HC Deb 24 July 1899 vol 75 cc182-7
SIR JAMES RANKIN (Herefordshire, N.)

With regard to this question, I think opinion can be divided into two schools of thought. The first school believe that women should be perfectly free to make their own contracts with their employers; and the second believe that with regard to a certain class of workers and work a certain amount of interference by law is allowable. In 1878, 1891, and 1895 various laws regulating overtime, and the employment of children and young persons were enacted, and I think it is generally acknowledged that those regulations have been beneficial to health in our factories. The fruit preserving trade, however, has been exempted from this rule. No one wishes to unduly interfere with the fruit preserving trade, which undoubtedly requires certain exemption during the season when the fruit has to be prepared and preserved, for if it is not done quickly the fruit would spoil. It has been the custom for jam manufacturers to work outside the Factory Act, but recently the Home Secretary has made an edict that a good many of these operations, which have hitherto been considered to be outside the Factory Acts, are not really so, and be has made an exemption with regard to the washing of bottles. I am prepared to admit that the washing of bottles is a very important part of the fruit-preserving industry, but I hold that they are much more likely to be properly cleaned by women who work twelve hours a day rather than fourteen. Therefore, I think the House would do well not to allow the exemption in regard to that particular work. In one of the inspector's reports for the year 1898, it is stated that very often the work of preserving fruit, and the washing of bottles, has been put off until after other work has been done, so as to enable these manufacturers to put in extra time. I think this is going beyond the spirit of the law, and these exemptions should be strictly adhered to. I am not going to detain the House at this late hour of the night upon those matters, because they are within the cognisance of hon. Members already, and many Members of this House take a deep interest in the working of the Factory Acts. In my opinion, this particular business of washing bottles might very well be carried on within the limits of the twelve hours' rule. I beg to move the Resolution which stands in my name.

Motion made, and Question proposed:— That the Order of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, extending to factories and workshops in which the washing of bottles for use in the preserving of fruit is carried on, the special exception (Employment of Women Overtime) ought to be annulled."—(Sir James Rankin.)

* MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)

I rise to second the motion of my hon. friend, although I think it is impossible for this matter to receive adequate consideration at this late hour of the night. I would first remind my right hon. friend the Home Secretary that, in answer to a question from myself in May last, he admitted that the condition of young persons and women in the jam factories was unsatisfactory, and he said there was a case for legislation. Further, it will he seen from the Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories for 1897, that there is already great pressure upon a class of persons peculiarly deserving the consideration of this House, I mean girls of the delicate age of fourteen and upwards, and at a time of year when, as in weather we have been lately experiencing, the conditions of labour are exhausting. But instead of improving their condition, this Order to which we object would seem to make it worse. It legalises, as I understand it, the illegal stretching of the law to bottle washing and other processes, which are connected with the fruit industry, but do not require the immediate action which is needed for dealing with fresh fruit on its arrival. I am sure that the kind sympathy of the Home Secretary would not favour such treatment as this Order seems to sanction, and I do not understand what influence has prevailed with him. I hope he may consent to least to modify this Order.


I think there must be some misunderstanding on the part of the hon. Baronet who moved this motion, and my right hon. friend who seconded it, as to the intention and effect of this order. They have both spoken as if there had been a breaking of the law with reference to the exemption enjoyed in the fruit preserving industry under the Factory Acts, and that pressure has now been brought to bear to legalise it. This Order has nothing whatever to do with the industries of fruit preserving, but it is—as was described by the hon. Baronet who brought this motion before the House—the result of my having found it desirable to apply the Factory Acts to the industry of bottle washing, to which they have not been previously applied. For many years the trade of bottle washing, and of getting the bottles ready for the purpose of preserving fruit—which must be done immediately—has not been held to be within the Factory Acts, and the result has been that unlimited overtime has been imposed upon the women in that industry, and there has been no restrictions whatever.


Yes, illegally.


It is extremely doubtful whether at present the process of bottle washing really does come within the section of the Act which talks of the adaptation of an article for sale. On the advice of my inspectors, I have been anxious to secure some limitation of the hours of work of the women employed in this industry, and I have accordingly consented to hold that this cleaning of the bottles should be held to come within the Factory Acts. That obviously meant that there would be a restriction imposed upon the labour of the women which had not previously been imposed. It has nothing whatever to do with the section of the Act of 1891, which exempts the operations of cleaning and preparing fruit during the months of June, July, August and September. It has nothing to do with section 56 of the Act of 1878, which gives an exemption of sixty days in a year to those employed in the process of making preserve from fruit. The position is this—that having imposed upon the bottle washing industry the necessity of coming under the Factory Acts it was represented to me by the manufacturers and others employed in the trade that it would be a desirable thing to give the comparatively small exemption which this Order gives, and this view was supported by the inspectors.

MR. ASQUITH (Fifeshire, E.)

Will the right hon. Gentleman say under what section the Order is made?


It is made under Section 53 of the Act of 1878. Therefore the House will see that the effect of the action of the Home Office in this particular has been to bring this industry within the Factory Acts, and therefore to restrict the labour of women. Exemptions are recognised by the Factory Acts in industries subject to seasonal pressure provided the Home Secretary is satisfied of their propriety. I have been satisfied upon the reports I have received that it would not be injurious to the women employed in this industry for this amount of overtime. I am satisfied that this industry comes under the words of the section as a trade liable to a certain press of orders, and it has been proved to me that it is a process which must be done immediately before the bottles are used. I cannot help thinking that is a perfectly reasonable exemption, and when my right hon. friend says it is totally contrary to the spirit of an answer which I gave to a question I venture again to say that I agree with him so far as to think that it will be necessary to do something to remove the state of things which prevails in the jam trade—properly so-called. But the question before us is a very different one, for it is bringing in for the first time a new industry—not jam-making, and it is desirable and almost necessary, in the interests of the trade and in accordance with this section, that there should be this exemption, which, I am satisfied, is not likely to cause any injury to the women employed.

* MR. TENNANT (Berwickshire)

I should like to know if this Order is going to be applied in those factories in which only bottle-washing is being done, or is it going to apply to bottle-washing departments in fruit preserving factories. If it is, I am very much afraid that it will have a contrary effect to that which he anticipates and desires. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will explain this point. I do not think any good can accrue from this Order: I am very much afraid that the right hon. Gentleman will apply it to these departments in jam factories.


The Order has nothing to do with the preserving of fruit, and it will only apply to persons engaged in bottle-washing.


In that case I think that any further discussion is unnecessary.


supported the restriction of overtime in fruit-preserving factories, and


again assured the House that the Order did not apply to jam factories.


If that is so, the Debate need not be continued.


The hon. Baronet has obtained a useful result by raising this discussion, because it has cleared up the apprehensions in the minds of some of us of the scope and intention of the Order. I merely wish to guard against the idea that it is possible for the Home Office to determine whether any particular trade does or does not come within the scope of the Act. So far as I am able to judge, I agree with the gentlemen who advised the Home Secretary upon this matter.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

was of opinion that the result might be that the women engaged in jam-making for long hours would then engage in bottle-washing for a sub-contractor. He regretted extremely that these exemptions should exist at all. The Home Office had yielded to pressure from without. Girls were to be worked fifteen and sixteen hours a day in the most in sanitary conditions, in order that their employers might build yachts to race for the America Cup. Humanity did not demand it; science did not require it, and he thought that greater protection should be given to the girls who did this work.

MR. MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)

failed to understand how it was the Home Secretary had not come to the conclusion that overtime was a wrong thing to allow, after girls had worked so many hours. He trusted the hon. Baronet would go to a Division upon the question, as it would be the means of saving the girls of the bottle-washing establishments from a grievous wrong.

CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)

said it appeared to him that the Order was a departure from the general line of factory legislation, though it did not go so far as the House was led to suppose He failed to see how it was going to be applied to jam manufacturers, who had heavy demands made upon them when the fresh fruit arrived.


asked the Home Secretary to make it clear, in accordance with his assurance across the floor of the House, in the Order itself that it should have no application to any department of jam factories.