Royal Ordnance Factories.

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

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Photo of Mr Edward Dunn Mr Edward Dunn , Rother Valley

The hon Gentleman the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) and my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) have given their experiences as members of the Committee on National Expenditure. The hon. Member for South Croydon painted a critical and sombre picture. The contribution of the hon. Member for Peckham appeared to me to be like the proverbial egg, good in parts and bad in parts. I do not come to the Debate as a member of the Committee on National Expenditure, whose job is more or less to defend the Committee's Reports. I come as a Member of Parliament who is acquainted with three or four factories of one kind or another and who, week in and week out, religiously makes it part of my business to visit those factories. The hon. Member for Peckham says that he has visited 16 of them. I speak as a constituency man and not as a member of that Committee. Speaking from my own personal investigatins—not uncritical, though at the same time wishing to be helpful to the war effort—I say that I come to this Debate in no sense critical of the Department at all. I come fortified with the knowledge that in my belief the factories with which I am personally acquainted are efficiently run. I have studied the recommendations of the Select Committee, and there is scarcely one of them that is not in operation in these factories. I think hon. Members who make it part of their duty to visit factories week in and week out and hear what both the managerial side and the workpeople have to say are entitled to express an opinion upon this Report. People sitting in London and making these reports examine the position from the standpoint of the whole country, but individual members are entitled to give their experiences about the factories with which they are personally acquainted.

On 3rd September, 1939, I gave my vote for the prosecution of this war, for it to be prosecuted as speedily as possible to a successful issue, and all my actions from then until now have had this background: Will what I am doing help the prosecution of this war to a successful issue? If I cast a vote in this House or speak in my constituency or in this House, I have always at the back of my mind this consideration: Will what I am doing help the successful prosecution of this war? I have tried to bring the people in my area to adopt the same outlook and take the same line of thought. I do not say that this Debate or the Report is intended to be critical of the Minister. I take the view that the Minister is doing a good job of work, and from my experience in the country I say that he is in as strong a position as any member of this Select Committee to make an assessment of our war effort at the present time.

I will give two experiences, the first a major one and the second a minor one—minor only in the sense that one factory is a large one and the other is a smaller one. Two years ago the site of that factory was green fields. The person who built the factory was a woman and not connected with Wimpey's or anyone else. I think she did a good job of work and made a great contribution to the war effort. The Minister made a rather cryptic reference to "green labour." We have women working in those factories who previously had never seen the inside of a factory, and now they are doing highly skilled engineering work. As I have said, two years ago the site was green fields, and now I believe it is a fact that the factory has passed its target figure of output. Therefore I have not a lot of sympathy with those who are so highly critical in one direction or another, because I feel it to be a reflection upon those whom I represent. More than 3,000 women, mostly miners' wives or daughters, have entered that factory and are doing highly skilled precision work, and in less than two years they have reached the target figure. That does not show inefficiency, or give any ground for criticism against those who are in charge on the managerial side.

Before that factory came into production I went to a Royal Ordnance factory to see the work which was being done there, and I am not ashamed to say that I felt very sceptical whether the women who were going into these factories, who had never seen a factory or a machine before—except, perhaps, a sewing machine in their own homes—would be able to do the job. I can tell the House now that not only are they doing the job but that in regard to absenteeism their record is a direct contradiction of what the two previous speakers have said. I have been amazed to hear some of the statements in this House. The Minister knows that when he paid a midnight visit to this particular factory the first thing he found was that the superintendent of the factory was on the job, although in my view he ought to have been at home. We examined the question of absenteeism. This was before the tightening-up of the machinery, before this recommendation was made. We found that the voluntary absenteeism at that factory, where nearly 4,500 people were working, was 1.56 per cent., and the over-all figure of absenteeism, including absence through sickness, accident, releases and all sorts of other causes, was 5.56. Therefore, I do not think we should be critical of the type of people of whom I am speaking. They have done a good job of work and made a tremendous contribution to the war effort.

I thought the Minister did not give the men and women in various parts of the country all the credit to which they are entitled for the work they are doing. Many of them have children to look after, others have husbands working in the pits or serving in various branches of the Services, and when absenteeism has been reduced to 1.56 per cent.—and it has remained stationary at that figure—I say we are entitled to claim for those women a word of praise even from the Minister, who knows that what I am stating is correct. I should have liked the Minister to say right out to the women, "You are doing a good job of work, and the country is proud of you."