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

I should like to meet that charge. In 1941 the Select Committee had that view and the matter must have been considered by them, whether or not the people would live in these hostels. Moreover, this matter was freely discussed at the time with the Government and those doubts whether people would want to live in hostels or not were in the minds of all the people concerned; but certain decisions had to be taken. On the whole, I say the right decision was taken. I do not want to overstate the case, but I feel that some of the suggestions made with regard to these hostels have been going too far.

We have had many references to absenteeism. The hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) made a very interesting speech. I know she will not expect me to be able to reply fully to that part of her speech which dealt with organisation, but she said some very sensible things; as she always does, with regard to absenteeism. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) also made some very interesting observations. There was a good deal of criticism about absenteeism. My right hon. Friend has already told the House that, far from having neglected the subject, as is suggested in this Report, we have been giving it the' most constant attention. This subject has been much misunderstood in the past. It is one to which I have been giving a great deal of attention since the beginning of the war, both in the position which I now occupy and in that in which I was previously engaged. I resent the suggestion that we are not taking much pains about it. I should like to tell the House that we have been watching it very closely indeed. I have the figures of absenteeism in every Royal Ordnance factory on my desk every Monday morning, and I watch them closely. I should like to tell the House what is being done about it.

I can divide the causes of absenteeism into two sets of reasons. There are good reasons and bad reasons. As everyone knows, good reasons for absence from work are that the worker is on holiday, is genuinely ill or has suffered some domestic calamity or mischance which prevents his going to work. All those reasons are included in absenteeism and in the figures which are quoted in this Report. In the Ministry of Supply we have been seeking, in the first place, to remove as far as we can the causes of absence, and secondly to keep a rather closer control over the causes of absence which amount to anything like truancy. I am happy to say that much progress has been made in the course of the last months, as the figures which I propose to give the House will show. Taking the whole range of the 23 engineering Royal Ordnance factories, the figures for casual absence in the last six months have been reduced in the case of men from 4.6 to 2.5 per cent. and in the case of women from 10.5 to 5.2 per cent. In the explosives factories the casual absence of men has been reduced in six months from 6.4 to 3.1 per cent. and for women from 19.5 to 10.8 per cent.