HC Deb 10 April 1928 vol 162 cc1072-6

I beg to move, That leave be given to introduce a Bill to prohibit nightwork in bakehouses, and for purposes connected therewith. The object of my short Bill is to give effect to the recommendations of the Departmental Committee appointed in 1919, by the Minister of Labour, to inquire into the practice of night work in the bread making and flour confectionery trade. In their Report the Committee recommended prohibition of the employment of persons in night baking, subject to certain exceptions. It is proposed in my Bill to leave it to the Secretary of State to fix by special Order the exceptions to be allowed. This procedure will make it possible to vary the exceptions if circumstances in future should change, and if any modification of the exceptions should be desired by the industry. The special Order will under Section 126 of the Factory and Workshops Act, 1901, have to be laid before Parliament, and may be annulled by Resolution of either House. In this trade there are 60,000 operatives, and there is a fairly good Parliamentary career in connection with this theme. If ever there was a body of industrial people who have tried by all Constitutional and Parliamentary means, from 1848 to 7919, to get this problem dealt with in order that their social conditions might be bettered, then the operatives engaged in the baking industry can be singled out as being those persons.

May I give some idea of the history of night baking? The system of baking generally practiced in the past was that "early men" came in before the regular men. The early men used to prepare the dough, and came before 5 o'clock in the morning. According to the Board of Trade itself, night working in the baking industry is understood to be during the hours between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. as long as bakeries were small and the preparation of the manufacture of bread was manipulated by hand, and before the introduction of the system of large bakeries, with the use of their machinery, it may be assumed that the baking of bread by night was carried on to a limited extent only. It was in the large industrial centres that baking of tread by night obtained a hold. Certainly before 1914 night baking was fairly general in England and Wales. The incidence of this depends upon the fact that the production of bread on a large scale is normally accompanied by distribution over a wide area. In this distribution the large producer, whether acting as wholesaler to agents or direct to the consumer, found himself in competition with the small local baker. The latter sold over the counter, or, in any case, distributed only within a very small radius from his shop. In order to be able to get new bread on sale at more or less the same time as his local competitor, the large producer had to resort to the system of night baking. This gave the large producer an advantage in distribution, and the small producer in his turn adopted night work in order to meet his more formidable competitor. Thus we got the unnecessary conditions of night work in the trade. Things became so uncomfortable that in September, 1918, a Whitley Council was formed, which inquired into the whole conditions appertaining to this industry, find the following resolution was carried by that Council: That nightwork be abolished in the bread and flour bakeries between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., with the exception of dough-makers and oven firemen and their assistants, subject to the discussion of the questions of Sundays, holidays, and break downs. The operatives connected with the baking industry accepted the findings of the Council, but the master bakers could not agree and therefore they opposed them. Immediately following that, there was industrial friction between the master bakers and the Ministry of Food, which in no sense reflects upon the operatives in connection with this industry. It is not the purpose of my Bill to deal with that point, but at any rate we had an industrial dispute, and the result of that dispute was that the Minister of Labour in the last Parliament appointed a Government Court of Inquiry. In regarding the evidence and arriving at a conclusion, the Committee stated that they had full regard to the interests 'not only of the workers and their employers, but the people as a whole. The public are, of course, entitled to have their interests safeguarded, and from the point of view of bread and confectionery, the interests of the public mean that they should be able to get upon the breakfast table reasonably fresh bread, at a reasonable price, at a reasonable time, and in a reasonably sufficient quantity.

The Committee appointed in 1919 in their Report say: After careful consideration of the evidence and of the various circumstances affecting the industry we have come to the conclusion that the safeguarding of the interests of the people of this country can be done if nightwork in the baking industry is prohibited, provided that certain limitations are imposed. We have come to the conclusion also that the best method of doing this as by an Act of Parliament. These are the conclusions of a Government Committee and in no sense those of persons connected with our trade union movement. I feel that there is sufficient machinery in existence to arrange any possible differences of opinion between the operatives on the one hand and the employers on the other. The inquiry set up by the Government arrived at the position that it would take, approximately, two years for the baking industry: to adapt itself to the new conditions, and this Bill will leave in the hands of the Government the power to grant the necessary exemptions to any bakers whose machinery or bakehouse is not sufficiently up-to-date to be adapted to the proposed new conditions. I feel sure that the House agrees with me that night work is a social evil, destroys the possibility of good men enjoying home life, takes a man away from his family, and destroys health. The Ministry of Health has issued statistics to prove that night work is detrimental to the health of employés.


What about the House of Commons?


I am asking you to set an example to yourselves. I trust that hon. Members will not treat this question in a light-hearted manner, because the baking trade has tried by constitutional means from 1848 to 1919 to have this change made, and the assistance of the Whitley Council and the Ministry of Labour points to the fact that night work can be prohibited in the baking industry and the interests of this great nation safeguarded. I ask leave to introduce this Bill and trust that the Government will be anxious to make this measure of social reform a practical part of the legislation of this country.


On the spur of the moment I rise to oppose the introduction of this Bill, because through my own fault I did not, know until now that it was on the Order Paper for to-day. I am afraid that I have forgotten some of the details with regard to this question, which is a very old one. No doubt the hon. Member's Bill is much the same as the Bill which was before every Session of the last Parliament. I first took an interest in this question by reason of a joint request from the master bakers and the employés in my constituency, and I took the trouble then to obtain copies of the Reports of the Committees of Inquiry which had investigated the matter. Undoubtedly there are inconveniences in abolishing night baking, and my suggestion is that this is not a Bill which is worth consideration on the floor of the House unless a very strong case is made out that night work is injurious, and the hon. Member did not advance any argument in support of that contention. My very clear recollection of the Report of the Committee on Night Baking is that those who were employed on night baking led, on the whole, much more healthy lives and had a much smaller average of disease and of short lives than those who were engaged on day-time occupations.

The only thing that has been said by way of real argument as to the interests of the operatives was that if they were engaged upon night work they lost their home work. The exact opposite is the fact. Those engaged on night work work shorter hours and get high pay. Instead of being away the whole day engaged in work they have much more time at home than ordinary persons who are engaged in day work. No argument has been put forward to show that this is a Bill to which Parliamentary time should be given up. On the other hand, all the inquiries have gone to prove that night baking is not an injurious occupation, and many of those engaged in night baking do not want day baking. The fact is that this proposal would interfere greatly with the convenience of those who have to breakfast early and want their bread delivered early. It would also be a great inconvenience, and would cause great loss, to a large number of bakers in different parts of the country who, if this Bill passed, would be, put to great inconvenience and probably driven out of business altogether with the result that the baking trade, which is now such a profitable one to a. large number of small people, would get into the hands of those combines, which hon. Members opposite have been the first to denounce in other cases. For these reasons I think that this Bill is one which the House should not entertain.

Question, That leave he given to introduce a Bill to prohibit night work in bakehouses, and for purposes connected therewith

put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Groves, Mr. Morel, Mr. Arthur Henderson, Mr. John Jones, and Mr. Lansbury.