HC Deb 07 May 1923 vol 163 cc2041-4

Order for Second Reading read.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Godfrey Locker-Lampson)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The last Bill was a very controversial one, but I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the present Bill is quite uncontroversial in character. Its purpose is merely to amend the Explosives Act, 1875, which has not been found sufficiently watertight to prevent very serious accidents. This Bill is introduced merely for the greater security of human life. In the Act of 1875 it is laid down that due precautions must be taken for the prevention of accidents, but there is absolutely no power taken in that Act to prescribe what kind of precautions ought to be taken, or, in default of the taking of those precautions by the occupier, to secure that the precautions shall be taken. The only remedy at the present moment under that Act is to go to the Courts and get a penalty.

Clause 1 of this Bill fills that gap. It gives to the Home Office power to specify the kind of precautions that it thinks ought to be taken in any factory, magazine or store of the kind referred to, and, secondly, in default of the occupier taking those precautions, power is given to the Home Office to carry out those precautionary measures itself. Again, under the old Act, persons under 16 were not allowed to work in any danger building except under the supervision of a person of the age of 21 or upwards. That has not been found to be a sufficient safeguard. Some hon. Members may remember a very serious accident that took place at Dudley Port, Staffordshire, in March of last year, known as the Tipton explosion. A number of young girls were employed in breaking down ammunition. Proper precautions were not taken, several of the girls lost their lives, and the occupier of the factory was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to a term of penal servitude. A great deal of feeling was aroused and a good many questions were asked in the House, and the Home Secretary promised to do his best to place further restrictions on the employment of young persons.

Clause 2 of this Bill merely carries out the promise then made. It extends the age from 16 to 18. No young person under 18 is to be allowed to work in any of these danger buildings unless under the supervision of a person who is of age, and it goes further still, and says no young person under 16 shall work in any danger building whatsoever, with the exception of certain non-dangerous processes, which are to be specified by Order. Finally, under the old Act the couple of Sections, which deal with penalties only, inflict a penalty of 2s. for every pound of explosive that is improperly kept. It is evident that that is really quite inadequate. A person keeping, say, a box of 100 detonators or a few pounds of very high explosive, which may give rise to a very serious accident indeed, is only to be fined a few shillings. The Bill remedies that and increases the penalty to a fine of the maximum amount under the old Act or £100, whichever is the greater. I think everyone will agree that that is a more adequate penalty than the very small nominal penalty which might in most serious cases have been imposed under the old Act. That is the whole of the Bill. I believe it carries out the wishes of the House, which were very strongly expressed when that very serious accident took place last year, and I hope the House will give it a Second Reading.