage lately of a measure of quietude, but when I think of what happened in my constituency and when I read of what we have been doing to Dusseldorf, where, as far as one can gather, factories of equal dimensions have been completely wiped out, we may be very glad to have taken some precautions and to have this reserve. Having said some things that are rather critical of the Report, I feel bound to say that I feel that we owe a measure of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham and those associated with him for the valuable work they have 1140 done and the tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm they have shown in interviewing a large number of witnesses. The very fact of the Minister's acceptance of the Report indicates its value and the good effect it will have. After all, the value of the Committee's inquiries and the value of its Report is not to be tested by the material which they give us for criticising or attacking Ministers, but only by the help which they give us to see weaknesses and to build up where something needs strengthening. I am sure I can say, without fear of contradiction, as a member of the Select Committee from the very commencement, that that is the motive which has actuated the Committee all through. Never have I at any time heard any suggestion of criticism for the sake of criticism; the object of the Committee has been to face the facts, to bring weaknesses to the attention of Ministers, and by that means to help in the war effort.
I have only one word more to say, and that concerns the Minister's suggestion that it might have been better if he had had an opportunity of discussion with the Committee before they issued their Report. I must confess that I cannot think of anything that would be more likely to destroy confidence in the Committee. There would be some people, perhaps people who were evilly disposed, who would say that the Report was a faked one. The value of the Report lies in the fact that even Ministers have not the right to see or to know the evidence that is submitted and that officials from the Departments can give any evidence, knowing that it will be treated as secret and confidential. For these reasons, the Report is without fear or favour. It is in this way that the Committee can discharge the obligation which they have to the House and present an unbiased and fair Report. I am sure, much as it might help Ministers, it would, in the long run, be very inadvisable for Ministers to know in advance what were the decisions of a Committee and to have an opportunity to discuss Reports before they were published. We would be bound to think, human nature being as it is, that subconsciously the Minister might have some effect and influence on those responsible for producing a Report. I hope there will be no attempt to interfere in that way. At the same time I congratulate those responsible for the production of this Report, 1141 and not least the Minister for the breadth of character, and receptivity and resilience of mind he has shown, recognising this is an attempt to help and not an attempt to hinder and make his task more difficult.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. Assheton)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) has, as usual, exercised restraint and moderation. I am quite sure that neither my right hon. Friend nor myself have any complaints whatever to make about the general tone of the Debate; there may be one or two exceptions to that, but, broadly speaking, there is no complaint to be made. What are the principal charges made in the Report, which have been made again today, and which we have to try and meet? In the first place, it has been said that there is a great amount of surplus capacity and labour in the filling factories, and to a lesser extent in other factories, and that the amount of redundant labour and capacity is likely during the course of the next six months largely to be increased. I think it has been made quite clear by now that so far as capacity is concerned we may very well need all we have. So far this war has not taken a course involving an immense expenditure of ammunition—nothing like the immense expenditure of ammunition which took place in the war of 1914–18.
Perhaps it is not generally recognised that a certain amount of the standby capacity was laid down at the express request of the Service Departments to whom we are responsible. I think it ought also to be made clear that we are constantly having to make provision for certain contingencies which may take place, and for contingencies which it would be imprudent to refer to in open Session. In consequence of the turn which the war took, the demands which the Army made upon us for shells were reduced, but of course these demands may very easily be stepped up again. For example, there would have been a very different picture presented to the House to-day if the blitz of the winter of 1940–41 had been repeated during the last winter, and who is there here who is bold enough to say that we may not have to face such an attack again? I think the House should not forget that not only have we had to provide capacity to meet current demands, but we have had 1142 also to provide capacity to build up the equipment and the reserves which we did not possess at the beginning of the war. There is no doubt that this process of having to make up for past deficiencies has made the task before us very much greater than it would otherwise have been. Perhaps it is not clearly understood how excess capacity can very easily arise in a simple way.
Let me give an illustration. The new big 4,000-lb. bombs that we are now filling for the Royal Air Force are being used in place of smaller bombs, and a certain amount of the capacity for making those smaller bombs is, for the time being at any rate, not being used, simply because the capacity which was suited for building and filling the smaller bombs is not suited to the bigger bombs. I will give another example of excess capacity. Owing to the fact that we have not used some of our gun barrels as much as we had expected, and owing also to the fact that since the war began technical improvements has been such that the life of some of these gun barrels is three times as great as it was, we have undoubtedly had a surplus in this direction which no one could in any circumstances have foreseen. These are illustrations of what is constantly happening, and will continue to happen until the end of the war. Broadly speaking, we are very glad to have this surplus capacity and, if the hon. Member who thinks we have too much comes to consider the matter again at the end of the war, he may easily prove to have been wrong.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
If my hon. Friend is arguing that we ought to welcome having surplus capacity, he ought to deal with the fact stated in the Report that one factory is still recruiting labour.
§ Mr. Assheton
I am coming to deal with the question of surplus labour now. The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) said it was his view that now there were 30,000 too many workers in the ordnance factories. We entirely refute that suggestion. I think the Select Committee must have misunderstood some of the evidence that was given them. They refer, for example, in paragraph 5 to one factory which already has a large surplus and is expected to release 6,000 workers by the end of the year. Owing to certain reductions in demand, and also to an increase 1143 in efficiency, a release of labour has recently been made possible at one of our factories to the extent of some 2,000 workers. At present this factory—I think it is the one referred to—is complaining of shortage of staff, and not of excess. I am sure the House will realise also that these releases cannot be made overnight. You cannot throw workers about from place to place as you can materials, and when releases are contemplated very careful arrangements have to be made with various Departments—with the Ministry of Labour, and the Ministry of Health in regard to billeting—in order to transfer these workers. And, of course, we want to make sure that they are being transferred to important war work. Arrangements have to be made with regard to rates of pay and the conditions under which they work. Therefore, it is always possible that there may be at one place or another a small surplus of labour during the period of readjustment. Again, it says in the Report, at the end of this paragraph:At another factory a surplus of 7,000 employees is envisaged.If I am thinking of the right factory—and I have not had the advantage of having read the evidence so that I do not know for certain—I hope that between now and the end of this year we may be able to release about 5,000 workers from that factory.
§ Sir P. Hannon
Is the evidence which is taken before the Select Committee or the Sub-committees submitted to the Department?
§ Mr. Assheton
No, we are at the great disadvantage that we do not see the evidence nor have a full opportunity of replying to it. I hope that between now and the end of the year some 5,000 workers may be released from this factory. The factory is situated in a part of the country where there is a great demand for labour by the Ministry of Aircraft Production for their bomber programme. We have deliberately reduced our programme there in order to free labour in that area, because that will lessen the strain on the labour in the area and will enable us to put work into factories in other areas where labour is not so scarce. Rather than accept this as a criticism, I say that that is a very sound 1144 piece of constructive planning by the Government which we have carried out in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour. There may be occasions when workers temporarily have not sufficient to do. This may happen easily enough without mismanagement. A good example which occurs to me is the direct or indirect results which often occur from air raids or explosions to which unfortunately our factories are to some extent subject.
§ Mr. Silkin
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister agreed that there should be a joint survey with the Ministry of Labour. Is the hon. Gentleman saying in advance that nothing will come out of this survey?
§ Mr. Assheton
Nothing of the kind. I was going on to say that there are occasions when there is for a short time a surplus of labour, due possibly to some unfortunate occurrence such as an explosion or air raid. I should like to make another point, which is that in the factories, such as our filling factories, where they are working on three shifts in the 24 hours there is not the same flexibility of labour as in other factories which are working on a single or double shift and where overtime can be worked to get some extra work done. The three-shift system has great advantages in most ways, but it has that great disadvantage for which we have to pay. In answer to the interruption of the hon. Member for Peckham I would like to say this. The supply of labour in our factories is constantly under review, but, as my right hon. Friend has said, we have already approached the Ministry of Labour with a suggestion that the continuous review of labour which is going on all the time should be reinforced by a special inquiry and a special joint survey in each factory in turn. This joint survey will be begun as soon as possible and if it yields good results no one will be more pleased than the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Labour.
§ Mr. Assheton
It is no admission whatever. All I say is that we are going to have this review, and if anything comes of it, so much the better, because we shall not be sorry if it is possible to find some more labour for other parts of the Government's programme.
§ Mr. Assheton
That is what the Report asked for, and that is what the Minister has offered. I want to rebut the suggestion which has been freely made in the Press and elsewhere as the result of this Report, and I think quite naturally made, that there is a large surplus of labour in Government factories as a whole and that the drive to get labour on which the Ministry of Labour is constantly insisting is unnecessary. We cannot allow such statements to go forward unchallenged, statements like that made by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) that tens of thousands of women have been taken into the factories who need never have been taken away from their homes, and that the registration of women was unnecessary. Statements of that kind are liable to lead to very wrong impressions, which impede the war effort and impede it seriously. The Report refers also to a factory where 3,000 miners are said to be employed. The Minister has already made it quite clear, and I want to make it clear again, that we have agreed with the Minister of Labour to release all the fit coal-face workers in our factories who are not of supervisory grades, and in so far as those face workers have not left our employment it is because they have apparently been found unfit, owing to age or some infirmity, to take up work again in the mines.
The next main charge which hon. Members have made to-day concerns hostels. I should like to thank certain hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) and my hon. Friend for the Moseley Division of Birmingham (Sir P. Hannon) for what they said about our hostels, because the Ministry have done a tremendous lot to make these hostels attractive places in which to live and to make the workers happy. The charge we have to meet is the charge that we have got too many hostels. In the days before the war, when I was in business and before I entered the service of the Government, I was very familiar with the human but deplorable practice of "jobbing backwards," and the business of the hostels furnishes a prime example of "jobbing backwards." On the basis of the facts as they then were and of the most careful 1146 calculations which could be made, taking into account all the difficulties of transport, the difficulties of the blitz, and the difficulties of directing women, particularly young women, to work unless adequate provision had been made for them—in face of those difficulties—there was a sound case for building these hostels. As has already been pointed out, so sound was the case that it was reinforced by the Select Committee themselves in their 17th Report, although my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon has tried to point out that if the Committee had had the full facts before them at that time they would not have reinforced the decision of the Department.
It may be true that in the event some of these hostels have proved to be surplus to the needs of the Royal Ordnance factories, but I would remind the House that if there is an alteration in the course of the war and if there should be a great demand for shells it may very well be that these hostels will no longer be surplus but will be very much needed. Another point I should like to make is that when these hostels were built one of the matters taken into consideration—and I know this because I was concerned in it—was the fact that in the event of a blitz on certain towns in the North of England it would be very desirable to have accommodation in which the population of the neighbourhood could be housed in case of necessity. That was constantly in the mind of the Departments concerned, when these hostels were built. The fact that these hostels are there has proved most providential, because they are being used to-day for purposes which would have resulted, if the hostels had not existed, in a very considerable building programme. We have never been faced with greater difficulties in building than now, owing to the shortage of labour and materials. I deny that this was a remarkable miscalculation. If it was a miscalculation, at any rate it had the approval of the 17th Report of the Select Committee.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for interrupting him, but I think he is a little too self-satisfied. Nobody is complaining because mistakes were made. Many of the reasons which he has given are perfectly understandable, and everybody can realise that mistakes might have been 1147 made. It is true to say that it was desirable to have accommodation for workers, but surely it is not true to say that it was desirable to build the accommodation without finding out whether the workers would occupy it. That is the real charge against the Government in this case; that they built these houses without any inquiry whether they would be occupied by the people for whom they were built. It is not a serious charge, and everybody understands.
§ Mr. Assheton
I should like to meet that charge. In 1941 the Select Committee had that view and the matter must have been considered by them, whether or not the people would live in these hostels. Moreover, this matter was freely discussed at the time with the Government and those doubts whether people would want to live in hostels or not were in the minds of all the people concerned; but certain decisions had to be taken. On the whole, I say the right decision was taken. I do not want to overstate the case, but I feel that some of the suggestions made with regard to these hostels have been going too far.
We have had many references to absenteeism. The hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) made a very interesting speech. I know she will not expect me to be able to reply fully to that part of her speech which dealt with organisation, but she said some very sensible things; as she always does, with regard to absenteeism. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) also made some very interesting observations. There was a good deal of criticism about absenteeism. My right hon. Friend has already told the House that, far from having neglected the subject, as is suggested in this Report, we have been giving it the' most constant attention. This subject has been much misunderstood in the past. It is one to which I have been giving a great deal of attention since the beginning of the war, both in the position which I now occupy and in that in which I was previously engaged. I resent the suggestion that we are not taking much pains about it. I should like to tell the House that we have been watching it very closely indeed. I have the figures of absenteeism in every Royal Ordnance factory on my desk every Monday morning, and I watch them closely. I should 1148 like to tell the House what is being done about it.
I can divide the causes of absenteeism into two sets of reasons. There are good reasons and bad reasons. As everyone knows, good reasons for absence from work are that the worker is on holiday, is genuinely ill or has suffered some domestic calamity or mischance which prevents his going to work. All those reasons are included in absenteeism and in the figures which are quoted in this Report. In the Ministry of Supply we have been seeking, in the first place, to remove as far as we can the causes of absence, and secondly to keep a rather closer control over the causes of absence which amount to anything like truancy. I am happy to say that much progress has been made in the course of the last months, as the figures which I propose to give the House will show. Taking the whole range of the 23 engineering Royal Ordnance factories, the figures for casual absence in the last six months have been reduced in the case of men from 4.6 to 2.5 per cent. and in the case of women from 10.5 to 5.2 per cent. In the explosives factories the casual absence of men has been reduced in six months from 6.4 to 3.1 per cent. and for women from 19.5 to 10.8 per cent.
§ Mr. Assheton
I am comparing the figures for the last six months, which is the period I have been in the Department.
§ Mr. Assheton
Yes, this is certainly comparing it with the winter, but the figures also compare favourably with those of a year ago. Figures for the filling factories also show considerable improvement, but they are less satisfactory, and as various hon. Members have pointed out this is due partly to the great size of these undertakings, and partly to the fact that a very great many of the workers in them have been quite unused to factory life, that they have sometimes very long distances to travel and that there is a great deal of fatigue attached to it. But even they show a considerable improvement. They 1149 show a reduction in casual absence in the last six months, for men from 12 to 4.6 per cent. and women women from 23.5 to 13 per cent. That is a great improvement, whatever anybody may say, and is certainly not accounted for by the time of year. We must remember that in these filling factories by far the greater part of the population is female, and it is inevitable, owing to domestic and other reasons, that absenteeism is higher among women than it is among men.
I hope the House will not think that my right hon. Friend and I are in any way satisfied, or that we are unconscious of the fact that we must continue to make the greatest efforts to do better still. We have been fortunate in having the goodwill of the trade unions and of the workers, and, given those two factors, I have no doubt that conditions will continue to improve. While we condemn strongly truancy of any sort, I am sure the House recognises the great difficulties with which the working population of this country has been faced, and the really gallant way in which both men and women have faced the difficulties.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, may I ask him whether it is not the case that the greatest amount of absenteeism is among women, and whether it is not the case, as far as the men are concerned, that many of them, through no fault of their own, have not been in the habit of working so regularly, because of unemployment? Thousands who formerly were always unemployed are now employed, and it was not their fault that they got into bad habits.
§ Mr. Assheton
Both the observations of the hon. Member are quite true. A great deal was said about hours of work, and I should like to tell the House that as far as hours of work in engineering factories are concerned—and that was the section of the Royal Ordnance factories which were criticised in that respect, because the filling factories are on three shifts of eight hours—there has in the last few months been a considerable reduction, and the figures have shown a reduction of between 10 and 12 per cent. The Minister has already told the House what his ambitions are for the next three months, and I have no doubt that they will be realised. I know hon. Members 1150 realise and appreciate that the question of reducing hours of work is one which has to be carefully dealt with, and negotiated with the unions in the particular factories, because a reduction of the hours of work is not always as welcome in the factories as one might think from listening to Debates in the House of Commons.
I wonder if I might say just one word about criticism. Criticism is so very different to the critics and to the criticised. Criticism was defined by Matthew Arnold asa distinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought.Strictly speaking, the word means judgment, but it has come rather to mean unfavourable judgment and fault-finding. Perhaps owing to the very nature of their work the Report of the Select Committee is largely fault-finding. When the Report was published the general comment could not fail to have given the impression to the public and to the workers in the ordnance factories that the management was inefficient and incompetent. I beg the House to consider if they will for one moment the effect of that upon different sets of people. The effect on the management at headquarters is bound to be very depressing. Whereas they feel, and rightly, that their achievement has been considerable, and has been accomplished in spite of great difficulties, the impression given to the world, a world which does not read things very carefully, and is over-impressed by headlines and so on, is rather one of failure. After all, the real test is this: Have the goods been delivered? The answer is, "Yes." As my right hon. Friend has told the House to-day about the programme of the factories 98 per cent. of a very high target has been achieved in the first six months of this year, and we are going ahead of that, and will certainly achieve 100 per cent. during the year.
Then contemplate for a minute the effect on the workers. How can you expect good discipline and morale if the workers are encouraged to believe that those responsible for running the organisation are a lot of incompetent muddlers? How can you expect newly-engaged employees to enter with enthusiasm upon their tasks, which are nearly always unfamiliar and very often uncongenial to them, when they read in the newspapers 1151 that there is a gross surplus of workpeople in the factories—that there are 30,000 too many? Think of the men in the Services. What do they feel when they read about the organisation behind them which provides their equipment? Think of the effect upon our Allies, upon the general public and upon the employers whose workers have been taken away from them and, put into these factories. One cannot be surprised that there should be some resentment among those responsible when a picture is given to the public, which for good reason or bad gives so much blame and so little praise, when really great praise is due.
§ Mr. Assheton
That is not within my function. The achievement is that we have over 40 great Royal Ordnance factories built and equipped, and provided with labour and management. Two or three years ago most of these sites were green fields. There was only a tiny nucleus of skilled management on which to draw, and by far the greater majority of these workers have had to be trained from the very beginning. In spite of this, the job has been done, the guns have been made and the shells have been filled. I am thankful that to-day the Ministry of Supply is being called upon to defend itself on the charge that it has done too much rather than too little.
My hon. Friend must know the comment of the Committee in paragraph 14:Your Committee were impressed by the competence of the majority of Superintendents.
§ Mr. Assheton
I quite appreciate that. We were very glad to read it. I also appreciated the second paragraph, which said:Your Committee are glad to state that these hopes appear to some extent to have been justified, and in the last year, and more particularly within the last six months, substantial increases in efficiency and output have been achieved.But the impression given to the general public is apt to be the impression which they gather from headlines in newspapers. One cannot blame the newspapers for quoting from the Report. When you see 1152 headlines, as I saw the day after the Report was published: "Orgy of Muddle," "Waste Disclosure," "Idle Floor-Space in Factories Alleged," and so on, you can see what impression is being created. I do not want the House to think that we are in any way complacent, or uncritical of ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are aware that there are many shortcomings. But I claim that there are few achievements in the history of the war which are greater than the building, the equipping, and the putting into production of these great Royal Ordnance factories. I should like to add to the tribute already paid to the Director of Ordnance Factories and to the Director of Filling Factories. These Royal Ordnance factories are a great national enterprise. The superintendents and all who work in them are immensely proud of their service, and of the great tradition behind it. I was in an ordnance factory last week which has a history going back to the days of Elizabeth, and which was taken over by the State in the time of Pitt, in the Napoleonic Wars. Incidentally, I talked to a foreman in that factory who had worked there 52 years, and who had lost only one hour in the last war and hardly any in this. These factories form a great national insurance in time of peace, and a great national asset in time of war. Great work is done in them, experiments are carried out, and one could only wish that more use had been made of them before the war.
Of course, there are faults in national enterprise, as there are in private enterprise. But when I see the enthusiasm, the energy, and the public spirit of those who are responsible at headquarters, whether professional civil servants or men drawn in from outside during the war, I can only feel encouraged and inspired, and I should like to pass on this encouragement and inspiration to the House. I have seen the work done in the factories. A great deal of it is done by women unaccustomed to factory life. They accept very cheerfully the hard life and the risks which they run from explosion and from air attack. This great achievement of the Royal Ordnance factories has not been accomplished without blood and tears, toil and sweat. There are many stories of heroism in this war which cannot yet be told. The stories of 1153 the Royal Ordnance factories are among them: the heroism of those who do their daily work amidst these risks, the heroism of those who experiment with new explosives. Let us, therefore, praise the management and the workers for what they have accomplished, and let us seek thereby to encourage them to greater efforts in the future. Let us give them confidence in the higher direction of the Department, by discounting some of the stories of incompetence and muddle which we have heard. If there are faults—and no doubt there are—we will do all in our power to cure them, but pray let us go forward on our task with the knowledge that we have the full confidence of the House of Commons and of the country.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
Is my hon. Friend going to deal with the matter of the supervisory and production staff as he promised? I understood that he was going to say something about paragraph 26, which deals with the disproportion of supervisory staff to workers being one to five.
§ Mr. Assheton
There is one point I should like to make on inspection, and it is not whether there should be joint inspection for the three Services, but whether there is too large an inspection staff. Inspection staff, like the rest of our staff, has all had to be trained new, and as it gets better and more expert in its work it will be possible to do the work with less staff, and as workers get better in their work there will be need for less inspection, and which I hope we shall improve and be able gradually to reduce numbers.
§ Mr. Benson (Chesterfield)
I do not propose to keep the House long, but I think that this Debate has justified itself thoroughly, not because the Report of the Committee has disclosed faults, but because the Government have come out extraordinarily well. I feel, having listened to the major portion of the Debate, that the Government have had a fairly complete answer to the bulk of the findings of the Committee. Nobody anticipates that the enormous machinery we have is going to run like a small sewing-machine. There are bound to be defects. It may be true that the Report of the Committee is fault-finding. That is the purpose of the Committee. The 1154 astonishing thing is not that it has found so much fault but that in this enormous machine it has been able to find so little. Its job is to go through the whole process to find out what is wrong. It has reported on certain details. On the majority of those details the Ministry of Supply has justified its position and explained how these various defects and irregularities have arisen, and if you meet with a difficulty which is inevitable, it is not the fault of the Government Department, and it is no evidence of incompetence. Some people seem to grumble when the Government have an adequate reply to criticism. It seems to me a matter for rejoicing rather. I emphasise what the Parliamentary Secretary said, that these headlines and the continual spate of criticism thus poured out are bound to have a depressing effect in the country. Our foreign news is bad enough at the present time, but by enlarging the proportion of faults and mistakes and miscalculations we add to the depression. I feel that the Government have come out of this Debate very well indeed, and I am convinced that they would have come out of other Debates very well indeed also if they had been able to reply as freely and adequately as has the Minister of Supply.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
Are there any means by which some part of this reply can be given to the workers? Wherever I go there are complaints about the carrying-on of ordnance factories, and if the statements which have been made by both the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary would be distributed among the workers, it would have a good effect. After all, these adverse conditions have gone forth and are well known, and I was not aware that such an effective reply could be given to them. If these details could be given to the workers concerned, it would have a good effect.
Sir P. Harmon
Would it be possible to issue some printed leaflet so that the substance of the reply could be distributed throughout the whole country?
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.