Royal Ordnance Factories.

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

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Photo of Mr Ralph Assheton Mr Ralph Assheton , Rushcliffe

That is what the Report asked for, and that is what the Minister has offered. I want to rebut the suggestion which has been freely made in the Press and elsewhere as the result of this Report, and I think quite naturally made, that there is a large surplus of labour in Government factories as a whole and that the drive to get labour on which the Ministry of Labour is constantly insisting is unnecessary. We cannot allow such statements to go forward unchallenged, statements like that made by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) that tens of thousands of women have been taken into the factories who need never have been taken away from their homes, and that the registration of women was unnecessary. Statements of that kind are liable to lead to very wrong impressions, which impede the war effort and impede it seriously. The Report refers also to a factory where 3,000 miners are said to be employed. The Minister has already made it quite clear, and I want to make it clear again, that we have agreed with the Minister of Labour to release all the fit coal-face workers in our factories who are not of supervisory grades, and in so far as those face workers have not left our employment it is because they have apparently been found unfit, owing to age or some infirmity, to take up work again in the mines.

The next main charge which hon. Members have made to-day concerns hostels. I should like to thank certain hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) and my hon. Friend for the Moseley Division of Birmingham (Sir P. Hannon) for what they said about our hostels, because the Ministry have done a tremendous lot to make these hostels attractive places in which to live and to make the workers happy. The charge we have to meet is the charge that we have got too many hostels. In the days before the war, when I was in business and before I entered the service of the Government, I was very familiar with the human but deplorable practice of "jobbing backwards," and the business of the hostels furnishes a prime example of "jobbing backwards." On the basis of the facts as they then were and of the most careful calculations which could be made, taking into account all the difficulties of transport, the difficulties of the blitz, and the difficulties of directing women, particularly young women, to work unless adequate provision had been made for them—in face of those difficulties—there was a sound case for building these hostels. As has already been pointed out, so sound was the case that it was reinforced by the Select Committee themselves in their 17th Report, although my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon has tried to point out that if the Committee had had the full facts before them at that time they would not have reinforced the decision of the Department.

It may be true that in the event some of these hostels have proved to be surplus to the needs of the Royal Ordnance factories, but I would remind the House that if there is an alteration in the course of the war and if there should be a great demand for shells it may very well be that these hostels will no longer be surplus but will be very much needed. Another point I should like to make is that when these hostels were built one of the matters taken into consideration—and I know this because I was concerned in it—was the fact that in the event of a blitz on certain towns in the North of England it would be very desirable to have accommodation in which the population of the neighbourhood could be housed in case of necessity. That was constantly in the mind of the Departments concerned, when these hostels were built. The fact that these hostels are there has proved most providential, because they are being used to-day for purposes which would have resulted, if the hostels had not existed, in a very considerable building programme. We have never been faced with greater difficulties in building than now, owing to the shortage of labour and materials. I deny that this was a remarkable miscalculation. If it was a miscalculation, at any rate it had the approval of the 17th Report of the Select Committee.