HC Deb 20 June 1898 vol 59 cc773-5

I beg to ask for leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Factory and Workshops Acts, 1878 to 1895, as to the time of employment of women and young persons in processes necessary for the preservation of perishable materials. This Bill is brought in in accordance with a pledge which I gave during the Home Office Vote Debate, and is especially intended to apply to the fish-curing trade and trades of a similar nature; but it will also apply, on a smaller scale, to the creameries in Ireland, both of which industries are liable to suffer if work in connection with them is prohibited. The existing exemptions which are at present law are, on the one hand, too restricted, because, if they are strictly enforced in Scotland, they would stop fish-curing altogether, and involve the destruction of large quantities of fish; and in Ireland they would be the means of working some injustice by prohibiting a few hours of Sunday labour necessary for the preservation of the cream. On the other hand, these exemptions are too wide; they are not confined to the necessary alteration of the hours of labour, but they exempt the industries from other provisions of the Factory and Workshop Acts, such as the maintenance of proper sanitary arrangements. I will endeavour to deal with the matter very shortly. This Bill proposes to repeal all existing exemptions, and to enable the Secretary of State to grant new exemptions by orders which are strictly defined. I will tell the House what the regulations are to be. The Measure applies only to hours and days of labour, and not to any other provisions of the Factory Acts. It only applies to women and young persons, and under no circumstances does it apply to children. Further, it only applies to processes where exemption is absolutely necessary to preserve perishable materials from destruction, and will strictly define those processes for each class of factories and workshops, and will endeavour, as far as possible, to limit those processes to particular places and particular times. When there has been an extension of hours on particular occasions and for particular purposes this Bill contains provisions to secure that the extra hours will be made up for by working shorter hours whenever it is possible to do so. The orders under the Act are proposed to be laid before Parliament, and will be subject to disallowance by a Vote of the House in the manner provided by the Factory Act, 1878. This is a Bill of a very necessary character—it deals with the subject, or endeavours to deal with the subject, in a practical way—and I hope, at all events, that the House will be ready to give it a fair consideration.

Question put.— That leave be given to introduce the Bill.

* SIR C. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

Some of us stated, on the occasion to which the right honourable Gentleman has referred, that we should have to offer strong opposition to any proposals of this nature. I will not discuss the proposals of this Bill, because it will be, perhaps, better to do so on the Second Reading, but our main reason for opposing this Bill, as we shall do to the utmost of our power, is that the Government are, as we understand, committed to certain other amendments of the Factory Act, and they have chosen to deal in the present Session only with this relaxation of the law. As a matter of fact they are committed to deal with the Factory Acts in many matters, and in all of them in the direction of greater stringency. To give only one example, the Sweated Districts Clause, that has been, on the admission of the Secretary of State, a complete failure. That is the clause in the Act of 1895, and the right honourable Gentleman has himself, in answer to Questions in this House, admitted that the matter ought to be dealt with in any proposal for Amendment of the Factory Acts. Last Session the Government mentioned many matters in which they intended to amend the Factory Acts. They said that the question which was occupying their attention was, should they bring in first a Consolidation Bill, and then amend in it, or should they amend first and then consolidate? And now all we have is this, which I call substantially a Relaxation Bill, relaxing the law on one or two points, and not dealing with any of the points which are necessary in the direction of a greater stringency in the carrying out of the law. I will not, on this occasion, allude at length to those cases where greater stringency is required. Most of us have, I think, seen the desirability of amending the law with regard to the lead processes in the Potteries. We know also during the present Session matters have occurred which have shown the necessity for dealing with the law as regards phosphorus and match factories. On both those points the Sweated Districts Clause has been an absolute failure. To the latter it can never be applied successfully to a single case, and never has been applied successfully. I contend that we shall be able to show on the Second Reading of the Bill an unanswerable case in support of our contention that the Bill should not be allowed to go forward during the present Session.

Leave given.

Bill read the first time.