HC Deb 03 August 1926 vol 198 cc2948-52

I beg to move, in page 2, line 14, to leave out the words "woman or."

I am encouraged in moving this by a remark of the hon. and gallant Gentleman in charge of the Bill. He said a short time ago that the average Englishman hated prohibition in any shape or form wherever it could be avoided. I think the English woman has the same objection as the Englishman and, so far as I can make out, there is not a single argument in favour of this prohibition as far as women are concerned. This is a matter on which a great number of women hold very strong opinions indeed. I am convinced that the average woman is getting more and more inclined to resent, now that they have the vote for Parliament and are exercising other privileges, the tendency that I see growing very strongly indeed to tell them, even though they are over 40 years of age, that they are not old enough to look after themselves. They are being constantly grouped with children. Before they had the vote they were grouped with lunatics. Now it is always women and children.

I am not here to say anything on the controversial question as to whether lead paint should be entirely excluded. That is a question the House has already decided. But there is not a single argument, as far as I can make out, in favour of excluding women from the right to take part in this industry. I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman, before he turns it down, to give the House some reason why women should be excluded and men allowed to go on with this work. It is admitted on all hands that there is a danger in using this lead paint at all, but I understand the argument on the Government side is this. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said the Government hope that by these Regulations the danger will he removed. If that is case, why should not women indulge in the occupation as well as men? If, on the other hand, the Regulations are not going to be of any effect, it is better to do away with them altogether. The general tendency of the closing of the industry to women is undoubtedly to force them one by one to take up other occupations, and bring about a very severe competition in the industries that are open.


I beg to second the Amendment.

It seems to me a scandalous thing that this Bill should include a Clause which deprives a number of adults of their livelihood. It is common ground that many hundreds of women are engaged in this work, and why on earth they should be deprived of their chance of earning a living, why they should be forced out of the employment which they have secured for themselves by their own abilities, I cannot understand. The Under-Secretary says he disbelieves in prohibition. If that is so, why are these women prohibited from continuing to earn their livelihood? The only ground on which prohibition is being justified at all is that it is recommended by some international Commission, which does not bind this Government legally or morally. If the obligations which are supposed to have been entered into by Sir Montague Barlow are not binding on Parliament in regard to one portion, I do not see why they should be binding in regard to another. Before the House deprives any portion of the population of their ordinary means of livelihood, there ought to be some strong justification. These women possess considerable skill and earn good wages. They have a voice, surely, as to whether or no they should be prohibited from continuing in the work. There is no evidence that any of them, or any union of such women, have ever expressed any desire to be ousted from their employment. It seems very much as if this Clause were based upon the selfishness of people who want to take the places of these women. There is no more dangerous or more pernicious form of selfishness than selfishness masquerading as philanthrophy. That is what this Clause seems to be.


I hope the Government will not be, led away into the reactionary course advocated by two hon. Members on their own side. I am sorry that there has been a play on the word "prohibition." There is no parallel whatsoever between the prohibition of women and children in employment of this description, as against men, and the prohibition of drink. The two things are entirely and absolutely distinct, and to make a play on the word is a kind of pun which is entirely unworthy of the subject. I am very strongly in favour of prohibition and supported the Amendment which was moved from this side, and am very sorry that the Government have not taken the course of accepting that Amendment. As the Government have not done that, I do hope that they will not waver in the slightest degree in favour of the Amendment now offered to them, and seductively offered to them, from their own side.

The hon. Members who proposed and seconded the Amendment asked whether women had not a voice on this particular question. They have apparently two voices. What women are they 4 I say very emphatically, speaking with knowledge, that those who are in favour of this Amendment are not women industrially employed, but middle-class women, sentimenalists, who have vague ideas, without having touching with economic realities, as to the equalisation of rights, which has no real bearing on the facts of the case. On this side we recognise that there are real physical differences between men and women. The fact that lead poisoning is one of the causes of abortion, and a very important and serious cause, is a sufficient reason in itself to justify a very careful examination of this case, if it were desired to go back on the proposals of the Government, which I hope it is not.

Another reason why we should protect women more effectively than we protect men, is because women can less effectively protect themselves. As an economic and trade union fact, that is the truth of the case. Women and children for that reason ought to be protected. There is another reason. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who is in charge of the Bill, has spoken of the Regulation policy as a policy of experiment. He said that the Home Secretary had stated that this was an experiment. It seems to me a very unfortunate experiment, because it is an experiment with death. There is a very considerable death rate from lead poisoning. I have the figures, but I will not trouble the House with them. Why should women and children be exposed to the risk of that death? I see no reason whatsoever, and I do urge the Government to resist this Amendment. Prohibition has been part of the progressive policy of all Governments in the past. There is the prohibition of child labour, the prohibition of over-long hours, and all kinds of industrial prohibitions. I hope this particular prohibition is only the first step, and that at an early date the Government will take the next step and prohibit the employment of men also.


I am sorry to have to resist this Amendment. The hon. Member who moved it asked me for reasons for refusing to accept it. The chief reason is that lead poisoning is a greater danger to women than it is to men. Let me quote from an article written by Sir Thomas Oliver, whose name has been mentioned already during the Debate and who is one of the greatest authorities on lead poisoning. He says: On the whole females suffer more severely from plumbism than males. Let me also quote from Sir Thomas Legge, who is the Chief Medical Inspector of Factories at the Home Office at the moment. He says: Women are more susceptible to poisoning by lead than men. That is the chief reason why we resist the proposal. A circular letter has been sent out by the Society for Equal Citizenship, in which they say that there is an unfair discrimination in this matter between men and women. I fail to see that it is an unfair discrimination. If there is a discrimination, it has been exercised in the interests of the health of the women, and the proviso, in the Bill was put in because it was one of the points dealt with by the Convention at Geneva. I do not think I need go into any further details on this proposal. As I say, if there is a discrimination in this matter, it is a discrimination in the interests of the health of the women, and I hope the House will not accept the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.