Royal Ordnance Factories.

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

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Photo of Mr Arthur Colegate Mr Arthur Colegate , The Wrekin

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 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 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.