Royal Ordnance Factories.

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

Alert me about debates like this

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

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 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 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, 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.