Royal Ordnance Factories.

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

Alert me about debates like this

Mr. Amnion:

I am sure we have heard with interest the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), and I hope that the Government and those responsible will take notice of certain safeguards that should be observed for the protection of workers after we have won the war. But, as my hon. Friend says, that is by no means settled, and we have to get the right spirit engendered in all our people in order to achieve that object.

It is worth while recalling that it is only three years ago since the Select Committee was appointed and that during that time they have issued no fewer than 51 published Reports, to say nothing of private reports to Ministers under the sanction granted by this House. Somebody has raised the question of whether or not it has been worth while, and whether we have not introduced some new constitutional feature into the situation. This is not new. A similar Committee was set up during the last war. As was pointed out at the inception of this Committee, the ordinary control of finance has now been removed from the House. This Committee has certain functions in that respect. It keeps an eye on finance and sees that we get a good return for our money. The Committee has no idea of carping and criticising but rather desires to keep up to the mark the work of the Government and to encourage, and, here and there, to help, the Government and the Departments where there are some possibilities of waste or some lag which would not in the ordinary way come under the purview of the Minister.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Dunn) is not quite correct when he says that the Minister would be in a better position than the Committee to notice and to bring pressure to bear upon any grievances which might arise. In the first place it is much too large for the Minister himself to have everything under his purview, and, secondly, the Committee itself is able to get evidence which is quite free from any bias or fear of intimidation and the fact that it is given under a pledge of secrecy enables the Committee to get a good deal of information which is useful to the Minister himself. From that angle, that justifies—if any justification is needed—the Select Committee, and is its raison d'etre. The Minister has expressed his appreciation of the Report and has given rise to indications that the recommendations will be noted. One must be grateful to the Minister for such receptivity and resilience in his office at the present time. We only wish that that could be said of other Departments. The Minister's speech is an acknowledgment of the value of the Committee's Report; he himself admits that the Committee have made valuable recommendations and, although he questions some of the facts, no statements in support have been advanced. If there are inaccuracies, I hope they will be mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies to the Debate.

I am sure we shall all agree with the Minister that the setting up of this great scheme of Royal Ordnance factories is a real miracle of industry. To start from nothing and raise an army of 300,000 men and women workers, a large number of whom have never previously been in this sort of work, is a feat of which any nation can be proud. All those concerned have every reason for gratification. It is fair to say to the Minister that some of the troubles mentioned have been a legacy left to him by others who have gone before. The figures are very impressive and I am bound to say I can see some reason in the Minister putting up a defence against some statements in the Report about factories and hostels. After all, we have to remember that had this been a shooting war in a greater sense than it has been up to now, all those spaces in factories would probably have been filled because there would have been a greater demand than there is at present for implements of war I have not the slightest doubt that that may also have had an effect on the hostels themselves. In addition we have to remember that a larger number of people had to be recruited originally because there was not much skilled labour. This was shown by the Minister when he said that only 7½per cent. of 300,000 people were skilled workers. People had to be brought in from offices and all sorts of places to do work with which they had not been previously acquainted. That, in itself, made for a larger army of workers than might otherwise have been necessary.

As time went on, people became more skilled, armaments piled up, the demand for them was not so great and so we arrived at the position we are in to-day. The Select Committee are rather calling attention to the fact that in spite of the alteration there has not been a recognition of the position that a smaller number of workers is needed and that there is a greater amount of space than is absolutely necessary. Even so, I am a little sceptical because I remember what happened in regard to shipbuilding. We had a lot of space, we gave it away and at the present moment we wish we had not done so. The same applies to skilled labour which, to a large extent, vanished. Although I support the recommendations of the Select Committee we must bear in mind that the public outside, particularly, were misled because the Press fastened on the more adverse criticisms rather than on a full survey of the Report and gave an exaggerated picture.

With regard to hostels there was—let us be frank—a miscalculation as to the numbers of people to be accommodated. Many of us were disappointed that the hostels were not used in the manner in which we thought they might have been used. We all know that workmen do not like eating on their job, however good the accommodation for them may be and that they have an objection to living on their job. Many of us remember the model estates at Bourneville and other places, when people preferred to live some distance away from work and paid bigger prices for inferior accommodation, rather than live in the accommodation provided for them. I suspect that the same kind of thing has operated here. Anybody who has worked with large bodies of men knows that those are factors which have to be taken into account and they were probably not taken into account by those who drew up these schemes and who were not acquainted with this human factor and reactions of working people.

I think the Select Committee has done a good service and one which is necessary. As I have already said, 51 Reports have been published to say nothing of the private Reports which went to Ministers. Yet this is the only Report which has been discussed by the House. Again and again Members have raised questions in this House, but these Reports poured out to them more information than they would have obtained, I think, in Secret Session. These Reports would have kept them in touch with all that is happening and placed them in a position to raise any questions they wished to raise. Certainly, it is an indictment of the House that, having all this material, we have waited until now before having a Debate, and it is a curious coincidence that the Debate should be on the Royal Ordnance factories. There have been plenty of Reports, equally critical, on industries run under private aegis which have not attracted the same attention.