HC Deb 28 July 1933 vol 280 cc2986-3012

Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."

12.5 p.m.


Just before that interruption I was remarking that the House of Commons is rightly regarded as a very human institution. I do not think that its humanity could be better illustrated than by the state of affairs in the House to-day, and by comparison with what transpired a day or two ago. The House of Commons was worked up into a fury the other day owing to the arrest of a young man of 19 years of age, and the Home Secretary was really put into a difficult position in the answers which he gave to the House of Commons. To-day we are dealing with something which is very much more important than the arrest of a young man, or, in fact, the death in prison of another, as I shall show, but the House of Commons takes very little interest in these things. When a colliery explosion or a railway accident occurs and so many are killed outright the country as a whole is moved, but the figures which I am going to quote of fatalities and accidents in industry do not produce any consternation, but they appeal me personally none the less. For illustration, there were 37 fatalities and 10,242 nonfatal accidents in the textile industry in 1932. I imagine that those figures must cover the Lancashire textile industry. Since the period covered by this report there has been introduced into the textile industry of Lancashire what is called the six-loom-per-weaver system, meaning, of course, that the person who usually looked after four looms is now called upon to work six. It is a process of speeding up and using up the human being to a greater extent than hitherto.

I must pay tribute to the medical side of the work of the Home Office in connection with factory administration and industrial diseases. All I want really is to see that the Home Office shall pay much more attention to the medical side of the work of the factory department. Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to ask the Medical Research Department of the Home Office to cause inquiries to be made as soon as may be convenient as to the effect upon the health of the operatives consequent upon the introduction of the six-loom per weaver system? It seems to me that the system is bound to have a bad effect. I cannot ask the right hon. Gentleman, because it does not belong to his Department, whether six looms should have been introduced instead of four, but he is concerned, at any rate, as to the effect upon the welfare and the health of the operatives of the introduction of any new system of working.

When I come to non-textile factories the situation is worse. There were 373 fatal and 86,648 non-fatal accidents in the non-textile factories. Of these, 47 fatal and 10,057 non-fatal accidents occurred in conversion mills, including rolling mills and tube making. I see the hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. L. Jones) in the House this morning, and it will be very interesting to learn from him, because he is very well acquainted with the employers' side in this case, and from the Home Secretary why this particular section of industry is so dangerous to life and limb. There is another factor in connection with these figures which I should like to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman. It is not sufficient for students of these statistics to know the number of fatal and non-fatal accidents, they ought to know the number of work-people covered by these accidents or the number of workpeople employed in this particular section of industry so that they may find out the actual proportion of the accident rate in one section of industry as against any other. The figures of 30 fatal accidents and 3,163 non-fatal accidents in the chemicals, paints, colours and varnish, and glue-making section of industry are really ominous.

I come now to what is more important than anything I have already said with regard to accident rates. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well the difficulties in connection with the administration of laws governing safety and welfare in docks and the erection of buildings. I am very distressed at the figures which I see in the report relating to docks and building operations. There were 68 persons killed and 4,940 injured in our docks during 1933, and 113 killed and 3,086 injured in building operations. Building operations have changed their character during the last few years. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has sufficient power to provide adequate safety regulations when these huge cranes are in operation in connection with building. Buildings, I suppose, are taller than ever they were in this country, and I should have imagined that the regulations covering them would have been brought up-to-date. I also call attention to an item in this report where it says that there was an increase of 14 cases of lead poisoning over the previous year. The increase of lead poisoning in this case arises from ship breaking. That rather surprises me. I should have thought that the Home Office factory department ought to have known beforehand that ship breaking was to be done in this country on a large scale. Incidentally it is characteristic that there is more ship breaking than ship building going on just now under the administration of this Government. But in any case there was an increase of 14 cases of lead poisoning over the previous year, and as stated I should have thought that some means could have been found to prevent those cases arising in ship breaking.

I am very proud of one thing to-day because I had a little to do with the next set of figures I am about to give. Hon. Members who were in the last Parliament and in the previous one will remember that we had a good deal of discussion in this Hounse when we tried to regulate by law the use of white lead in paint on buildings. Some of us used the argument that if white lead was prohibited in painting palaces and Government buildings, and the Houses of Parliament, white lead should not be used in painting other buildings either. We passed a piece of legislation as a result, and it is indeed very gratifying to know that there is a decrease in the number of cases of lead poisoning in painting from 64 cases in 1931 to 43 cases in 1932. That is an excellent compliment, and when hon. Members, as I have heard them in one Parliament after another, say that the law is of no avail, this is a case, at any rate, where the passing of the Lead Paint Act some years ago has saved not only human life but, I am sure, an enormous amount of personal suffering as well. The Chief Inspector makes an excellent comment in this connection, and I will read it. He says: New problems are successively disclosed, and as one industrial disease is conquered, or at least disarmed, another arises to he fought. The old prevelant scourges of lead poisoning, phosperous necrosis, and anthrax have been largely overcome, only to be replaced by other diseases, such as occupational epithelioma and silicosis, the existence of which was only dimly appreciated until recent times. The right hon. Gentleman is aware that it is not commonly known among the people of this country that the Home Office runs a disinfecting station in Liverpool with a view to preventing the spread of anthrax. I want to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether that station is kept right up-to-date, or has the economy campaign of the Government to try and save on every bit of administration had any adverse effect upon the operation of this station Having asked that question I will turn to what I regard as being the most pathetic ease of all among the working people of this country—industrial cancer. The House will probably be interested in these figures because they are very distressing. There were 131 cases with 44 deaths reported during the year from ulceration of the skin within the ambit of industrial cancer; 33 cases with one death from pitch; 37 cases with 18 deaths from tar; one from paraffin; and 60 cases with 35 deaths from oil. Of these 60 cases from oil, 57 occurred among cotton mule spinners. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House if any progress at all is being made in connection with the prevention of industrial cancer. As we all know, it is not the contraction of the disease, it is not death, in fact, that matters so much in these cases; it is the terrible and intense human suffering that goes with this form of cancer. There was a case in Swansea, I understand, of industrial cancer, that is to say cancer of the in- terior of the nose, and I was rather astonished to learn that there have been 10 fatal cases in one nickel works in Swansea from this form of the disease. As 1 said, I always pay a great tribute to those members of the medical profession who are taking interest in industrial disease, but can the right hon. Gentleman tell us anything more as to any progress that may have been made to find out why this cancer afflicts so many workpeople in the nickel industry Then, I understand, there is a great deal of suffering going on from cancer among workers in the dye industry of Huddersfield.

I must here mention silicosis and asbestosis. Full particulars, we are told, are available of 42 deaths from asbestosis or asbestosis with tuberculosis, and 281 deaths from silicosis or silicosis with tuberculosis. That gives, in one year, 323 deaths from this group of diseases alone. Putting it in that way, really I think the House will be impressed with what is happening in connection with silicosis. I do not want to proceed very much further except to say that with the introduction of new scientific processes in industry, the speeding-up of workpeople to meet foreign competition, and the rapidity with which rationalisation is now brought about on all hands, it behoves the Home Office to be more alert than ever. I am convinced that, unless our factory inspectors are alert and greater care is taken by the medical profession employed by the Home Office, this terrible speeding-up process is bound in the end to affect adversely the health of our people. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that some diseases which are contracted from noise and vibration have, so I am told, been 'scheduled in Germany under, I believe, the Hitler regime, as diseases for the purposes of workmen's compensation, and I would like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman has in mind the effects that must come from the use of hand-drills with their terrible vibration upon the human body? As I have said, there is a great deal more to be said in connection with this Report, but I see nothing in the Report that will enlighten us about miners' nystagmus. I think we ought to be told something on that score, because, as far as I remember, there are more cases of workmen's compensation in connection with miners' nystagmus than from any other single disease.

I must say a word on a new problem which is confronting the factory inspectors. Premium bonus systems of paying wages have recently been installed on what is called the Bedeaux system. The right hon. Gentleman in his Department has, of course, nothing to do with the introduction of any such system. But this system of paying wages is devised deliberately in order to speed-up the workman, and get as much out of him as possible.


Payment by results.


Yes, the premium bonus system of paying wages by results. Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to find out for our next Report, or the Report following, from the medical board of his Department what are the effects upon the physique of the workpeople through the introduction of this speeding-up system?

I cannot sit down without saying a word or two about the two-shift system. I notice that there was an increase in the number of orders granted from 227 in 1931 to 293 in 1932. I have always held that it is an anomalous situation that with all the ecomonic depression there is supposed to be upon us, the Home Office grants orders to exploit women and young persons on night work. I should imagine that it would be better for the community as a whole if they were all employed during the day. I want, therefore, to make a protest against the increase in the number of these two-shift orders. All is not well in spite of what I have said about the employment of persons in factories and workshops. I will read one paragraph in the Report. The Chief Inspector says: Cases are quoted in which young girls and boys as well as women have been employed for periods of 13 hours and more. In one case, a boy of 17 was employed from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m., and later in the same week from 2 a.m. till 8 p.m. A boy of 16 was employed in a bakehouse from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. the following day. A boy of 14 was employed in a cabinet works from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. the following day. We are told in the Factory Inspector's Report that those are cases which have come to light. If those few cases have come to light, I am sure that there must be a very much larger number which have been kept in the dark. My complaint on that score is this: I know that the inspectors do their work when they find these cases, but I want to make a protest against the attitude of the magisterial bench in connection with cases of this kind. The fines that are imposed are too paltry for words. If the law against property were violated as the law against human beings is in this connection, the magisterial bench would be very much more severe in their fines and imprisonments, and I do ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not possible to request the magistrates to take a very much more serious view of the infringement of our factory legislation than is being done at present.

With regard to workmen's compensation, I have always held that there is something wrong in the way the finance of workmen's compensation is handled in this country. In 1930, the last year for which figures are available, the total premium income of the insurance companies was £5,500,000. The whole of that money, minus administration expenses, was surely intended to go back to the pockets of the workmen, but, out of the £5,500,000, only £3,250,000 came back to their pockets. The £3,250,000, by the way, covers the cost of legal and medical expenses as well. I guarantee that for every pound paid by employers to cover workmen's compensation, less than 10s. comes back to the pocket of the injured workman. If I have my way when we are in government, one of the first things that I shall want to see done is to take the exploitation of injured workpeople out of the hands of insurance companies. It ought to have been done long ago.

There are some paragraphs in the Report which tells us about the foreigner coming here to establish factories. One would conclude from some of these paragraphs that the economic depression has now completely passed away because the foreigner is coming here to employ our people and to show us how to manufacture clocks, ribbons, toys and the rest of it. If I have any objection to this Report it is that I do not want the factory inspectorate to pay tribute to the Government in power for the time being in connection with its policy. The right hon. Gentleman had better look at some of these figures. We are told that about 9,000 workpeople are employed by foreigners who have come here to open new factories. According to one of the replies I received from the Board of Trade recently one would have imagined that the number was 90,000.


Perhaps they mean 9,000 factories.


I quote from memory but the figures given are 217 factories and about 9,000 workpeople. According to the propaganda from the Government Front Bench opposite the figures would appear to be about 10 times that number. Can the right hon. Gentleman say if we are going to have a new Factory Bill? If nothing that I can say can appeal to him on that score I will quote from a very much higher authority. I think he reads the "Times" occasionally. The "Times" is typically Conservative, and I will quote it by way of an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to bring in a Bill as soon as possible to consolidate all our factory legislation and bring it up to date. This is what the "Times" said in a leading article on the 20th July: Thirty-two years have elapsed since the last consolidation Act was passed. Since then supplementary Acts and a multitude of Orders and statutory regulations have, not altogether satisfactorily, brought requirements up to date. The passing of such an Act would be a heavy Parliamentary task, and the longer it is delayed the more toilsome it must be. Little public honour will accrue to the Minister or the Government undertaking it, but it will be a work of solid merit and enduring benefit. In conclusion, I say "Amen" to the "Times."

12.27 p.m.


The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies) is to be congratulated on calling the attention of the House once more to the Annual Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories. He did it last year in a, very interesting speech and he has done it today in a speech which covers a very wide field. He put one or two distinct questions to me, with which I will deal. I should like to join with him in congratulating the inspectorate of the Home Office on the excellent work they are doing. The Report that we have had the pleasure of reading during the last few days is a further tribute to that excellent work. The Report is particularly interesting in view of the fact that we have reached the centenary of factory inspection and I only wish that hon. Members in all parts of the House would give close attention to this very important Report.

The hon. Member asked me a question with regard to what appears to be the heavy death-rate from accidents in the iron and steel trade. However much we may deplore the fact that there were 47 fatal accidents in the iron and steel trade last year, it is satisfactory to find how few of those accidents were due to deficient machinery. If hon. Members will turn to the first column on page 120 of the Report they will find that out of the 47 fatal accidents only one was due to prime movers in the iron and steel trade. We deplore very much that a large percentage of these fatal accidents is due to physical defects or physical causes rather than machinery causes. There is nothing which is causing so much concern to employers generally in the country as the absolute bravado of workpeople in industry. One might call it false courage, this fearlessness which workpeople always seem to show under dangerous and hazardous conditions of work. In my own experience I have suggested that the workpeople should co-operate with us in reducing the accident percentage, which we all deplore, and I have put it frankly to them that while their attitude savours of carelessness it is really due to false courage. I suggest that the trade union leaders might co-operate with the employers in trying to instil into work-people how important it is that they should take greater care 'and less risk in the works.

When I visited American iron and steel works I found that the American employers were adopting remarkable methods of impressing this necessity on the workpeople. At one very large steel works I saw a huge poster on the wall, depicting a cripple on crutches, with the words: "The cripple has a hell of a time of it." That was the method adopted by one American works. I appeal to the hon. Member for Westhoughton, who has taken such a great interest in this question of accident prevention, that he and his colleagues should try to impress upon the workpeople generally the absolute need for greater co-operation with the employers with a view to reducing the accident rate. Employers are inspired by a human desire to reduce the accident rate. Merely from the selfish economic point of view we are all desirous of reducing the accident rate. In the last few years I have noticed that by the institution of "Safety First" committees and the development of welfare work generally in industry it has been possible to reduce the premiums on accident insurance by very considerable sums. I know of instances where the rate has been reduced from 30s. to 12s. as the result of successful efforts to reduce the accident rate. Apart from the human desire there is the economic, the selfish, desire on the part of employers to reduce the accident rate in industry generally.

The hon. Member also referred to the safety and welfare work, and I am glad to know that the chief inspector in his report specially refers to the growth of the number of safety organisations throughout the country. In 1931, out of 1,073 establishment in the heavy industries, there were only 132 without any kind of safety organisation, while in 1932, when the number of establishments had increased to 1,124, there were only 134 without some form of safety organisation. That, obviously, is an improvement, but I put it to the Home Secretary that if there are still 134 establishments without any kind of safety organisation further pressure ought to be exercised by the Home Office and its inspectorate to see that the number is considerably reduced. There is no excuse why any factory, small or large, should not develop within its walls some form of organisation to ensure greater safety amongst the. workpeople.

I must pay this tribute to employers and workmen throughout the country, that there are large numbers of organisations representing employers and, employed who are not satisfied with the minimum standards of the Home Office. There is a growing number of employers who, through their individual efforts or organisations, are trying to provide amenities for their workpeople in excess of the statutory requirements. Hon. Members will know of that remarkable organisation, the Industrial Welfare Society, an association of employers and trade unions which meets regularly in London, which has a membership of nearly 1,000 large firms and is doing magnificent work in the development of safety first and welfare work in industry. All this is done on a voluntary basis. Last year the hon. Member for Westhoughton was anxious that there should be a compulsory organisation for safety and welfare work in factories, but I am glad that the Home Office has taken the view of the Balfour Committee that this type of work can best be done on the lines of a voluntary organisation. We toke the view that there is something more in safety and welfare work than the provision of canteens and playing fields. However important these may be we believe that good relationship between employers and employed depends on the willingness on the part of both to take a wider view of their mutual obligations. I should like to pay my tribute also to the factory department of the Home Office for the excellent work it has accomplished, for the great interest it takes in the voluntary movements for welfare and safety in industry generally and for the advice which it is ready and anxious to give to those engaged in industry.

12.39 p.m.


I want to say to the Home Secretary that I sympathise with him in having to come here this afternoon on the last day of the Session to listen to what we have to say on these subjects. He has had a very strenuous week and to be the only Minister called to attend here to-day is rather hard, but I think he will agree that the subjects we are bringing forward are well worthy of consideration and the fact that so many of us are stopping here on the last. day in order to put. our point of view shows that there is some feeling in the country on these matters. The hon. Member for Swansea West (Mr. Lewis Jones) expressed his sympathy with the employers and his gratitude for what they have done—.


I was referring to the sympathy of the intelligent section of the employers in the iron and steel trade.


I thought he was speaking in a more general way, because I shall have some hard words to say about some employers before I conclude. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies) has made a somewhat lengthy speech but I will excuse him on this occasion as I think he is entitled to be congratulated on the way he has put his case. The Home Office controls the appointment of the medical referees and, therefore, are responsible for what they do. Under the Workmens' Compensation Act power is given to the Home Secretary to appoint the medical referee and, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is responsible. Recently an alteration was made, but even now some of the points are not fully met. I will hand him a document to show what I mean, but I am mentioning this matter now in order that the right hon. Gentlemen may realise the point to which I am calling attention. At the present moment only one medical referee is appointed, and this gives rise to great concern amongst the workpeople because in many cases in which he gives a decision, it may be upon a point of law, it works hard on the workmen. I ask the Home Secretary, therefore, to consider the appointment of three medical referees instead of one. In some cases it is a case of life and death to the workman when the decision is against him, and I can bring to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman flagrant cases of a miscarriage of justice, done unwittingly by the medical referee, which prevented men getting compensation, because unless a change in the condition of the workman can be proved it is impossible to get the medical decision upset. If we say that the decision of the medical referee is not fair we have to satisfy the judge that there has been a, change in the condition of the man, and, therefore, if the medical referee has made a mistake the man cannot get any redress. The referee's decision is final; and as this means so much to workmen I ask the Home Secretary to consider whether in certain cases he will appoint more than one medical referee to pass judgment.

Another point is in regard to the scheduling of industrial diseases. The Home Secretary has power to add to the schedule any disease which he is satisfied is prevalent, and from time to time he has exercised that power. The disease of nystagmus has received his attention, but in the case of silicosis, you have to prove that the man has been in contact with the rock and I hope he will realise that he had not gone far enough in this matter yet. It has been proved recently that owing to our mines getting deeper and deeper, and consequently hotter, many of the men are subject to boils and other outbreaks on the body. I have petitioned the Home Secretary on this matter and he has promised to see if there is anything in it. In my view this is a serious matter, and I want the right hon. Gentleman to press on with his investigations because I am sure he will come to the conclusion to schedule it as an industrial disease and do something for the men who are suffering from it. I have here a reply to a question that was put in the House by the,ion. Member for Gillingham (Sir R. Gower), who is always trying to get better conditions provided for pit ponies. This is the reply of the Secretary for Mines to a question asking that better ventilation be provided for the ponies. The law does not prescribe any particular method, but requires that the stables shall be continuously and thoroughly ventilated with intake air. From the many inspections made I am satisfied that this requirement is sufficient and that it is complied with."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 7th July, 1933; col. 642, Vol. 280.] We want the ponies to have fresh air, but the man who works in the mine cannot always get fresh air. He has to work hi the return airways and in vitiated atmosphere, and in consequence of that and the heat he suffers from the many impurities of the bad air. The question of boils in such cases ought to be considered.

A second point to which I would refer relates to the payment of workmen's compensation. For two years I have been hammering at Home Secretaries—the previous one and the present one—and I know that I have had the sympathy of both of them. I want to refer to the case of firms that have gone into liquidation and have not been able to meet their liabilities. Here are one or two concrete cases to bear on the point. Worsley Mesnes Collieries closed down in 1928. The concern went into the hands of the liquidator. At the moment they had assets equal to £10,000. The workmen's claims were £7,000. Owing to the length of time spent by the Official Receiver and the liquidators so much of the assets were eaten up that when the first payment was made to the workmen it was equal to only 5s. in the R. That was after four or five years. The workmen will be lucky if in the end they get more than 6s. in the £. I have a worse case than that. Ashtons Green Colliery closed down in October, 1931, with total liabilities and preferential claims of £45,697. The workmen's compensation claims were equal to £38,760. Had the colliery assets been realised immediately I calculate that between 6s. and 7s. in the £ would have gone to the workmen, but now that a settlement has been reached they will receive only 2s. 6d. to 3s. in the £. It is unfair that such things should be allowed.

Last Friday the Leader of the Opposition, in speaking on the subject of the debt to America, said it would be far better if the House of Commons would pay more attention to the care of the workmen of this country. Here is a matter to which the Home Office should direct attention. I want the Home Secretary to take such steps as it is in his power to take and see that this kind of thing is altered. He has told us that he is doing all that he can in the matter, but progress is not being made as it ought to be made. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that many of the colliery companies are meeting his point of view, but in Lancashire, where trouble has arisen, progress is not being made as it should be made. I have here a report from the "Manchester Guardian" of a meeting of the Manchester Collieries, Ltd., on June 24th. The chairman of that company said this: The main reserve for workmen's compensation liability is at the same figure as in previous years, and is the reserve created at the time of the amalgamation. As I said last year, cases have arisen when unfortunately colliery companies have gone into liquidation and there have not been sufficient assets to pay the workmen's compensation cases in full, although they are preferential creditors. Schemes for insurance against this happening have been proposed, but so far in Lancashire nothing has been suggested to which I should recommend our company to agree. If we do nothing collectively no doubt the Government will step in and tell us what we have to do. I agree, and I hope you would, that it is not right that men who are entitled to compensation should lose it through liquidation, and that provision against such a thing happening should be made. It will be seen from that report that the company is putting money aside to meet the liability, though they cannot agree to any scheme, and the chairman says that he thinks the Home Secretary or the Government will do something. I believe that if the Home Secretary will show determination and will point out to these people that it is no idle threat he is making, and that he is determined to see that workmen get a fair measure of justice, the Lancashire employers will make some progress on these lines. But, it seems too much to ask the present Government to do. With their views on private enterprise they would be taking a rather long view if they did what I would have them do. But I think the Home Secretary is sympathetic. He ought to say "I have done all that I can, but if the employers will not establish some fund to protect the workmen I have the right to ask the House of Commons for a system of compulsory insurance." If that were done there is not a Member of the House who would not say that it is Parliament's duty to see that workmen are not thrown on the. scrapheap owing to the laxity of employers.

The hon. Member who spoke last spoke of the sympathy of employers with workmen. That statement does not square with what I have read. Both the companies that I have mentioned, and other companies, have done extremely well in the past. They have grabbed all they could, and never stopped to think that the accumulation to their wealth has been due to the workmen and to those who have suffered injury.


I have every sympathy with the hon. Member on that point, but is it not the case that the blunder that has been made in connection with many of these cases is the fact that the companies have had some form of mutual insurance, and that one of the rules says that immediately one member goes into liquidation it loses any claim on the fund of that mutual insurance? It is not the fact that they have not insured in many of these cases.


In these cases they have never insured for non-fatal accidents. They have said "Our own assets will meet the liability." £20,000 or £30,000 should have been set aside as a, reserve fund, so that whatever happened the workmen would be protected.


It should be compulsory.


These are glaring cases and there is not a Member of the House who will not agree that something should be done in the matter. I make a final appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to take steps to impress upon these employers who are not fulfilling their obligations in this matter that, unless by the time this House assembles again they have devised a scheme with which the Home Secretary can agree, he will introduce compulsory legislation to deal with the situation. I believe that if the right lion. Gentleman does that we shall get what we desire.

12.56 p.m.


The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) will forgive me if I do not follow him in a discussion of the hardships caused to large numbers of miners owing to employing concerns going into liquidation and failing to meet their liabilities to the men. In hundreds of cases in South Wales where the so-called economic blizzard has struck us with peculiar severity, miners have been rendered destitute as a result of companies going into liquidation and failing to meet their obligations to injured workers. I wish to emphasise the urgency of the need for making insurance with outside companies compulsory and securing these men against destitution which always follows in those cases when employing firms fail to discharge their obligations. These obligations in my opinion ought to be contractual and binding under the law.

What I wish particularly to bring to the notice of the Home Secretary to-day however is the anomalous situation which exists with regard to silicosis. Not for the first time I make an appeal for the revision of the Order dealing with this matter. That has been done on many occasions already by the miners' representatives in the House, but I find rather to my consternation that while there is a reference in this report of the chief inspector to silicosis in the pottery trade, the sandstone trade, the metal-grinding trade, sand-blasting, the manufacture of scouring powders, and so forth, there is no reference to the group of diseases including silicosis and anthracosis which affect miners. Possibly the Home Secretary's answer will be that that is a matter to be dealt with by the Ministry of Mines. The anomalous position is this. In discussing the Vote for the Department of Mines we are not allowed to refer to silicosis on the ground that Orders dealing with silicosis are under the jurisdiction of the Home Office. But when we seek to raise the matter on the Home Office Vote we are told that miners' silicosis and anthracosis do not come within the jurisdiction of the inspectorial staff of the Home Office. I am not this afternoon going to argue the case for a new Order to deal with silicosis. I would prefer to put forward the plea that those diseases from which colliery workers suffer and of which fibrosis of the lung is a symptom, might be dealt with as a special category and a separate Order issued to cover them.

There is no doubt that the vast majority of those who suffer from silicosis and anthracosis, in one stage or another, do not get any compensation to-day. The number who get compensation is indeed a very small fraction of the total who suffer from those diseases. I know nothing more tragic than the appearance of those men who suffer from silicosis. They present a heart-rending spectacle. Therefore I would make an appeal that silicosis or anthracosis or any diseases affecting the lungs as those diseases do ought to be separated from other industrial diseases. In the report these diseases as affecting miners are not dealt with at all by the chief inspector, and if we accept that situation, is it not possible to have the group of bronchial diseases which particularly affect miners placed in a separate category and dealt with by the Mines Department under a new Order. Perhaps in that way we shall receive the measure of justice for which we have been clamouring for a long time on behalf of the miners and especially the anthracite miners who are such tragic victims of neglect and callousness at present.

1 p.m.


I do not propose to delay for many minutes the departure of the Home Secretary for the Scottish moors where I hope he will have success. I am not sure indeed that the matter which I desire to raise is one which, strictly speaking, comes within the scope of his Department. I refer to the effect of petrol fumes from motor cars. It is a question which has concerned me for some time past on account of what I have read in the Press about it and also what has been told to me by people who are more familiar than I am with the mechanical side of motoring. I noticed in the Press recently references to cases in which dogs and cats had been found dead as a result of petrol fumes from motor cars, and some time ago I put a question regarding the effect of these fumes on pedestrians.

I am informed by people closely associated with the driving of motor vans that the escape of petrol fumes in a closed van is very injurious to the health of the occupants of the van. Where boys are compelled to be in these closed vans for long periods the effect on their health must be very bad. Therefore, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if the research section of his Department has made any inquiry into this question of the effect of escaping petrol fumes on those engaged in the driving of motor vehicles'? We would like to know whether the medical section, to which I also would like to pay a tribute to-day, have turned their attention to this matter which I believe to be of great importance. As I said at the beginning, I do not know whether the question of the general effects of these fumes on pedestrians is a matter for the Home Office, but, at any rate, in connection with the issue of motor licences, the question of the construction of these vehicles and the possibility of escaping petrol fumes should be one for consideration by the Department. In view of Press reports of the effect on dogs and other animals I cannot help feeling that the effect on human beings must be very deleterious. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to make some inquiry, and if possible to issue a report which would give the public some information on this very important matter, and also indicate what steps, if any, are being taken to deal with it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) has already drawn attention to a subject which I also intended to mention, namely, the increase in the number of accidents in the building industry. Having been associated with that industry I have been much impressed by the figures in that respect. I attribute the increase entirely to the new methods which are being employed in the industry. Great cranes are being used in the construction of huge buildings and there is a marked increase in the employment of mechanical appliances of all kinds. I think there is a need for stricter supervision and inspection in that industry. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman particularly to make some inquiries as to the effect of petrol fumes on human beings.

1.5 p.m.


So much has been said by previous speakers on the subjects on which I intended to speak that I shall not detain the House very long, but I want to emphasise what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. R. T. Evans), particularly with regard to silicosis and anthracosis. There has been so much overlapping between the Mines Department and the Home Office in this regard that one wonders whether one is in order in addressing questions to the Home Office upon this subject, but the Home Office issues the Orders pertaining to silicosis. cannot conceive of anything more preposterous than the fact that geology of itself decides whether or not a man is entitled to compensation. A medical board certificate is signed that a man is suffering from silicosis, one of the most terrible industrial diseases from which a man can suffer, and yet, because it cannot be proved, by obtaining a piece of rock containing a certain amount of silica, that he has been working there, and for a given period, he is not entitled to compensation. Scores of men have died from the disease in South Wales, and their dependents have not had a farthing of compensation, and there are scores of men in South Wales to-day who are veritably dying upon their feet, but not receiving compensation, after having worked years and years in hard ground. The Minister will know what I mean by that—men who have worked boring machines driving through hard ground, making what is called main level headings and drifts, but because that rock does not contain a certain amount of silica, though medical boards have decided that they are suffering from this disease, they receive nothing for it. Really, the Order ought to be amended, as it is very inadequate in this regard.

We have another industrial disease concerning the men who are living mainly round about the constituency of the hon. Member for Carmarthen, namely, anthracosis, a disease that pertains almost entirely to the anthracite coalfield. I believe it is not yet even scheduled. They are working in hard coal, as hard as rock, and inhaling that coal, and it is almost impossible for such a man after a number of years to breathe at all. It hardens in the lungs and produces anthracosis, and yet he cannot obtain any compensation. Certain negotiations have taken place between the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessor and the Miners' Federation in this regard, and I sincerely trust that something will arise from those negotiations.

There is another anomaly. We have men working in the mining industry who contract the disease known as miners' nystagmus, but before those men can be certified by a medical man, they have to pay 5s. for their certificate. I think it is preposterous that a man who is suffering from this disease has to pay, out of his own pocket, 5s. plus the expenses that have to be incurred in going to see a medical man, who may be some miles away from the village or town, before he can obtain his certificate. That may seem a small matter, but it is certainly felt as a, grievance on the part of the men, and it ought to be remedied. Then we have the problem of review, that concerns young men of 21 years of age. In accordance with the present Act, unless a person applies for a review before he is 21 years and six months old, he finds that his right to that review is for ever lost. Under the 1926 Act there was a Section enabling a person to apply for a review, after he had sustained an accident under 21 years of age, within a period of 12 months, but to-day it is practically impossible to secure a finding from a county court judge owing to the fact that such a young man, who may have been obtaining nearly the earnings of an adult collier, cannot apply for a review in sufficient time. That is an anomaly which could, I think, be put right without any new Act of Parliament at all.

Further, there is the problem of deciding the principle on which average earnings have to be based. To-day the amount of time that is lost in collieries or in industry generally is looked upon as being an incident of employment, and the calculation of the amount of compensation to which a man is entitled is not based upon actual time worked, because part-time is looked upon as an incident of employment. We have many scores of men in South Wales, and in the mining industry generally there must be many thousands who are not getting more than from 15s. to £1 a week because of that principle of calculating his average earnings. I think that could be rectified without an Act of Parliament, and I am raising it now, because I believe it to be a matter of administration. There are other features that would call for legislation, and I am not entitled to speak of them at this juncture. There is the problem of the onus of proof, which at all times falls on the workman instead of on the employer. That is really unjust. If a workman to-day cannot prove that he is unable to work, he is not paid any compensation, but is treated as an odd lot on the market, and it is contended that if he had not been so injured, he would be in the same category as an able-bodied man. Employers should be obliged to prove that such a workman is able to work; the onus of proof ought to be on the employer instead of on the workman.

Finally, I want to stress other points that have been mentioned. During the last five or six years some hundreds of cases have passed through my hands of workmen who have sustained grievous wrong because of colliery companies going into liquidation. I could refer to the company that goes under the name of the Lord President of the Council—Baldwin's—although I do not think he has any financial connection with it now. That has been under my purview for 12 or 14 years, and a large number of individual undertakings have closed since 1926. Hundreds of men were involved in compensation matters, and some were not paid more than from 3s. to 5s. in the £. There is a case for compulsory insurance. I do not know what is actually being done in South Wales in that regard, though I believe it is slightly better there than the Lancashire position. If the right hon. Gentleman will inform me what is going on, I shall be very grateful, but there is unquestionably a case for compulsory insurance. During the Debate on Mines Vote I stressed a case that personally concerned me where, instead of a person who has been incapacitated for several years receiving a lump sum on account of commuted weekly payments, he received not quite 25 per cent. These men will not be able to return to industry, for employers at this juncture, with so many able-bodied men available, will not be prepared to take persons who have been incapacitated while in the employ- ment of other people. This is a very grievous problem, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will do what he can to rectify it, for it can be done by administrative action. If, however, he finds that it cannot be done by administrative action, I hope that he will realise the injustice and unfairness to the workmen, and will bring in some measure as soon as possible to rectify these wrongs.

1.16 p.m.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Gilmour)

I am sure that the House will agree that the discussion which we have had this morning is one of very material interest both to the Members of the House and to the country. I am glad indeed to be responsible for presenting to Parliament the 100th report of the Factories Department. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who is familiar with the work which is done in the Home Office, knows the circumstances in which this work is carried on, and he truly said that, apart from such legislative requirements as this House passes, the personal factor bulks very largely in the matter. I am sure that both employers of labour and trade unions benefit greatly from the help which the officials of the Department give, and that there is an increasing evidence of cooperation and co-ordination in the work which they are doing. The report shows clearly that the work is being maintained at a high standard and I am sure that the present inspectorate does not fall short of that which has gone before.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the problem of the accident cases which appear in the Report. The fluctuations in the figures are, of course, due to a great variety of causes besides increase or decrease in safety precautions, and the inferences to be drawn from a mere comparison for successive years are largely a matter of speculation. Moreover, I think it would be difficult to obtain satisfactory data to form the basis for very reliable conclusions as to whether particular industries are becoming less dangerous. I can assure the hon. Member that we are considering this problem, and if by making certain alterations we can give further information, we shall be glad to do so. I was asked about the question of the staff. The filling of vacancies is at present under consideration, and I understand that a new competition for this purpose will probably be held very shortly. The hon. Member also asked me about the post of the senior engineering inspector. That is temporarily unfilled, but it is a matter which we have dealt with by other means. We are very closely watching it, and the efficiency of the method of dealing with it will be the guiding factor.

With regard to the points raised about accident rates, the circumstances making a reduction in the infantile mortality rate possible are obviously different from those affecting industrial accident rates. In any case, the Report does not indicate that such rates are only decreasing in the proportion to the decline in industry. On the contrary, I think it will be found, as stated on page 93 of the Report that the growth of the Safety First movement is having its effect in reducing accidents. The more we can encourage all those concerned to take advantage of that movement, the more likely we are to get an effective dealing with this problem. There is a reference to the slight increase in accidents due to transmission machinery, but I think that slight fluctuations in these matters do not mean that there is a very serious change. In fact, in the past they have been considerably higher. The accident figures in the metal conversion and chemical industry and in the docks and the building industry have been referred to. I understand that the Home Office have ample powers to make safety regulations. New building regulations were made less than two years ago, and a new code for docks has been issued in draft, so that I can assure the House that we are not losing sight of that problem.

Reference was made to the question of the change over to the six-loom per weaver system. All I can say of that is that it is being very carefully watched. The most careful records are kept of all accidents in cotton-weaving, and there is a joint committee of employers, operatives and the factory department. Any increase in accidents in these circumstances ought to come to light at an early stage.


Will the commitee also take into mind any ill effects on the operatives apart from accident rates?


Yes, I should imagine that if anything of that kind is noticed it will be reported. A reference was made to the problem of lead poisoning, particularly in regard to ship-breaking. If the hon. Gentleman will look at page 103 of this Report he will see that the prevention of lead poisoning in this industry presents very great difficulties, particularly as removal of the fumes by exhaust ventilation has not been found a practical possibility. One of the problems, as I understand it, is to devise a respirator which will really obviate that danger, but I can assure the hon. Member that research is going on intensively into this problem in connection with ship-breaking and other industrial processes. There is undoubtedly an improvement in the paint industry which will be greatly welcomed.

I turn to the problem of anthrax. I was asked whether the economy measures had necessarily entailed a reduction in the useful work being done by the anthrax disinfectant station. I can assure the House that that station has been kept in operation, and in fact that there is a scheme for extending the materials to be disinfected, and we hope also to lighten the cost to industry. That scheme has just been submitted to the employers. Some reference was made to the problem of skin diseases and skin cancer. The causes of and methods of preventing cancer present most difficult problems into which a vast amount of research has been made and is being made; but pending further discoveries one of the most important methods of preventing skin cancer is early detection and treatment of the growth. I hope that what has been said here may draw attention of both employers and operatives to that fact. Too often some of these evils are treated lightly in their early stages by the individuals affected, but I hope they will realise the necessity of reporting symptoms earlier. The Factory Department has done a good deal to promote education on this subject, but I particularly mention this point in the hope that note may be taken of it.

As regards cancer of the nose, reported as having occurred during the past eleven years at nickel refinery works, the steps taken to discover whether the disease was caused by this occupation are indicated on page 103 of the Report. I think it can be said that the examination of workers is being continued, but that no further cases have been reported. As regards cancer of the bladder among dye workers, while inquiries are being continued by the Factory Department and others the connection between the disease and the occupation has not actually been established. This is one of the most difficult sections of the research work. Mention was made of silicosis among sandblast workers. On page 106 of the Report it will be seen that an increasing number of firms have adopted a non-siliceous abrasive, and the Factory Department are urging on employers the desirability of this or other precautions.

Then there is the problem of noises and vibration, of which all of us know something in one form or another—even as regards the speeches to which we are forced to listen. On that I would say only that investigations are being made by the Industrial Health Research Board, and of course it is the duty of factory inspectors to draw attention to cases when they go round. But while some machines are noisy I think it, is hardly true to say that all modern machines are noisy; indeed, in many cases they are increasingly silent. Of course, investigations into the effect of speeding up work and things of that nature are really matters for the Health Research Board rather than for the Factory Department. Mention was made also of nystagmus. I am afraid I can only answer that that is a problem for the Mines Department, and its prevention and the question of compensation for it are outside the Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories. If anything can be done by co-operation and co-ordination between the Home Office and the other Departments, naturally we will willingly play our part in that.


May I suggest that the diseases which are outside the scope of the Home Office inspectorate should be investigated by the Industrial Health Research Board? The difficulty with regard to silicosis and anthracosis is that they cannot be diagnosed except post mortem. The victim must be dead before we know from what he died. There has been a good deal of research into this matter and methods of detecting fibrosis in its early stages tried out. What is required now is to collect and collate the evidence. The Welsh National Memorial has undertaken a considerable amount of research into these and other industrial diseases which are at present on the dividing line between the two Ministries. Silicosis and nystagmus ought to be referred to the Industrial Health Research Board.


I will take that point into consideration with the other Departments, and if anything can be done it shall be done. A question was raised about the long hours of employment. All I would say about that is that some cases are mentioned in this report, but in every one of them legal proceedings followed, and while it may be the opinion of certain Members that the penalties imposed may not appear, on the face of things, to have been of great severity I think it is true, in fact and in practice, that to bring these cases into court has a very material effect and will draw attention to the law.

Something was said about foreign factories started in this country. I am clearly of opinion that it is quite desirable to see the introduction of any new enterprise which could only be started in this country by foreign industrialists if it would eventually employ our own people, and I do not think it could have been in the minds of those who wrote this report that they were buttressing up any political views which I might have as Home Secretary. It is our duty to put before the House and the country what actually is taking place. I was asked about the possibility of future legislation. Anybody who has read, as I read with intense interest, the report covering 100 years of work, could not fail to be conscious of the fact that during that time great changes have taken place. On the other hand I think it is equally clear, as the hon. Gentleman himself said in his opening speech that in many of these problems the real practical solution depends less upon legislation than upon the human factor.

Many of things we have been discussing this morning with interest and with advantage must depend upon scientific research. Scientific research is being pursued actively to-day and will be continued actively in future. It may be the time will arrive when future legislation may be required and ought to be embarked upon. What I am saying to the House at the moment is that while I am not in a position to forecast what may happen in the future, I do not see it in the immediate future owing to the other work which has to be done in this House. I assure the House, however, that I should not be deterred if I thought it was proper to bring in such legislation. So far as I am concerned, I cannot hold out any hope of immediate legislation. I will take note of the great variety of points raised by hon. Members. Having been in this office for a comparatively short time, as the House will realise, I wish to make myself conversant with the problems, and I shall do so and will confer with the hon. Members concerned.