Royal Ordnance Factories.

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

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Photo of Mr Lewis Silkin Mr Lewis Silkin , Camberwell Peckham

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 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 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 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.