HC Deb 26 July 1894 vol 27 cc1022-3
MR. HOWARD (Middlesex, Tottenham)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been called to an inquiry, held on the 19th instant, at the Greenwich Workhouse, respecting the death of Mary M'Mahon, aged 20, who died in the infirmary from lead poisoning, after being seen by as many as 10 doctors, at which it was stated by five other young women who were at work in the same factory that they had suffered from the effects of lead colic, one being at present in the infirmary, and that, to counteract the poison, they were in the habit of wearing respirators and overalls, and drank acid three times a day; and it was also stated by Mr. Seal, the Government Inspector of Factories, that the business was one of the most deadly in existence; whether he is aware that there is now being manufactured at the Possilpark Works, Glasgow, by the White Lead Company, Limited, a pure sulphate of lead, which is cheaper than the carbonate, and quite as efficient as a pigment, and non-poisonous both to those who manufacture and those who use it; and whether, under these circumstances, he will consider the advisability of making the rules in force in manufactories of carbonate of lead more stringent?

MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

At the same time, I will ask the right hon. Gentleman whether his attention has been called to an inquiry at the Greenwich Workhouse, on the 19th instant, respecting the death of a young woman named Mary M'Mahon, who died in the infirmary; whether he is aware that it was stated at the inquiry that the young woman was employed at Messrs. Pontifex and Woods factory at Millwall, but left in bad health after a short time, and that the doctor stated that the girl died from the effects of lead poisoning; and what steps, if any, are being taken by the Government to supervise the employment of women and girls in dangerous or unhealthy occupations?


The first paragraph of the hon. Member's question states accurately the facts given at the inquest, but it should be added that it was so long ago as December, 1892, that the girl had to leave the factory, and was admitted to the infirmary suffering from the effects of lead poisoning; also that she had consumptive tendencies before she took employment in this factory. As regards the second paragraph, I am aware that sulphate of lead is cheaper and less dangerous than carbonate of lead; but the Committee which recently reported on the lead industries state that they "are compelled to admit the superiority of the carbonate as a pigment, both in colour and in covering power." On the Report of that Committee special Rules for the regulation of whitelead works were framed and put in force, and they are now strictly enforced under the supervision of the Factory Inspectors. These Rules have, however, been in force for only a few months, while the lead-poisoning in this case occurred more than 18 months ago, and I have every reason to hope that they will prove effective. I may add that the employment of women in this factory is being gradually discontinued, and that the numbers have been reduced from 50 to 17.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

Arising out of that, may I ask whether, considering the extraordinary susceptibility of girls and women to complaints arising out of this occupation, the right hon. Gentleman has considered the advisability of carrying out the recommendations of some of his Inspectors and medical experts, and excluding girls and women from this particular employment?


Yes, Sir, but I have not statutory power to do so; and I shall not have till the Factory Bill now before the House is passed.