Royal Ordnance Factories.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 5th August 1942.

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Photo of Sir Andrew Duncan Sir Andrew Duncan , City of London

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- 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 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.