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

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 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 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.