HC Deb 06 August 1907 vol 179 cc1991-2000

Order for Second Reading read.

*The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Gladstone, Leeds, W.)

said he was loth to trouble the House with any lengthy remarks at that hour of the night. He would not have ventured to move the Second Reading of the Bill at that stage of the session had it not been within the knowledge of many hon. Members that this question had been before the public for the last twelve or fifteen years, and that attempts to deal with it had been made by successive Governments. Hon. Members were fully aware of the subject with which they proposed to deal, and for that reason he felt it to be unnecessary that he should enter into any lengthy explanation. Undoubtedly, however, the main question with which the Bill dealt was one of very considerable difficulty for reasons known to all hon. Members. His right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer endeavoured to deal with it in the Factory Bill of 1895. In 1900, Sir Matthew White Ridley endeavoured to treat the subject in a different manner, and give the Secretary of State power to apply the provisions of the Factory Act to laundries by Order. In 1901 Mr. Ritchie put a clause into the Factory and Workshop Bill of that year dealing with the question, but not in anyway in the full manner proposed in the present Bill. At any rate Mr. Ritchie made a more or less gallant attempt to deal with the matter in that Bill, but owing to dissensions on certain points he decided to drop the clause. His right hon. friend opposite in 1905, announced that the last Government were still favourable to the proposals of the Bill of 1901. Every Government since 1892 had had the same view that that question ought to be dealt with and had made more or less strenuous efforts to deal with it. As hon. Members were aware, there were great numbers of laundries which were altogether outside the operations of the present Act—institution laundries, domestic laundries, laundries not carried on for gain, laundries connected with hospitals, and so forth. With regard to those that were under the Act, the present law was in a most unsatisfactory state. Provided the maximum of fourteen hours per day and sixty hours per week was not exceeded in the case of adults any employer could by merely putting up a notice early in the morning change his weekly hours as he pleased. The result was the factory inspector could not know when to visit in order to check the hours of work, and inspection was consequently largely evaded. In addition to that the laundries were exempt at present from the provisions with regard to certificates, and the regulations as to dangerous trades—fencing of machinery and so forth. Therefore, as he said, the law was in a most unsatisfactory condition. The Government proposed to bring under the law all laundries where persons were employed for wages or which were carried on for the purpose of trade or gain, and, in the second place, they proposed to subject to the provisions of the Act all industries, including laundries, which were attached to institutions, reformatory or charitable, which were not already under Government inspection. There were other provisions, such as the proposal to make available the services of factory inspectors for those institutions which were already under public inspection—prisons, workhouses, reformatories or industrial schools —and which might desire to have the services of a specially trained factory inspector. He had alluded to the difficulties which had hitherto stood in the way of the question being dealt with. There were trade interests to consider and the usual trade opposition. There were also religious susceptibilities which had proved, perhaps, the most formidable of all the difficulties which had to be met. There was a third reason, and that was that there was no solid active movement pushing on legislation on the subject. It was not altogether creditable either to the country or to the House of Commons that this was so. Excepting certain individuals who took a great interest in these matters there did not seem to be any definite public opinion or movement such as a Minister could generally rely upon to overcome the special difficulties which might interfere with the settlement of a question. So far as he was concerned, from the moment he introduced the Bill he had received hardly any representations on the subject. Nobody seemed particularly interested in the Bill, in the public or in the Press. At the same time he would point out to the House that the non-settlement of the matter was nothing less than a public scandal. They had many thousands of laundries in the country employing a great army of workwomen, something like 200,000 strong, under the most unsatisfactory conditions. He did not pretend to say "the Bill was in every way perfect, but the Government were ready to consider any points in regard to which improvement could be made so long as the safety of the Bill was not endangered. He maintained that the Bill, as it was, was worth having. In the first place it enabled them to apply to laundries generally stricter supervision and a better system of hours. Although they might be leaving something still to be done yet, if once the first obstacle were overcome they could bring in subsequently remedies or improvements which might be found necessary. The first thing was to overcome the initial difficulty of legislation, and that was why he asked the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. There had been strong opposition from some quarters to that Bill, but he would tell the House frankly that the Government had met the objections raised in these quarters. In order to meet the objections to which he referred they had agreed that, as regarded reformatory institutions where it was desired, private interrogations by inspectors of inmates should be excluded except on the authority of the Secretary of State. If it was objected that that might hamper the operation of the Act, his answer was that that might be so. It might be, perhaps, that in making that arrangement the Government had fallen short of a perfect system of inspection, and were introducing a certain anomaly. But it was a choice between that and not getting the Bill, and if they did not get the Bill that session, he must frankly say to hon. Members that he saw very little chance of getting any Bill dealing with the subject, through that House during the present Parliament. They were making a small concession in regard to something less than 230 institutions all told. The main object of the Bill was to deal with the thousands of commercial laundries throughout the country. He urged hon. Members who thought that the concession the Government were proposing was against the spirit of legislation to remember that it was the only chance by which they could pass the Bill that session, and that otherwise they would have to wait many years before it was put on the Statute-book. The Bill would effect a great improvement on the existing law. It was badly wanted throughout the country, and he asked the House to give it a Second Reading and send it to a Standing Committee which would consider any points which would not prove fatal to it this session.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said he would not at that hour detain the House. The right hon. Gentleman had explained the purpose of the Bill. It was to amend the Factory and Workshops Act in respect of laundries, and to extend the Act to certain religious and charitable institutions where laundry work was done which at present escaped inspection. He entirely agreed as to the desirability of amending the law. There might be some hon. Gentlemen in the House who might think the Government ought to have gone farther in this matter, but the right hon. Gentleman pointed out the great difficulties which lay in his path. He pointed out how these difficulties had prevented his predecessors dealing as fully with the matter as they would have wished. At the present moment the Factories and Workshops Act only applied to laundries which were carried on by way of trade and for the purposes of gain. Domestic laundries attached to religious and charitable institutions were expressly excluded from the operations of the Act. In these institutions neither I the law as to hours of labour nor the Jaw as to sanitation applied. The Bill, at I any rate, carried the law a very great deal farther than at present, and would, he thought, be a very great boon to those employed in laundries. When some years ago he (Mr. Akers-Douglas) occupied the position the right hon. Gentleman now occupied he gave some instructions that a measure should be drafted for the purpose of the Bill before he left office. He therefore entirely agreed in the necessity to deal with the question. He had tried when he found that his predecessor had been unable, owing to that great difficulty of getting over a certain opposition in that House, to deal with the question as fully as the Home Office wished, a system of voluntary inspection, and a large number of charitable institutions, about half the total, were regularly inspected at their own wish by the factory inspectors. But he was certain that anybody who had read last year's Factories Report must have been persuaded that voluntary inspection was not at all satisfactory. He found when he was at the Home Office that the various institutions connected in England with the Church of England were not only ready to be inspected but welcomed inspection, and that a large number of Roman Catholic institutions in this country were also anxious to have such inspection. He did not find that the same welcome was given to inspection in Ireland. However that might be, the Report to which he had alluded made it perfectly clear that nowhere was a measure of that kind more needed than in Ireland. He would be anxious to see when they came to the Committee stage what words the right hon. Gentleman would insert to satisfy hon. Gentlemen from Ireland. All he wanted to see was that factories and laundries were properly inspected without putting religious institutions to any great trouble. He recognised that it was impossible to have the same powers of inspection in those institutions as in ordinary factories, but he trusted that the inspection to be given would be as thorough as the circumstances merited. He was quite certain that the measure which the right hon. Gentleman had introduced was far better than anything which they had hitherto had, and it was likely to receive the sanction of all Members of the House. For that reason he welcomed it, though there might be some points which he would have to criticise, when they came to the Committee stage.

MR. GILL (Bolton)

said he had no intention of opposing the Second Reading of the Bill, but he wished to state that there, were one or two matters in Clause 2 which ought to be improved. He quite agreed with the Home Secretary that it was absolutely necessary that they should have an improvement in the inspection of factories and laundries, but he objected entirely to women and girls being called on to work five days a week from nine o'clock in the morning till nine o'clock in the evening, as was provided for in the Bill. He thought that it was unnecessary for any woman or girl to be called on to work till nine o'clock at night. Some of the women were married and could not look after their families if they were working till that time. With regard to overtime, which was provided for by allowing them to work from six o'clock in the morning till seven o'clock at night on certain days in the week, he thought that ought to be prohibited if it was possible to do so. The law ought to be worked as it was in the textile factories. The worst clause was one in regard to holidays. That clause provided that on any other day in the week but Saturday a half-holiday could be taken in the forenoon. There was no single industry where such a practice was followed. Everybody knew that where a half-holiday was taken it should be taken after twelve o'clock. He gave notice that at a future stage he would move Amendments dealing with that question and with the question of long hours.

Lord EDMUND TALBOT (Sussex, Chichester)

said the question was one which had excited the interest of his co-religionists in this country. He had attended a deputation which waited on the Home Secretary in reference to the measure, and that deputation was made up not only of his coreligionists but also of members of Church of England. In fact the majority consisted not only of his co-religionists but of members of the Church of England, and Jews and Wesleyans were also represented. He would like to speak of the extreme courtesy with which they were received by the right hon. Gentleman. He was strongly in favour of the measure, and would certainly support the Second Reading. The reason why the feelings of many of his coreligionists towards the measure were changed was, he believed, because his right hon. friend behind him when he was Home Secretary had started a system of voluntary inspection. It was natural that religious institutions should be frightened at the idea of inspection, but a system of voluntary inspection had familiarised them with the principles of it, and they had found it to be of great assistance in enabling them to appreciate and learn to use up-to-date machinery, while it had also taught them some things i in regard to sanitation. The measure, in the form in which he understood that it was being brought in, would have his support.

Mr. T. L. CORBETT (Down, N.)

said the Bill was one which had been long promised to the House. It was promised early in the year that it would be presented before Easter, but as a matter of fact it now came before the House at a time of the session and an hour of the night when the right hon. Gentleman knew that it would be impossible to discuss it in full detail. He must say, notwithstanding the right hon. Gentleman's assurances that the Bill was worth having, that he believed that on the whole it was a denial of all their hopes. So far as he had read it, the Bill was scarcely worth the paper it was printed on. Clause 5, Section 2, would, he thought, if hon. Members took the trouble to study the Bill, exempt, in the most insidious way, all religious institutions from inspection of any kind whatever. He would remind the House that for every one of those institutions fifty years ago there were twenty now, and they were competing most unfairly with other laundries, in wages and hours of labour, and free from all control whatever. He thought that on further consideration of the Bill hon. Members would come to the conclusion that it was a very serious matter that those laundries should go on, without any regulations as to hours of labour, and without any inspection whatever as to sanitary conditions, in competing with, other laundries. He only made that short protest, for he did not want to keep the House sitting at that late hour of the night. It was not their fault, but the fault of the Government and of the right hon. Gentleman, that that should be so, for they had promised to introduce the Bill before Easter.


said the Bill was introduced in the House of Lords.


said that had been an evasion of the promise to bring in the Bill early. To bring in the Bill late in August, and to suppose that any full discussion could then be taken, was placing an almost hopless problem before the House. He believed the wording of Section 2 of Clause 5 really evaded the promise given by the Government that there would be a thorough inspection of every laundry, whether it belonged to a religious institution or not. He believed that it was owing to the insidious wording of that clause that they had the silent acquiesence of hon. Members below the gangway in the Bill being read a second time. They would never have agreed to that if the inspection had been really meant to be as thorough in the case of those laundries as in the case of all other laundries. Having made that protest, he would allow the Bill to proceed.

Mr. A. C. CORBETT (Glasgow, Tradeston)

said the Home Secretary had alluded to the Bill as not having a great amount of enthusiasm behind it. He never remembered any introducer of a Bill making such a remark before. The reason for that want of enthusiasm was not far to seek. Not long ago he introduced a Bill on that subject and there was great enthusiasm for that Bill. The enthusiasm was conspicuous and marked throughout the working classes in the country. The reason for the enthusiasm for that Bill was that it was thorough in its character and that it really did bring all laundries under proper inspection. If the Home Secretary had had the courage to get rid once and for all of that serious omission in his Bill he would find no want of enthusiasm for it among the working classes of the country.

Question put, and agreed to. Bill committed to a Standing Committee.

Whereupon Mr. Deputy-Speaker, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 26th day of July last, adjourned the House without Question put.

Adjourned at one minute before Three o'clock a.m.