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

Both the observations of the hon. Member are quite true. A great deal was said about hours of work, and I should like to tell the House that as far as hours of work in engineering factories are concerned—and that was the section of the Royal Ordnance factories which were criticised in that respect, because the filling factories are on three shifts of eight hours—there has in the last few months been a considerable reduction, and the figures have shown a reduction of between 10 and 12 per cent. The Minister has already told the House what his ambitions are for the next three months, and I have no doubt that they will be realised. I know hon. Members realise and appreciate that the question of reducing hours of work is one which has to be carefully dealt with, and negotiated with the unions in the particular factories, because a reduction of the hours of work is not always as welcome in the factories as one might think from listening to Debates in the House of Commons.

I wonder if I might say just one word about criticism. Criticism is so very different to the critics and to the criticised. Criticism was defined by Matthew Arnold as a distinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought. Strictly speaking, the word means judgment, but it has come rather to mean unfavourable judgment and fault-finding. Perhaps owing to the very nature of their work the Report of the Select Committee is largely fault-finding. When the Report was published the general comment could not fail to have given the impression to the public and to the workers in the ordnance factories that the management was inefficient and incompetent. I beg the House to consider if they will for one moment the effect of that upon different sets of people. The effect on the management at headquarters is bound to be very depressing. Whereas they feel, and rightly, that their achievement has been considerable, and has been accomplished in spite of great difficulties, the impression given to the world, a world which does not read things very carefully, and is over-impressed by headlines and so on, is rather one of failure. After all, the real test is this: Have the goods been delivered? The answer is, "Yes." As my right hon. Friend has told the House to-day about the programme of the factories 98 per cent. of a very high target has been achieved in the first six months of this year, and we are going ahead of that, and will certainly achieve 100 per cent. during the year.

Then contemplate for a minute the effect on the workers. How can you expect good discipline and morale if the workers are encouraged to believe that those responsible for running the organisation are a lot of incompetent muddlers? How can you expect newly-engaged employees to enter with enthusiasm upon their tasks, which are nearly always unfamiliar and very often uncongenial to them, when they read in the newspapers that there is a gross surplus of workpeople in the factories—that there are 30,000 too many? Think of the men in the Services. What do they feel when they read about the organisation behind them which provides their equipment? Think of the effect upon our Allies, upon the general public and upon the employers whose workers have been taken away from them and, put into these factories. One cannot be surprised that there should be some resentment among those responsible when a picture is given to the public, which for good reason or bad gives so much blame and so little praise, when really great praise is due.