HC Deb 28 July 1933 vol 280 cc2981-4

11.35 a.m.


This is the last Debate that we shall have before we separate for the Summer Recess, but I make no apology for raising what is to us upon these Benches one of the most important issues in the administration of State affairs. I hope to deal for a very short time with the Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories and Workshops for 1932. I am sure that hon. Members will agree with me that this is a very important document, and the Labour party would fall short of its duty if it did not pay attention to the details set forth in this very admirable Report.

My first and obvious duty is to comment upon the fact that we, as a nation, have attained the first century of factory inspection in this country. It is a great achievement of which we might all be very proud. The factory inspectors all along the line have been the friends of the good employer and the enemy of any person who regards his workpeople as mere machines. Without our factory inspectorate and the legislation which it is called upon to enforce, it is quite possible that in 1933 the conditions of the 6,000,000 people employed in the factories and workshops of this country might very well be as bad as the conditions of modern industrial Japan, against which there is so much complaint in this House. The inspectorate and the legislation they enforce help to keep the standard up to the present level. It is the obvious duty of the Parliamentary Labour party to keep a keen eye on the administration, so that our factory laws may not only be retained upon the Statute Book but shall be enforced by an intelligent and alert inspectorate.

On that score may I say, after some experience in a very small way of dealing with passing Bills in this House of Commons, that I came to the conclusion long ago that it is the thing to pass an Act of Parliament; and that the machinery to enforce that Act counts very much more than the passing of the measure itself. That is why I have always paid tribute to the inspectorate of the Home Office. I have been long enough a Member of this House to see Acts of Parliament that are already a dead letter because there is no organisation to see that their provisions are enforced. I want to emphasise that point of enforcement in relation to our industrial laws. As I have said, this Report is admirably drawn up. It always is; although it was a very much better report when we had a more enlightened Government in power. It improves just as a change of Government to our political colour comes into being.

I now want to point out one or two small defects in the Report before I come to bigger issues. The first defect is that very little information is given in the various tables to admit of comparison as between one year and the last. In all the other important Government documents that I have seen, more especially in the tables of statistics, columns are set out so as to show where 1932 was better than 1931. I would make the suggestion that in future, especially in relation to accident rates in industry, columns should be prepared in that way. I come to another criticism which is a little more important. On grounds of economy, the post of senior engineering-inspector is still vacant. I would protest on behalf of the Parliamentary Labour party that that very important office is still vacant. Only two out of eight vacancies on the staff caused by death and retirement during 1932 have yet been filled. I appeal to the Home Office, with regard to an adequate inspectorate, that it should remember that the population of this country is growing, and that in spite of the increase of unemployment, the number of people employed in industry is growing almost every year—


Hear, hear.


I am not using that fact for political purposes, and I did not want to hear "Hear, hear !" just then, if the hon. Member does not mind. I want to put this point to the Home Secretary; if it be true that the industrial population is growing, then the inspectorate at the Home Office should not be diminished. In view of that steady increase in the number of workpeople in our factories and workshops, he must remember that he is dealing through this Department with about 6,000,000 people employed in factories and workshops. Let me pass on to something else. It is not sufficient for our purpose that this Report in some sections should indicate that there is a slight decrease in the accident rate. I would like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman one significant fact in this connection. The Home Office, in spite of the very good work that it does in enforcing the law in relation to industry, has hardly commenced to establish a health and medical department covering our factories and workshops. The result is that the improvement in the health of the community as a whole is very much more rapid in its progress than is the improvement in the welfare of the workpeople when they are employed in factories and workshops. The infant death-rate declined from 74 per thousand in 1929 to 64.6 in 1932 and the deaths from consumption have decreased from 33,505 in 1921 to 27,627 in 1932. There is an improvement in the public health outside the factories almost on all counts.

We have been told from the Government Front Bench more than once, not only by Conservative Ministers but by Labour and Liberal Ministers, something to this effect: that a child born in this country to-day may reasonably expect to live 12 years longer than his grandfather could when born. That statement is a very important one so far as statistical information goes. Let me bring to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman something in this Report about which I am really distressed. The number of accidents due to transmision machinery, showed an increase from 1,006 in 1931 to 1,074 in 1932. We do not like that increase. We put the blame partly upon the fact that the inspectorate is not adequate. You can almost determine the number of accidents in our factories and workshops just in proportion to the number of inspectors who are able to enter those factories and workshops in order to examine and inspect them. Consequently, we are very much alarmed that these vacancies in the inspectorate have not yet been filled. It is true, of course, as regards transmission machinery, that the number of fatalities has declined from 44 to 26 during the same period, but I repeat that statistics relating to human welfare in industry as a whole are not as rosy as those covering public health in general.

I desire to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a complaint made by the Chief Factory Inspector himself. He makes the statement that safety appliances in relation to transmission machinery are not, even now, in universal or common use. I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to inquire into that question, because I am sure it is not only the duty, but the desire, of the Home Office and of the Factory Department that something should be done to prevent this increase in accidents due to transmission machinery. The House of Commons has been said to be one of the most human institutions in the world. I do not think that is true, and nothing could prove it more than the incidents that have transpired this week. Let me call the attention of the House of Commons to this fact—

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