HC Deb 20 March 1928 vol 215 cc225-7

I beg to move, That leave be given to introduce a Bill to regulate offices and the employment of young persons therein; and for other purposes connected therewith. I hope the House will be as kind and indulgent to me as it has been to my predecessor this afternoon, and will give me the same ready First Reading of this Bill. It is a Bill for the regulation of offices, and seeks to extend to people who work in offices some of the protection that is at present given to those who work in factories. It is not often that offices are protected in the same way as factories and workshops, because it is generally assumed that working in an office is a healthy occupation. The conditions in many big cities, especially owing to the great congestion at the present time, are rapidly growing worse, and it is felt that something ought to be done to protect the health of the men and women who work in these offices. The House will, before long, extend the franchise to all women between the ages of 21 and 30, and if this Bill were passed, it would be an indication that the House proposes to do something for the new voters, for many thousands of the new voters would be protected by a Bill of this kind.

There are several main evils under which these people work at the present time. First and foremost, there is electric light. Many workers have to work in offices with artificial light, not only on dark days but all day and every day and right through the heat of summer. This is not only the case in regard to, old buildings, but it applies also to new buildings. In one of the best and newest offices lately built in the city of London, large provision is made for underground office accommodation. In the older buildings in the city, where girls work underground, conditions are very bad indeed. We have also in these basement offices, the enemy of damp. In one office which was brought to my notice, there was not only one storey of the office underground but two. The occupier of the office had originally kept his records and papers in one of the offices underground, and the girls worked in the other. He found that his records and books became mildewed and he removed them to the upper office and the girls had to work in the other office. When I interviewed him, as a trade union official, he asked me what he could do, because he could not get any other office where the-girls could work.

The effect on health is particularly bad at the present time, because many of these girls work very long hours and work special overtime at quarter days. I should like to quote the case of a girl who wrote to me, giving me a description of the office in which she worked. She said: It is only a cubicle, with no windows and no ventilation, and five men besides myself work in this unhealthy place. She added that the electric light had had a bad effect on her eyes, and she had been obliged to go and see an oculist, who said that her eyes were badly strained. One-third of the diseases of those who work in offices is due to phthisis, and 122 out of every 1,000 die by diseases which are caused by working in cramped spaces with bad light, bad ventilation, and very long hours. The Bill recognises the difficulty which many employers work under at the present time. High rents are making overcrowding worse, and one employer whom I interviewed said that many of them would welcome some legislative action. The Bill throws the burden of keeping the offices in a proper condition on to the owner, but makes provision for adjustment afterwards by the council. This Bill would prevent overcrowding; it would stop any premises being used as underground offices which were not so used on the date when the Bill passes into law, and, briefly, it makes provision for adequate ventilation, lighting and heating, and proper sanitary accommodation. The question of sanitary accommodation in some city offices is very pressing. The conditions are terrible, and when girls have to work under such conditions it is time this House extended to them the provisions which for so many years it has extended to girls who work in factories.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Miss Wilkinson, Miss Bondfield, Mr. Thomas Kennedy, Mr. William Graham, Dr. Dalton, Dr. Shiels, Mr. Rhys Davies, Mr. Charleton, Mr. Montague, and Mr. Robert Wilson.