HC Deb 03 December 1908 vol 197 cc1746-54

As amended (in the Standing Committee) considered.

EARL OF RONALDSHAY (Middlesex, Hornsey)

moved to omit Clause 1, for the purpose of obtaining a little more information with regard to the necessity of the Bill. He had already been informed in answer to a Question that there were ten factories in this country at which white phosphorus was used in the manufacture of matches, and that there were only five cases of necrosis during the past five years, all of which occurred in one particular factory. As nine out of ten factories using white phosphorus had, therefore, been absolutely free from cases of necrosis for five years the occurrence of the disease entirely in one factory must have been due to negligence either on the part of those concerned in the factory or on the part of the inspectors whose duty it was to see that safeguards were put in force. One of the main objects, he gathered from the Memorandum accompanying the Bill, was to enable this country to join the Berne Convention. He believed there was no material benefit to be gained by going into the Convention, and supposed that the object was really a sentimental one. But had it occurred to the Home Secretary that those who were urging the passing of the Bill had not altogether foreseen what the result would be if it became law? The object of the Bill was to prevent recurrence of cases of necrosis, a disease which was preventable already. A result which would probably follow from the Bill would be the creation of a large trust among match manufacturers, because the Bill would prohibit the importation of all matches in the manufacture of which white phosphorus was used. It also appeared from the Memorandum that these manufacturers had agreed to the Bill. It must have occurred to the Government that these manufacturers would reap an advantage by increasing the price to the consumer. Were there any reasons for other countries not having joined the Berne Convention —Russia and Austria, for instance?


The noble Lord is not entitled to discuss the whole Bill on the first clause. He must confine himself to the first clause. He is now making a Second Reading speech.


said his vote on whether to leave the clause out or not was dependent on the reasons which were given for retaining it. He was only anxious to know what the real necessity was for our joining the Berne Convention. If he could get the information he had asked for he would be very glad to withdraw his Amendment.

MR. HICKS BEACH, in seconding, asked what were the reasons explained in Memorandum Cd. 3271 of 1906 why the Government at that time were not able to agree to the Berne Convention. He had done his best to find a copy of that interesting document, but there appeared to be only one in existence, and that was in the possession of the late Home Secretary. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would tell them what had actually transpired since 1906 which had enabled the Government now to enter the Convention, and to bring in a Bill of this kind. He thought his noble friend had brought forward one or two strong points against he necessity of bringing in the Bill.

Amendment proposed— In page 1, line 5, to leave out Clause 1." —(Earl of Ronaldshay.)

Question proposed, "That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill."


said the chief reason for the Bill was the desire absolutely to eliminate the danger from necrosis. It was true that few cases had occurred during the last few years, but he thought that immunity had been secured only by great trouble and continual watchfulness, and they could not say that they were safe from an outbreak. The question could not be dealt with by legislation just after the Berne Convention. At that time they hoped to be able to proceed entirely by fresh regulations, and those regulations were taken in hand; but difficulties were encountered, and it was evident that fresh rules could not be imposed without serious cost to the trade. When that became evident the regulations dropped, because they saw it would be a simpler matter to deal with the question by Bill. A second material point was that there were certain patent rights in existence, and they could not prohibit importation, and thereby give undue advantage to two or three manufacturers at the expense of the rest. The result of their communications with the manufacturers on this point was entirely satisfactory. Those who were interested in existing patents undertook to give to the other manufacturers the use of those patents at a nominal figure which was merely a recognition of the patent rights, and in regard to any future manufacture that might come into existence, they undertook to give the patent rights at nearly a nominal price. That disarmed suspicion by itself. The Board of Trade had ample power of control under the Bill to secure to any manufacturer free and proper use at a reasonable price of those patent rights. In the circumstances there was no possible danger arising from the formation of combinations of manufacturers. So far as the general necessity for the Bill was concerned, it was desirable, though he admitted there had been few cases lately of necrosis poisoning, if they could do it, absolutely to eliminate the chance of this very dreadful and painful disease occurring. It was so dreadful that, even if only one case had occurred in the last few years, this Bill, which would involve no trouble or expense, would be justified. The Bill was supported in every part of the House, and he hoped it would be allowed to pass.

MR. AKERS-DOUGLAS (Kent, St. Augustine's)

said that after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman he would not detain the House many minutes. He did not think it was unreasonable that his noble friend should have asked the right hon. Gentleman to make the reply he had done. The Opposition raised no objection to the Second Reading, thinking it was universally accepted, and they were anxious to get forward with the measure. On that occasion, they obtained an understanding that the right hon. Gentleman would not think them unreasonable if they asked two or three questions when the Bill came forward in the House. He understood that the Home Office thought prohibition was absolutely necessary to stop this painful disease of necrosis or phossy jaw. The late Lord Ritchie, after an exhaustive inquiry, imposed upon manufactories where white phosphorus was used, stringent conditions as to ventilation, cleanliness and periodical inspection, and, besides that, he caused the dangerous processes to be separated. When he himself was at the Home Office those regulations had had the effect of almost suppressing the disease in this country, and there were only five cases in the year 1904, and three of those were very mild, whilst the other two were caused entirely because the operatives would not obey the regulations laid down. In 1906 there were no such cases at all, and he did not understand that there had been any recurrence of the disease. There was some little criticism in the year 1905 when there was a Convention sitting at Berne. At that time, as the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean knew, there was a Foreign Office objection to proceeding with this measure, and he wished to know whether Japan agreed to the present Convention. With regard to the second Convention, upon which the present Under-Secretary was the representative of this country, he gathered that the representatives were unanimous in the decision they had come to. He would like to ask the Under-Secretary what action was taken by Japan and the United States, and whether the latter intended to carry out prohibition in that country. That would have a considerable effect upon the manufacturers of this country, and he believed that was the reason why the right hon. Gentleman had thought it better that there should be a total prohibition of the landing of matches made with this substance from other countries. He did not know that this House would disagree with a policy of that kind, and they might wish to see it carried much further. All he wanted to know was what were the terms under which ordinary British manufacturers not in the "circle" could obtain patent rights. He shared his noble friend's alarm that some trust might be formed, which might be a disadvantage to the best interest of their manufacturers at home. It would be open to them at a later stage, if they were not satisfied, to ask further questions as to the terms made with other Powers.

MR. SUMMERBELL (Sunderland)

said he was somewhat surprised at any opposition to a Bill of this kind, and more especially at the Motion made by the noble Lord.


said he had already pointed out that the Opposition allowed this Bill to pass the Second Reading unopposed on the understanding that they would be afforded opportunities for discussion at a later stage. He denied that the Opposition were opposing the Bill.


said under those circumstances he would withdraw what he had said upon that point. Even if there had been only one case they ought to make an effort to prevent this terrible disease recurring. A most extraordinary statement had been made by the noble Lord, in which he said a Bill of this character would prevent the importation of matches, and that prohibition would give a monopoly to British manufacturers which would inevitably result in an increase in the cost of matches to the consumer at home. That was an extraordinary statement, and he only wished to emphasise it in view of future discussions.


asked leave to withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


moved an Amendment to Clause 2 (Prohibition of Sale) providing that the prohibition of the sale of white phosphorus matches by any retail dealer should not come into operation until 1st January, 1912, instead of 1911. The object of the Amendment, he said, was to enable retail dealers who had large stocks of these matches to have a little time to dispose of them. He thought this was an Amendment which the Government would consider was reasonable, because if it were accepted it would not in any way interfere with the efficiency of the Bill. It might put off for one year the time when they would attach their signatures to the Berne Convention but that ought not to trouble them very much. He would like to give a reason why he thought the time allowed for retailers getting rid of their stocks of matches was not sufficient. They liked to have wrappers on the boxes upon which their own name was printed, and any other advertisement of their own; and they could only secure those particular wrappers by giving very large orders. He believed that the ordinary order necessary to secure such wrappers was something like ten gross of boxes. To a man not doing a very large business it was impossible for him to dispose of that property in two years. He believed that the Under-Secretary was of opinion that, generally speaking, two years would be sufficient for retailers to dispose of their stock, but his information was of a contrary nature, and the right hon. Gentleman would find that many retailers in his own constituency would be ready to support what he had said. He did not know this Bill was coming on so early, or he could have given many proofs that these retailers would not be able to get rid of their stocks within the time allowed. He had received a telegram from a grocer at Peterborough stating that he had a stock of these matches which he could not dispose of at the present rate of business under less than three years. [Cries of "Oh, oh."] Hon. Members below the gangway apparently were not conversant with the grocery trade.

MR. SEDDON (Lancashire, Newton)

said he was conversant with the grocery trade, and had spent twenty years in it.


said that in the case of this particular grocer three years would be required before he was able to dispose of the stock he had in hand. There would be no risk in accepting this Amendment, and it would not impair the efficiency of the Bill, therefore he could not see what possible objection there could be to it. The importation of these matches was to be prohibited, and also their manufacture. Consequently, the sale of them would cease by the natural course of events. There was another hardship which would be inflicted upon the retail traders. Under the Explosives Act railways were not allowed to charge less than 5s. or 6s. upon any consignments of matches. In order to be able to defray the expense of carriage under these conditions it was necessary they should order matches in large quantities, otherwise they would not make any profit on them. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would accept this Amendment, otherwise he would feel bound to press the matter to a division. He begged to move.


, in seconding the Amendment, said the case put by his hon. friend was worthy of consideration. There were people who would suffer hardship if the proposal in the Bill were carried in its present form. What possible harm could it do to extend the period? The whole object of the Bill was to prevent disease arising from the use of white phosphorus, and it appeared to him that the extension of the period for one year could do no possible harm. That would enable retailers to get rid of the stocks which they had laid in. He would support the Amendment unless the Home Secretary could give some valid reason for not extending the period.

Amendment proposed— In page 2, line 5, to leave out the word 'eleven,' and to insert the word 'twelve.'"— (Earl of Ronaldshay.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'eleven' stand part of the Bill."


said that in consequence of representations made by the trade an extension of time to 1911 was given in Committee, and now the Government were quite satisfied that the trade as a whole were entirely satisfied with the Bill as it stood.


Will the right hon. Gentleman say what is the objection to extending the time?


The objection is that it is really not necessary.


Would it have any detrimental effect with respect to this country becoming a signatory to the Berne Convention?

MR. RUPERT GUINNESS (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

pressed for an extension of the time on behalf of small grocers. He had received some representations on their behalf, and he thought the proposal in the Bill would operate unfairly in regard to them.


asked whether the representations had been received since the Committee stage of the Bill.


said he had received them within the last few days. The people for whom he pleaded had to buy their matches in large quantities, and it took a considerable time to get rid of the stocks.


expressed the hope that his hon. friend would not press the Amendment. He did not believe that grocers were going to suffer to any great extent. It was only in exceptional cases that phosphorus matches were stored in grocers' shops. In trying to protect the small grocer, they might inflict this potential danger on everybody else in the trade. At present the whole of the match trade was in exceptional difficulty, having severe regulations hanging over its head. The extension of the time would inflict great expense and consequent hardship on the trade, and, therefore, he hoped that the operation of the Bill would not be postponed.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Bill be now read a third time,"— (Mr. Gladstone)—put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.