HC Deb 07 May 1900 vol 82 cc985-96


* CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)

Even at this hour I feel that I may fairly claim the attention of the House and its indulgence while I move to disallow certain of the new rules connected with match factories in which phosphorus is used as amended by the recent Arbitration. I am aware that I am limited by the forms of the House to a certain number of the rules, owing to the fact that they are brought under three different Acts of Parliament, which, even as a layman, I venture to say are so badly drafted that they may be interpreted by distinguished lawyers in different ways. I shall, therefore, confine myself strictly to dealing with these rules which limit or modify the employment of adults under Section 8 of the Act of 1891 and Section 28 of the Act of 1895. I may point out that the workers have practically no voice in the selection of arbitrators. I frankly admit that the rules are an improvement on the previous rules, but they are not as strong as they ought to be, and they are framed by the Home Office in such a way as to make them acceptable to the employers with little or no alteration. That is proved by the fact that the present Home Secretary, speaking on the 29th July with reference to similar rules for another trade, stated that care must be taken in framing special rules that they are likely to be confirmed in any arbitration promoted by the employers who take exception to them. The standard of the rules is as low as possible, and the proof of that is to be found in the Blue-book published last year. After a most careful investigation into the special circumstances of the case by medical, chemical, and dental experts, it was clearly proved that the rules were drawn at the minimum stage, and that they were not unreasonable was proved by the fact that the managers of the Diamond Match Factory in Liverpool were so satisfied with them that they were summoned to give evidence in favour of them. I will confine myself to the rules which deal with the question of "phosphorism." We have great experience in this country with reference to match-making, inasmuch as, in spite of the low price of matches, our production amounts to something like £1,500,000; but there are other countries which have still greater experience, such as Sweden and Norway, Germany and Austria, and the consensus of medical opinion in these countries is in favour of the theory of phosphorus having a certain deleterious effect apart altogether from necrosis or "phossy jaw." What do we find by this rule? We find that the dentist is placed in such a position that he, and he alone, can suspend from employment in any phosphoric process any persons liable to necrosis by reason of the defective state of their teeth. The periodical inspection is done away with, and periodical suspension only takes place when a case is brought before the surgeon by the dental surgeon. The dental surgeon cannot possibly investigate the general health of the patient, and can only decide whether the patient is suffering from or liable to suffer from necrosis. I find again that under Rule 8 a distinction has been drawn between matches which are thoroughly dry and other matches, whereas it is not possible to frame any definition of what are thoroughly dry matches. Every hon. Member has had practical illustration of the fact that that is impossible, inasmuch as he has often found two matches adhering at the head, a proof that they were boxed when not thoroughly dry, although they were supposed to be boxed in a dry state. I regret we have not had an opportunity now of discussing at length all the points to which we object, but we shall take that opportunity later on the vote for the Home Secretary's salary. I know the Home Secretary will reply now that the "Special Rules of Procedure" require to be altered in order that a higher standard may be made possible. With that I entirely agree. When we consider that we are dealing with a dangerous trade in which women and chiefly young women are engaged, and when we remember that they are subjected day by day to the possibility of suffering in a most acute and dangerous form, it is our duty to disallow these rules in order that new rules may be framed by the Home Office, and we ought to see that such rules are not whittled away by arbitration. I shall be very much surprised if hon. Gentlemen who have considered this matter will not support me in the division lobby. I beg to move that the rule be disallowed.

* SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

In seconding my hon. and gallant friend's motion I agree that owing to the extreme complexity of the three Acts of Parliament which are read together on this subject, it would not be in order to discuss the whole of these rules, and that we are confined to less than half of the very strong objections we have to them. I should have liked to have been able to have shown that these rules are not better than the old rules. Indeed, I think they are worse. In the first place a very curious question arises which shows how rapidly matters change in connection with dangerous trades, and how very soon the special rules become out of date. It is doubtful whether these rules will have any application at all, because already Messrs. Bryant and May, who formerly consumed half the phosphorus imported into this country, have ceased to use yellow phosphorus, and it is doubtful whether Bryant's is now a factory in which white or yellow phosphorus is used. It is doubtful, therefore, whether these rules will have any application to this firm. Messrs. Bryant and May believe they will not; they have dismissed their dentist, and intend to take no further action under the rules. There is a doubt, however, whether phosphorus is not still evolved in the manufacture, but it is doubtful whether the rules apply. With regard to the rest of the trade we know that matches are already being manufactured in connection with which no phosphorus at all is used. The only rules which we are now in a position to discuss are 5a, 5b, 6, 8 and 19. As regards 19 no question arises, and with regard to the others my hon. and gallant friend has fairly covered the ground. In 5a and 5b great changes have been made in the course of arbitration. It will be seen that suspension from employment now applies only to persons newly employed in the dipping room. The intention of the Home Office was that all persons could be suspended from employment who were engaged in any phosphoric process. With regard to Rule 6, the certifying surgeon has been cut out, and is now only brought in on the initiative of the dentist, who approaches the matter from the point of dentistry, not from the point of general liability to phosphorism, the danger of which was pointed out by Drs. Thorpe, Oliver, and Cunningham in their report to the Home Office. That report pointed out that we should endeavour to prevent the general phosphorism caused by the volatile nature of the phosphoric influence. Under these rules, however, as I have said, the certifying surgeon does not come in directly, but only when called upon by the dentist. Under Rule 8 persons were not allowed to be newly employed more than twenty-eight days in any phosphoric process without a certificate of fitness having been granted after an examination by the certifying surgeon. That is now limited to an examination by the dentist, and the periodical examination has been cut out altogether. That is entirely against the recommendations of the Special Commission, and their reasons are very strongly stated by Dr. Oliver on page 83 of the report. My hon. and gallant friend has already explained to the House that it is impossible to distinguish in the way proposed between wet and dry matches. We cannot discuss to-night the low standard of these rules as compared with the recommendations of Dr. Thorpe and his colleagues on pages 8 and 9 of their report. The old rules already provided for all the points covered by the new rules except one, and as against that one gain we have had very heavy losses in the course of the arbitration. I beg to second the motion.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That in the opinion of this House, the special rules with regard to the employment of persons in lucifer match factories, in which white or yellow phosphorus is used, ought to be annulled [58 and 59 Vic, c. 37, s. 28 (1)]."—(Captain Norton.)


I confess I was rather astonished when I saw this motion on the paper, because if there be one thing more true than another I think it is that the action that has been taken by the Home Office on the report of the experts has produced a very great improvement respecting the use of phosphorus in match making. I do not quite know the object of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, unless it is to call attention to the unsatisfactory method of bringing special rules into operation. I quite agree with him in that, and in the Bill now before the House I have shown my desire for a better method of bringing into operation special rules for dangerous trades. The light hon. Baronet said that very likely the rules would not apply because one of the principal match factories had gone apparently outside the rules by ceasing to use yellow phosphorus. If that is so, I may say that the work of these eminent experts, and I must also add the work done by the factory inspectors, is bearing fruit, and that stimulated thereby science is inventing, not very rapidly perhaps, but surely, new methods of match making without phosphorus; that is to say, eliminating an element which is undoubtedly dangerous to the workpeople. Therefore, indirectly at all events, we are securing a very excellent object. The question really before the House now is a very narrow one; but as the right hon. Baronet and the mover of the resolution said that these rules were not an improvement on the old rules, I may say that that is not, I venture to think, the opinion either of the experts that advised the Home Office or of the factory inspectors. On the contrary, I think it would be most unfortunate and disastrous if the House were to pass a resolution annulling these rules, thereby throwing us back to the state of things which existed under the Act of 1892. The new rules are infinitely better than the rules which existed before; and in particular the rules relating to adult labour are an entirely new step. It is difficult at this hour of the night to argue the technical points concerning them. With reference to what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said as to the weakening of these rules by arbitration, I admit that the draft rule suggested by the Home Office provided that there should be an examination by the dentist as well as by the certifying surgeon before the person began work, and that the arbitrator left out the dentist. But the rule as it stands now provides that there shall be an initial examination by the certifying surgeon, and a three-monthly examination by the dentist, with power of suspension from employment, as well as the reference by the dentist to the certifying surgeon of any serious case; and I do not admit that that is really any substantial weakening of the rule proposed by the Home Office. On the other hand, I can assure the House that we went in our draft as far as we could in the direction of strictness, and I do not think that we are open to the charge that the rules which we proposed were inadequate. With reference to the dental and medical examination which in the draft rule was applied to all phosphorus processes, there has been a weakening on arbitration, but that is not the fault of the Home Office. I confess that there may be some danger in the dry processes, but we have really no substantial evidence to prove any actual case when it comes to a question of arbitration. The fact of the matter is that if this motion is carried we shall get rid of rules which, though they may not go as far as the right gallant baronet would desire, are at all events a very substantial improvement. If further opportunity occurs by improvements in science for strengthening these rules, and further securing the health of the workers it shall be done, but meantime do not let us loose the practical advance—for it is a practical advance—which these rules embody, and I think the House would make a great mistake in rejecting them. I intend to strongly oppose the motion, which I hope the House will not accept.

MR. TENNANT (Berwickshire)

I am very reluctant to detain the House, but the position in which we find ourselves is so curious— I was going to say so anomalous—that I think I might be permitted to explain it to the House in three or four sentences. The history of this question is as follows: We were doubtful whether it was possible to bring this matter before the House, but after some consultation you, Sir, agreed that it would be possible to do so. My hon. friend consequently put down the motion now under discussion. Through some misunderstanding the right hon. Gentleman was informed that the motion would not be in order, and consequently my hon. friend was requested to postpone the question. He did so, after having sent out missives which it is common in this House to send to one's friends asking for their support. The motion was then put down for to-night. But then my hon. friend understood in putting it down for to-night that it would be possible to discuss all these rules, because, after all, it is difficult to dissociate one rule from another; they have to be considered as a whole.


I beg the hon. Member's pardon, but may I say that what we have to do is to obey the law. The Act of 1895 was the first Act which made rules of this kind applicable to adult labour, and that is the only reason they are under discussion. It is a question of nothing else but obeying the Act of Parliament.


I never denied what the right hon. Gentleman has stated. I only wish the House to realise the position in which the matter stands at present. The Act of 1895, it is perfectly true, as the right hon. Gentleman says, first allowed rules of this kind to be applied to adult workers, but the Act of 1878, which is the principal Act, said that the House of Commons or the House of Lords should be permitted to discuss rules and orders, not to present an address, as the right hon. Gentleman stated. The words are—"The Orders should be laid," etc. [read the section]. It is really a resolution of this House. My point is that according to the ruling now given the House is allowed to discuss only those parts——


Do I understand that the hon. Member is taking a point of order?


I was really pointing out the difficulty of the House discussing the rules owing to the position in which we are.


The hon. Member may point out the difficulty, but he must not discuss my ruling, unless he challenges it upon some point of order.


If I am in order, I should like to raise a point of order. I should like to ask you whether it would be possible to discuss, we will say, the rules which apply to washing conveniences in these rules which are now before the House? Would that come within Section 28 of the Act of 1895?


It is, of course, in order for the House to discuss the whole matter on a proper opportunity, but it is now past twelve o'clock, and this is opposed business. Then it cannot be taken unless it comes under the exemptions to Standing Order No. 1, as being a proceeding under a Statute. Rules may be made under the Act of 1878, Part 2, under the Act of 1891, and under the Act of 1895. No new rules made under the Act of 1878 are now upon the Table. As to rules under the Act of 1891 they are to be settled by arbitration, and there is no provision that they shall lie on the Table at all. Therefore the only question is whether this resolution is a proceeding under the Act of 1895. Now Section 28 of the Act of 1895 prescribes that certain rules must have laid on the Table for forty days. That in itself would not make a resolution or an address disapproving of those rules a proceeding under the statute. But the three Acts are to be read together, and I have given an opinion that, although the rules to be laid on the Table and made under the Act of 1878 are only rules made under Part 2, still, inasmuch as the 28th Section of the Act of 1895 may be described as an extension of Part 2 of the Act of 1878, Section 28 of the Act of 1895 must be read with Part 2 of the Act of 1878, and the section of the Act of 1878 which gives effect to a resolution in favour of the annulling of Rules must be applied to the Act of 1895. These particular rules to which reference has been made, viz., 5a, 5b, 6, 8, 19, are the only ones which come under the Act of 1895. That being so, they are the only rules which, upon a motion for annulment, are exempt from the twelve o'clock rule, and on that ground the discussion must be limited to them.


I am sure the House is very grateful for your ruling on the subject, but it does not make the position in which we stand any better. The right hon. Gentleman will be the first to admit that it is highly inconvenient that there should be no means of discussing very important amendments of these rules, affecting the happiness and health of a very large number of people. Surely it is not only very inconvenient, but very wrong that there should be no means—


Order, order! The hon. Member is now proceeding to make observations which would be very pertinent to an Amendment of the Standing Orders, but are not pertinent to the motion before the House.


Or to an Amendment of the Act.


Yes, but an Amendment of the Act is not relevant to the question before the House.


Under these circumstances, although I had some observations which I should have liked to make, as I shall not be in order I shall certainly not make them. But I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman one question which was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, namely, whether he has any knowledge of these new compounds winch are said to be without any phosphorus at all?


I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Member any information on this point.

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

I think my hon. friend was perfectly justified in bringing this matter forward, but it is obvious after your very lucid ruling that it is impossible for us to discuss the merits of the question on this occasion, and the best course is to take a division now, having our strong opinion in regard to the matter, and discuss it on the Home Office Vote. It is awkward to take the division first and the discussion afterwards, but in this case we must do so. From what I have been able to gather, I think my hon. friend is perfectly justified in saying that these rules are but a very slight advance, and perhaps in some ways are even retrograde, in regard to the question of dealing with phosphorus. I therefore think he was justified in bringing the matter forward, but the question cannot be discussed on the present occasion.

MR. STEADMAN (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

I do not intend to delay the House at this late hour, and, after all, although we are only discussing the rules, as the hon. Member for Poplar said we can go more fully into the question on the Vote of the Homo Secretary's salary. At the same time that will not remedy the evil under which hundreds of working men and women are existing to-day in the East End of London in the various match factories. It seems to me to be a very extraordinary rule which first of all lays down that the Home Office can appoint one arbitrator and the masters another, but the workpeople have no voice.


Order, order! The provisions of the statute and rules relating to arbitration are not now under discussion.


Then, to deal with the question of white or yellow phosphorus. Messrs. Bryant and May may for the time being have abolished the use of white or yellow phosphorus, but I am given to understand that in the manufacture of the chemicals they are now using white phosphorous does accumulate! Although, perhaps, the evil of phossy jaw may be minimised even by some of the rules now laid down by the Home Office, yet at the same time there is no rule laying down total prohibition of either white or yellow phosphorus. I admit that as the law now stands the Home Secretary is not enabled to lay down a rule for the total prohibition; but I should like to make an appeal to the Home Secretary, if his Department is in earnest in grappling with this very serious problem, more especially after the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean that we have now chemicals by which matches can be manufactured to strike anywhere without the use of white or yellow phosphorus. You may have as many rules as you like, but what is to prevent Messrs. Bryant and May, if they think fit, reverting to the old system of white or yellow phosphorus? Look at the danger to health. Time after time deaths have occurred, and there is no law to prosecute the employers, who, I maintain, are responsible for the deaths of their workpeople. Then look at the teeth question. The pulling of teeth may not be now so bad as it formerly was, but at the same time, while phosphorus is used in the manufacture there will always be pulling of teeth. It is said that it is not compulsory; but if the workpeople refuse to have their teeth examined or pulled they are very soon put outside, and there are, unfortunately, other people prepared to take their places. Therefore, although they are individually against having their teeth pulled, through fear of being discharged they submit to this ordeal. It rise on behalf of hundreds of working men and women whom I know personally in the East End of London, who are engaged in the trade of match-making, to

make an earnest appeal to the Home Secretary to bring in a short Bill having for its object the total prohibition of either white or yellow phosphorus, that being, I consider, the only remedy for this serious evil.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes, 37; Noes, 98 (Division List 114.)

Asher, Alexander Grey, Sir Edward (Berwick) Soames, Arthur Wellesley
Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire) Gurdon, Sir William Brampton Stanhope, Hon. Philip J.
Billson, Alfred Healy, Maurice (Cork) Steadman, William Charles
Buxton, Sydney Charles Jones William (Carnarvonsh.) Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)
Caldwell, James Lough, Thomas Tennant, Harold John
Causton, Richard Knight Macaleese, Daniel Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Channing, Francis Allston M'Ghee, Richard Ure, Alexander
Daly, James M'Kenna, Reginald Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.
Dewar, Arthur Maddison, Fred. Wilson, H. J. (York, W K.)
Doogan, P. C. Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand
Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark) Pease, Joseph A. (Northumb.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Captain Norton and Sir Charles Dilke.
Evans, Samuel T. (Glamorgan) Pickersgill, Edward Hare
Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.) Price, Robert John
Goddard, Daniel Ford Samuel, J. (Stockton on-Tees)
Anson, Sir William Reynell Goldsworthy, Major- General Pierpoint, Robert
Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John Goschen, Rt. Hn G. J(St George's) Platt-Higgins, Frederick
Balfour, Ht. Hon. A. J.(Manch'r) Goschen, George J. (Sussex) Purvis, Robert
Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M.H.(Bristol) Green, W. D. (Wednesbury) Rankin, Sir James
Beckett, Ernest William Greville, Hon. Ronald Rasch, Major Frederic Carne
Bethell, Commander Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robert W. Remnant, James Farquherson
Bhownaggree, Sir M. M. Hanson, Sir Reginald Richardson, Sir T. (Hartlep'l)
Blundell, Colonel Henry Hardy, Laurence Ridley, Rt. Hn. Sir Matthew W.
Bond, Edward Heath, James Ritchie, Rt. Hn. Chas. Thomson
Brassey, Albert Henderson, Alexander Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)
Brodrick, Ht. Hon. St. John Hornby, Sir William Henry Royds, Clement (Molyneux)
Cavendish, V.C.W (Derbyshire) Johnston, William (Belfast) Russell, T. A. V. (Throne)
Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich) Keswick, William Sinclair, Louis (Romford)
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J.(Birm.) Lafone, Alfred Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch)
Chamberlain, J. A. (Worc'r) Lawrence, Sir E. D. (Cornw'l) Smith, James Parker(Lanarks.)
Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.) Stanley, Edward Jas.(Somerset)
Charrington, Spencer Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie Stewart, Sir Mark J. M'Taggart
Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R. Tomlinson, Wn. Edw. Murray
Cook, Fred. Lucas (Lambeth) Long, Rt. Hon. W. (Liverp'l) Whiteley, H.(Ashton-under-L.)
Curzon, Viscount Lonsdale, John Brownlee William's. Colonel R. (Dorset)
Dalrymple, Sir Charles Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Denny, Colonel Lyttelton, hon. Alfred Willox, Sir John Archibald
Dickinson, Robert Edmond Macartney, W. G. Ellison Wilson, John (Falkirk)
Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph Macdona, John Cumming; Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R.(Bath)
Doughty, George Maclure, Sir John William Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-
Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers- M'Killop, James Wrigntson, Thomas
Faber, George Denison) Milner, Sir Frederick George Wylie, Alexander
Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edw. More, Robt. Jasper(Shropshire) Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arcy
Finch, George H. Morrell, George Herbert
Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne Muntz, Philip A.
Fisher, William Hayes Murray, Rt. Hn. A. G. (Mute) TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.
Flower, Ernest Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)
Galloway William Johnson Nicol, Donald Ninian
Garfit, William Pease, Herbert P. (Darlington
Gedge, Sydney Philpotts, Captain Arthur

Adjourned at live minutes before One of the clock.