HC Deb 31 July 1934 vol 292 cc2492-520

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

12.16 p.m.


When we were interrupted, I was referring to the dangers of meat mincing machinery, I will now pass on to call the attention of the Home Office to the growth of enormous machinery in the way of adding and subtracting machines in the large offices of this country. I am assured by those who know best—and in fact I have seen one of them myself—that there are offices which, in fact, resemble an up-to-date factory, with huge machinery for the purposes of typing, adding, subtracting, and duplicating. It occurred to me that the hon. and gallant Gentleman might take note of that point. As one who took some part in helping to pass the Lead Paint Act some years ago, I feel very proud to-day that the passing of that Measure is absolutely vindicated, as these figures will show. The number of cases reported in 1900 was 1,058; in 1933 they only numbered 168; the number of deaths in 1900 was 38, and in 1933 only 18. That is the best vindication of protective legislation for the working people of this country that can be quoted, I think, and I feel sure that there will have to be more protective legislation of that kind.

I want to mention now the slight increase of anthrax. This Government has a tendency to economise wherever the welfare of the working people is concerned, while handing money out by the millions to their friends and the farming interests. I think it worth while pointing out that we want to see more things done that will safeguard the health and welfare of the working people. The one other blot on this excellent report is the number of cases of pitch cancer. I think some of them come from South Wales. In 1920, there were one death and 45 reported cases; and in 1933,40 deaths and 143 cases. That is a sad state of things, and I would like to know from the hon. and gallant Gentleman what is the intention of the Home Office in dealing with the increase of some of these, what I may call, new industrial diseases which have arisen in the factories and workshops of this country.

I conclude as I started. We have opened this Debate to-day on this excellent report in order to do two things, namely, to press upon the Home Office to see that the administration of the Factory Acts is kept right up to date, and, above all things, to let those unscrupulous employers—happily there are only a few who exploit the young labour of our country in factories and workshops—know that no Government of whatever political colour will ever allow those laws to be transgressed as indicated in this report. Having said that, I hope that I have done a little to enlighten ourselves on this excellent report.

12.20 p. m.


I want to express my agreement with what the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) has said in offering his congratulations to the Home Office and to the Chief Inspector of Factories for this most humane document. I agree with the hon. Member that probably there is no document issued by a Government Department which is more humane than the Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories. My one regret is that it was issued only within the last 48 hours, and there has been so little time to study it in detail. I must confess that I spent hours into the night trying to get through it. I suppose that the experience and training of the present Chief Inspector of Factories, one who did so much in the years immediately after the War in research work into industrial fatigue, are responsible for the very humane document we have in our hands to-day. I hope that hon. Members, whether they are interested in industrial organisation or not, will find some time during the Recess to get acquainted with some of the most important sections of the report itself, especially where it deals with questions of the welfare and safety first work carried on in industry generally.

I am very glad that the hon. Member for Westhoughton was so heated in his criticism of the very unfair tactics adopted by some employers in the country in the employment of young people for such excessive overtime. I hope that the Home Office, through its inspectors, will continue its vigilance and deal very drastically with those employers of labour; but I would be very sorry if the impression were created, not only in this House, but in the country generally, that those individual employers who have been prosecuted, and most of whom have been convicted and fined in the courts of the land, were typical of employers generally. As a matter of fact, the hon. Member was very careful to pay what I thought was a very handsome tribute to the employers in their general attitude to safety first regulations and to welfare conditions generally.

The hon. Member emphasised the fact that at the present time the Home Office inspectorate is below strength. I think an examination of the figures in the report confirms that, because the Chief Inspector points out the vacancies on his staff. There are a few statistics on the last page of the report which are rather illuminating. It is pointed out that in 1928 the number of factories and workshops in this country was 261,000, and in 1933 the number was 247,000. Lower down in the table information is given as to the visits paid to factories and workshops. In 1928, although the number of factories and workshops was 261,000, the number of visits paid was 275,000, whereas in 1933, with a reduction in the number of factories and workshops in the country, the number of visits paid by our inspectorate shows a substantial increase. Therefore, although the figures show that our inspectorate is below strength, this information definitely conveys the message that they have been more active, in view of the fact that they have carried out a larger number of visits.

There is one other point in the speech of the hon. Member for Westhoughton to which I would like to refer. He mentioned the tendency to move factories from the north and north-east parts of this country to London and the south, and he suggested that probably one of the main reasons was that trade unions were stronger in other parts of the country, and weaker in the south of England. I doubt very much whether that is the actual reason for it. If I thought for a moment that there was that tendency where trade union organisation was weak in London or the south of England I would be very sorry. As one who has been in close contact with trade union organisations from the employer's point of view for a, large number of years, I would say definitely that trade unions have played and are playing a very noble part in the industrial organisation of this country. From my own personal experience I can say that I would always welcome the strongest possible trade union organisation in industries.

I think I could go so far as to suggest that it is most desirable, not only that every industry should have its strong organisation, but that trade union organisation should be on an industry basis, and that every employé should be within his industrial organisation. This should be so for one important reason only. Enlightened employers look upon a trade union, not as a body they have to fight in the industrial field, but as a body through which they can carry on any negotiations on industrial matters; and, having carried their industrial negotiations to a successful conclusion and having come to an agreement, they expect the trade union organisation to see that the agreement is carried out. That to my mind is the main object of a trade union. Therefore, I hope that the suggestion of the hon. Member, that the removal of factories to other parts of the country is due to the weakness of trade union organisations, is not true; but, if there be any truth in it, I hope that the industrial relations department of the Ministry of Labour will keep a watchful eye on the movement.

There are two or three matters to which I should like to refer in the Factory Inspector's report. I want to thank the Chief Inspector and the Home Office for the tribute that is paid to other organisations for the co-operation given in the safety first and welfare movement. I am grateful for the tribute paid by the Chief Inspector to the Confederation of Employers' Organisations. As a member of that organisation, I know how sincere every member is in his efforts, by the introduction of safety regulations and conditions in works, to reduce the accident rate in every industry. Some people may be very loth to give employers of labour credit for any humane feeling in this matter. Be that as it may, looking at it merely from an economic and selfish point of view, the question of accident frequency is a matter of financial concern. I have watched carefully for the last few years how gradually the compensation rate charged for insurance is gradually going down, as it is based, of course, on the reduction of accident frequency generally. I, therefore, want to thank the Home Office, and the Chief Insector particularly, for the reference to the assistance given not only by the confederation, but by those two wonderful voluntary organisations that are doing so much for safety, namely, the Industrial Welfare Society and the Safety First Association. These two organisations, working quietly day in and day out, are doing a wonderful work both on the road and in factories.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton was rather alarming in his reference to the present accident rate. The report on pages 42 and 43 really heartened those who are interested in this subject. I think there is a slight increase in the accident rates to which the hon. Member referred last year, but it must be pointed out that in dealing with these figures the Chief Inspector is very careful to say that probably the increase in the accidents last year was due to the fact that there was a substantial increase in the number of persons employed. I would refer the hon. Member to a comparison on page 43. For 1928 the accident rate for all industries was 2,780 per 100,000 persons employed, or roughly one person in every 36 was injured. In 1932 the rate was 2,090 per 100,000, which corresponds to a rate of one person in every 48. I do not think it is necessary for me to pursue this matter further. The hon. Member for Westhoughton referred, in particular, to the heavy accident rate of the iron and steel trade. Unfortunately, an examination of the schedules which are provided in this report does not make it possible for us to dissect the iron and steel trade from the other metal extracting or metal conversion industries. In the table on page 45 there is no such dissection of the figures, but obviously one anticipates that in a heavy industry like the iron and steel industry, with its heavy machinery, rolling mills, furnaces and pits, there is a liability to a greater accident rate.

What is of vital importance is that, in spite of the fact that there is a greater tendency to a higher accident rate in those heavy industries, there is a definite tendency, and there has been a tendency during the last few years, gradually to reduce the accident rate. There have been introduced in all the heavy industries safety first committees, safety engineers, and so forth, and an amazing co-operation takes place between the trade unions and the employers throughout the steel trade, which has resulted in a substantial reduction. I would refer the hon. Member to a statement by the chief inspector on page 42, where he says: Yet it by no means follows that the industry with most accidents involves the most risks to the individual workers. In order to assess this risk some kind of accident rate is required, and this should preferably take into account not only the number of persons exposed to risks, but also the duration of exposure.


The hon. Member has made a statement that the accident rate in the industry with which he is most familiar has been declining. Are statistics secured in South Wales, for instance, covering the whole of the industries of tinplate and iron and steel, and do those statistics prove his contention?


I thank the hon. Member for his interjection. I am able to say definitely that we have probably as detailed information on the frequency of accident rates as any industry in the country. We have big sheets setting out every accident and every day's loss of work of every workman, and I am satisfied that there has been a gradual dwindling in the number of accidents over a period of years. I also know that, as the result of that continual reduction in the accident rate in those industries, there has been a continual reduction in the insurance rate charged per £100 of wages by the insurance companies which insure our workmen in respect of workmen's compensation. I am satisfied that the organisation which is now in force in the iron and steel and tinplate trades is really a first-class one and doing wonderful work. I think the trade union leaders will agree with me that excellent work is being done.

12.35 p.m.


I rise to make a few submissions to the hon. and gallant Gentleman in respect to the Silicosis Orders, which have been the subject of discussion from time to time, and to request information from him when he replies to this Debate. It is a subject which has been before the House for many years. Some of my colleagues and myself have for long been interested in the cause of the rapid increase in deaths among men who have been employed in certain occupations in the mining industry, and about 10 years ago I looked into the cases of 20 men known to me personally who had died in the preceding years. As the result of representations made and the evidence submitted silicosis was accepted as an industrial disease, and from the end of 1925, through 1926, 1927 and 1928, and up to the beginning of 1929, a long series of negotiations took place between the parties in the industry with the object of providing compensation for those who were subject to this special form of pulmonary disorder. In 1929 an Order was issued which provided compensation for these men, but from the outset some of us who knew the conditions under which the men were employed were convinced that the Order was inadequate. We knew that a large number of people who would be subject to this disease would not be covered by the Order and that there would be many disappointments.

When in 1930 and 1931 we approached the Home Secretary on the subject we were told that the Order would have to be tried out, and that experience would teach both the Department and those in the industry what modifications, if any, were required to make the Order satisfactory. We have found by experience that a very large number of people have been disabled, and that there are a very large number of deaths in this industry week by week and no compensation is obtainable by either the disabled people or, in the case of death, by their dependants. In the last year or two we have again approached the present Home Secretary, and I will pay him the tribute of saying that he has always received us with consideration and with every evidence of warm sympathy with our representations. My colleagues and I have met him on various occasions, and we also met him in a large deputation composed of all the miners' Members of Parliament from South Wales, where the incidence of silicosis is very much higher than in any other coalfield, and where there are already hundreds of men certified to be disabled and who will never work again and some men who expect a premature death without any possibility of escape. We have spent considerable sums in legal proceedings. Cases have been taken to the lower courts, with all the expense of a host of witnesses and expert witnesses, both medical and legal, and where the lower court has failed to give satisfaction cases have been taken to the House of Lords, at a very considerable expense indeed, yet we still find that in that coalfield alone there are more than 200 men certified to be suffering from silicosis who will not be able to qualify for compensation under the terms of the Order.

On our first visit to the Home Office the Home Secretary promised that he would give our representations favourable consideration. A little meeting was arranged, and we met a few weeks ago, accompanied by the officials of the South Wales Miners' Federation, the men who know most as to the incidence of the disease, because they are in daily contact with the men employed in the coalfield. Figures were given then to the Home Secretary and to the predecessor of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. They are so well known to the Department that I do not propose to repeat them, but they do show to what an alarming extent this disease is disabling our people, and how insecure are the possibilities of their obtaining compensation under the present Order. The Home Secretary did not promise that he would do all we asked him to do. He pointed out that, as in all these matters, there are two sides to be considered, that of the employers and that of the work people. I make this allegation, without heat and without party prejudice, that we have not been assisted at all by the employers to make provision for the men disabled in the mining industry. We have met with persistent and determined opposition and obstruction from the employers in the matter of granting compensation. I believe that they have now recognised that it is too late to maintain that attitude, and have become convinced, as we were 10 or 12 years ago, that it is their duty to provide compensation for these men, and I believe the employers are now more sympathetic and more ready to accept their obligations to the men.

I want the hon. and gallant Gentleman to tell us whether the draft revised Order which the Home Secretary promsied to send to the Miners' Federation is ready, whether it has been submitted to the two sides, and whether it contains what we desire that it should contain. The essential condition in order to safeguard the interests of these men is for all reference to processes and to conditions of labour to be eliminated from the Order, leaving as the sole condition that the man shall have been employed in a coal mine and shall have been certified to be disabled by silicosis. If we do not get that simple essential condition we shall again find ourselves involved in a series of legal pitfalls, and our disabled comrades of the mines will in many cases find there is no possibility of obtaining recompense. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us on this side of the House and those whom we represent, whom we shall see during the three months when this House will not be sitting, and to whom we have to give an account of our stewardship, some assurance that the revised Order will ensure the compensation to which these men are rightly entitled. If, however, he still has to announce that there is delay, owing to the necessity of consulting all sides, I hope he will be able to tell us that the delay will be confined within the strictest possible limits, and that we may really be able to give encouragement to the men suffering physically and enduring a great deal of mental anxiety because of the uncertainty of their position.

12.45 p.m.


I would like to add a few remarks on the subject raised by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), in relation to its bearings on the health of the factory worker. I notice in the report the tribute which is paid to Sir A. Whitelegge, who was chief inspector of the board for 21 years and who died last year. He had formerly been a county medical officer of health. The reorganisation of the Department which he brought about raised the health side of the work to a pitch of efficiency of which we have heard a great deal. It should always be emphasised that in this work, the Home Office is indeed a ministry of health. We are often inclined to forget that, in having co-ordinated departments of local and national government into the Ministry of Health, we have not included the survey and the care of the health of the people comprised in the system of inspection of factories and workshops. That is still outside the purview of the Ministry of Health and is under the Home Office. That fact has perturbed for a long time many people who consider it essential that the work should be brought under the one roof with other health departments.

Closer co-operation is required between departments. The improvement of health in our factories and workshops depends rot only upon the inspectors but much more upon the individuals who work in the factories and workshops. It depends upon the certifying factory surgeon and so on, but it should depend still more on the relationship, which is not yet properly established, between the factories and the workshops on the one hand and the schools on the other. Children going into employment, and entering at an early age into industrial careers in our factories and workshops, should be properly guided into the new life which is opening before them. I should like the Under-Secretary to say whether any advance is being made to establish a proper line of communication between the system of school medical health which leads up to the school-leaving age at 14, and the health of children in the factories. This question is referred to directly in the report, which points out the necessity of individual industrial health and the application of such measures as industrial vocation guidance.

I had opportunity during some four or five years upon the Industrial Health Research Board to work at some of these problems. The Industrial Health Research Board, to which reference has not yet been made in the Debate, is little understood. Its functions, established under the Medical Research Council, include the working out of problems which lie at the base of questions of health, from the physiological point of view, of workers in the factory, and of safety against accidents. The board went into the question of vocational guidance with investigators, and studied as to how far some individuals were more prone to accidents than others, simply because of their individual makeup, and especially their nervous make-up. It was shown by simple tests that it was possible to decide clearly the difference between individuals, and to say to which branch of industry an individual should be directed—or rather from which branch he should be warned off.

That brings me to the remarks which have been made with regard to safety against accidents. It is right that attention should be drawn to the necessity of protecting machinery, and of employers doing all that they can for protection against industrial disease and accidents. No amount of physical protection against danger will save workers from accidents, and I am not sure that this line of thought may not be carried too far. A large number of people are careless. They get a very rough idea of the risks to which they are exposed, and then they do not worry about the risks. It is stated in the report that there is an almost incredible contempt for transmission machinery and that it is responsible for a wholly unnecessary toll of death and disablement. That refers to individuals who are very much as we are. Despite the fact that he has been warned that there are certain risks, he deliberately disregards them just as a large number of pedestrians disregard the risks of crossing the streets. If we are engaged in conversation or our thoughts are otherwise directed we ourselves may run into danger. In directing the individual as to the part which he has to play, if you protect him at every corner and spoon feed him with legislation, regulation and physical protection, he may continue to cause just the same number of accidents. A good deal of stress must be laid upon education of the individual worker to take care of himself. A very large number of workers, especially the experienced and elderly ones, are particularly careful, shrewd and wise in protecting themselves and their mates, but young workers are liable to be very careless, and they need direct education. The work of the Safety First organisation, and the industrial welfare organisations are all to the good. We need to continue into the factories and workshops the work which is carried on in the schools so well and which encourages children to think for themselves.

How should this be done? Certifying factory surgeons are in some cases distinguished men who are making a special study of their subject, but in many cases the appointment has been given to a man in general practice who has had no special training in the diseases of occupation, or the prevention of diseases. This is a very serious question, and many people have suggested that such appointments should be given to medical officers of health. The suggestion does not carry a very great weight, and other people have suggested that there should be whole-time certifying factory surgeons who are men in general local practice and who know their people well. Those suggestions direct attention to the necessity for a change in medical education. This is not the place in which to enlarge upon that subject, but I want to touch upon it for a minute, in its bearing upon the question of safety education. The ordinary medical education is provided in hospitals by men who are engaged in the treatment of individual disease, and very little provision is therefore made for teaching the budding doctor prevention, especially the prevention of industrial disease and for teaching him the conditions in the factories. I believe that that situation will continue as long as medical education is largely run by those members of the profession who are engaged in treatment, however distinguished they may be, and while there is very little advice from those who are engaged in prevention or in the official side of medicine. I think that the Home Office should direct their attention to this question. I know that there are two or three distinguished practitioners of preventive medicine on the General Medical Council, but what are they among a total of some 40 or 50 persons? I think that inadequate pressure is brought by the Government on the General Medical Council to secure that the tendency of medical education should be more in this direction, in order to meet the requirements of the nation as a whole, instead of being carried on, as it still is, in the old tradition based on hospital treatment of individual cases.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton, with whom I agree so frequently on these subjects, laid, I thought, rather undue stress on the deficient success that had resulted from the work of the factory surgeons, the medical officers, and the whole factory system in regard to the prevention of industrial disease. He even went so far as to say that nothing had been done to reduce industrial disease. Later on, however, he contradicted that, and showed what a wonderful check had been given to lead poisoning as a result of treatment. This matter is one that has to be carefully considered. We often hear complaints made, and rightly, that so little is done as regards industrial diseases, and especially as regards new diseases which arise in connection with new processes. I rather understood the hon. Member to suggest that these new processes should not be put on the market until they were safe, and that there was some suggestion in the report that it was up to employers using new processes, and especially processes in which new chemical substances were used as solvents, to see that their safety had been proved. But we have to be very careful about that. The object is right, and I think that employers realise as a rule that they must, as far as they can, take general precautions to see that anything which they introduce into industry is prima facie safe. But it can only be prima facie. If you were to wait until there was complete certainty, and it could be guaranteed that no harm would result from using these new chemical substances and new processes, it would introduce a very great clog into industry. We have to recognise that the improvement of employment depends very largely on the adoption and discovery of new industries, and the adoption of new industries means taking risks. I do not think that speakers for the employes always recognise that to get new employment there must be risk, and that they cannot have it both ways. If the risks are to be reduced to a minimum before any new process or industry is allowed to arise, it will not be possible to get the fresh employment that is required. You must take risks.

At the present time a very large number of new industries and processes are being discovered as a result of research in industry, especially through the channels that were so well described upstairs the other day in connection with the Department of Industrial and Scientific Research. A large amount of the work that is being given to this country at the present time is due, for instance, to fresh steels being discovered as the result of fresh processes and the use of fresh chemicals, and fresh industrial diseases will constantly arise as a result of such discoveries. That being the case, how are we to deal with these fresh industrial diseases? By increased vigilance on the three sides of industry. As regards the employers, I think there is reason to believe that that vigilance is being applied. Increased vigilance is also required on the part of the factory inspectorate of the Home Office in all Departments, including the certifying surgeons and the whole machinery under them; and on the part of the workers themselves as a result of increased education, particularly of those who are coming fresh into industry. These last have to be taught and handled, and they can be taught and handled during their first years in industry after they leave school at the age of 14. I want to see a larger development of this co-operation between the health side of the Home Office and the other Departments, especially the Board of Education, so that we may get what is fundamentally required, namely, proper education and assistance of the employé from the tender age at which he enters into industrial life.

1.2 p.m.


I would like to raise a question which was brought before the House yesterday by the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor), because, in putting a question to the Home Secretary, the hon. and. learned Member stated that a Member of this House had delivered a speech at the spot where the young men in question were arrested. As that Member was myself, I feel bound to say a few words on the matter, and to try, if I can, to get from the Home Office a definite statement on the legal position and, if possible, an alteration of the declaration made in this House in 1931. I am speaking with special reference to the fact that a question was asked of the Home Secretary in this House on the 2nd December, 1931: Whether he is aware that the police authorities are breaking up meetings of the unemployed held near Employment Exchanges in the London area … and that such meetings have been held at these pitches during past years without disturb- ance … and will he … give instructions that at such places where traffic is not interfered with and where the proceedings are conducted in an orderly manner such meetings shall not be dispersed by the police?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1931; cols. 1087-8, Vol. 260.] The Home Secretary, in the course of his reply, said that the disturbances came first, causing the work at the Employ Exchanges to be interrupted, and that the Commissioner of Police thought it necessary, at all events for the time being, that such meetings should not be held in the proximity of Employment Exchanges. I must say that no great objection was taken to that decision, because, perhaps, at that moment the staffs of Employment Exchanges were very much taxed to get their work done, and I think the Under-Secretary will agree with me that from that period to the end of 1933, if any meetings were held, there was no disorder.

Recently there has been established in London the Council for Civil Liberties. I must explain to the House that this is not a Communist body, and is not a revolutionary body; it is a body comprising many Members of this House, including the acting Leader of the Opposition, one or two Members of the Government, and the junior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh), and also Members of the other House. This new council has nothing whatever to do with inflammatory speeches, or with any endeavour to get what is usually termed a revolutionary stunt; but we feel that the right of free speech in this country, which was won by the work of our forefathers should not be idly or lightly treated. Therefore, on the 24th of this month—last Tuesday—it was decided to hold a meeting outside the Employment Exchange at Stratford. To the best of our ability we complied with the decision of the Home Secretary in 1931, which made it perfectly clear that, if there was obstruction, it was the duty of the police to clear the highway for the passage of ordinary citizens. But the street outside the Stratford Employment Exchange—I do not want to go into topography and give the names of streets, because it will not help the House at all—is a cul-de-sac, and, therefore, there can be no obstruction of the highway. When I held the meeting there on the 24th, I thoroughly assured myself, understanding the volume of my own voice, that I should not be getting so close to the Employment Exchange as to interfere with the work of the staff. The meeting, which I admit was held as a protest against the decision of the Home Secretary in 1931, was orderly and there was no objection by the police. I am assured that a meeting was held by the local unemployed on the 26th instant on exactly the same spot. If that is true, I should like to ask why these young men were arrested for obstruction. There could be no obstruction from the point of view of vehicular traffic and there could be no interference whatever with entry to the Employment Exchange, because there are posts, and a barrow could not pass between them.

Then we come to a more serious aspect of the situation. It is admitted by the Home Secretary that the facts regarding the application for adjournment are substantially correct. I feel a little disturbed because I am myself a member of the court. I think it a very serious reflection on the administration of the law that, when these men made formal application for a week's adjournment, it was refused, and when they asked for an adjournment until 2 o'clock the same day, that was refused. Finally, they asked for an adjournment for 10 minutes in order to get advice, and that equally was refused. It appears that there is no contradiction of that assertion because in his reply yesterday, the Home Secretary said: From such inquiries as it has been possible to make in the time available, I understand that the facts regarding the applications for an adjournment are substantially as stated by my hon. and learned Friend. The two men in question had been charged with obstructing the police in the execution of their duty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1934; col. 2296, Vol. 292.] According to the reply of the Home Secretary in 1931, the action of the police would only be involved if there was obstruction, and in this case there could be no obstruction. If the Home Office has decided to continue this ban upon meetings within the vicinity of Employment Exchanges, whether meetings of the Council for Civil Liberty, meetings of local councillors or meetings of the unemployed, please let us know, and let us know the reason. The number of people registering at the Exchanges is smaller and the obstruction must be correspondingly minimised.

If there is any objection to meetings of the unemployed merely because of the unpleasant way, from some points of view, that they put their case, let us understand that, too. Surely, we are not going to-day to impose a ban upon certain meetings because of the character of the speeches. Our freedom has grown greater because we have tolerated unpleasantness and unpopular statements at meetings.

We are breaking up to-day for a well-earned holiday; it would be a very graceful act if the Home Secretary could follow through the appeal of the hon. Member for West Nottingham. These two young men feel that they have a serious grievance. I feel sure that, if their stand had been moved from the position from which I spoke and had accidentally been placed so near to the Exchange as to cause a bit of a nuisance, it would have been better if the police had indicated that to them and asked them to shift a little further down. I am convinced that, if anything untoward happened, it was not wilful. It would be a very graceful act if the hon. Gentleman could see his way clear somehow to remit the fine. These young men are appealing to quarter sessions. It will cost $20 or $30. They are both unemployed and they have not got the money. We shall, therefore, be compelled to continue our activities in order to raise the money to pay the expenses of the appeal. Time has eased the situation, and the peculiar tenseness of 1931 certainly does not apply in 1934. If there were a little misunderstanding, it would be easy for the Home Office to put it right in a graceful way. A fortnight ago we had the very great distinction that the Member for another Nottingham Division, who is the Recorder of West Ham, was presented with a pair of white gloves because there were no cases before the court. We have been through trying times in West Ham, but we have arrived at an understanding between the authorities and the local unemployment movement which I should like to see maintained. Nothing is done deliberately to incur the displeasure of those in whose keeping civic order is placed. I feel a little concerned, because I took the initiative of holding a meeting of protest against the ban imposed by the Home Secretary in 1931 and, if these young men held their meeting at the spot where mine was held, there could be no more obstruction than was entailed at the first meeting. I appeal to the Home Office to do something to avoid the necessity of an appeal to quarter sessions. If the hon. Gentleman could do anything to get in touch with the local unpaid magistrates and remit the fines, it would be an act of grace on his part and would be understood as a gesture of goodwill which I feel sure would be reciprocated by all connected with the movement.

1.15 p.m.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Captain Crookshank)

We have had a very interesting Debate on the administration of the Home Office with regard to the Factory Acts, which proceeded on a very smooth course, but we have had the incursion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves) on an entirely different subject. I hope, therefore, the House will not mind if I answer him first, because his speech, in comparison with other speeches, appeared to meet a comparatively small point. He raised the question of a public meeting which was held just outside the Employment Exchange in West Ham, I presume in his own constituency, and he expressed disapproval of the course which was taken, and asked why we should continue to act along the lines which were laid down in December, 1931, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) to deal with these matters. He tells us that there is no tenseness to-day like there was in 1931 and that there is really no reason why meetings should not be held outside Employment Exchanges. That may be his opinion, but it is not the opinion of my right hon. Friend, who thinks, as his predecessor did in 1931, that the experience of those days, and of to-day, is that it is an inconvenient place, to put it mildly, at which to have meetings. It is hardly fair to the officials in the Exchanges who have a great deal of work to do that they should have, what I presume is the same in West Ham as in most other places, the pandemonium of a public meeting just outside. The noise naturally increases their difficulty. It is an impediment, and, if it is a large crowd, a great impediment, to those whose business it is to go in and out of the Employment Exchange. Therefore, in 1931, the then Home Secretary said in answer to a question, not to a supplementary question, and it is the considered opinion of the Government: This Commissioner of Police has considered it necessary to take steps to prevent the holding of meetings in the streets near Employment Exchanges since recent experience has shown that meetings held in such circumstances are liable to lead to breaches of the peace. There has been in the past, and there still is, ample opportunity for holding meetings elsewhere."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1931; col. 1988, Vol. 260.] That is really the answer to the hon. Gentleman. There is, after all, a general obligation on the police to prevent obstruction of the thoroughfare and to keep order. I am afraid that I have not been able to learn the exact topography of these particular streets, but I understand that the hon. Gentleman addressed the public there. He was put into a cul-de-sac some 20 yards or so away from the nearest window of the Employment Exchange because it was thought to be a reasonable distance, and, from what I gather, he made no objection at all. I understood from what he said just now that there was some cul-de-sac where there was no obstruction in the street, and that they were moved on in that direction. He asked why the two young men who were mentioned in a question yesterday were not allowed to have their meeting in the same place. As a matter of fact, that is exactly what they were directed to do, and it was because they did not do it that the obstruction was caused. They were eventually arrested, one because, on being asked to move on, he refused to do so, and the other because he endeavoured to prevent the police from arresting his companion. As far as I can make out from this sad story, if they had only acted in the same sort of way as the hon. Gentleman did in somewhat similar circumstances, there would have been none of this trouble at all.

With regard to the point which the hon. Gentleman made about the conduct of the case by the bench, I can only say that the Home Secretary has no jurisdiction over such a question as an application for an adjournment, which is the trouble in this case. The Home Secretary could not do anything about that matter even if he wanted to do so. It is entirely outside his jurisdiction, and we can only hope that there will not be any recurrence of this kind of disturbance. I believe that on reflection the whole House will agree that, considering the enormous amount of space there is not only in London, but everywhere else on which to hold political and public meetings, it is rather unreasonable to go to a place which causes the maximum of inconvenience to a very large number of people and benefits no one at all.


The Under-Secretary of State stated that I—


Does the hon. Gentleman really want to press his point. Notice has been given of a great many questions to be raised to-day and the hon. Gentleman did not give Mr. Speaker notice of this question. I went out of my way to let him know, if he wished to raise it, that I would answer it briefly, and I do not think that we should now enter upon a discussion.


The last statement which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has made is not correct. I certainly did not give notice to Mr. Speaker, but to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State last evening. Surely it was sufficient notice to say to a Cabinet Minister that I wished to raise this matter. The first statement made by the Under-Secretary that I was placed in a cul-de-sac is not true. I regard that, no doubt said unwittingly, as such a reflection upon me that I must correct it. It is not nice to be told that I was put into a cul-de-sac. I do not take undue objection to this, but it is a very important matter to me. I arranged the meeting at such a distance from the building that I honestly assumed that it would not be inconvenient, either owing to the sound of my voice or to obstruction, and I ask the Under-Secretary of State why, if those young men did the same, and it could be proved that their station was on the same spot, they were arrested? They could not have caused any more obstruction than was caused on the previous occasion.


I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not like the word "cul-de-sac," but he introduced it.


No, Sir, the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that I was put there. I was not.


We will not quarrel about that. There is no occasion for any heat to be generated. All I can say about the young men as regards the meeting is that I understand that they did not go to speak at the place from which the hon. Gentleman had spoken.


I do not agree.


If they had there would not have been this trouble. I turn to the main question which has been raised this morning. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) who opened the Debate and the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. L. Jones) were absolutely right in the congratulations which they offered to the factory inspectors for their work during the last year. But when the hon. Gentleman opposite complains that we take this matter on the last day and that there is no enthusiasm or excitement shown in the House with regard to the report compared with some of the other topics of public discussion, it is not entirely my fault. The report was only published yesterday morning, and, taking it the other way round, one can quite well claim that not a moment has been lost in debating it. In fact, such time as was lost was lost because the Opposition themselves put down a Vote of Censure yesterday. It is a good thing that the points which have been raised to-day should be brought to public notice just before we break up for our holidays, because nothing can be more tragic than the continued number of accidents as they are reported here. It is perhaps pleasing to reflect that, just as in military warfare there is a constant race between the offensive and the defensive, so, in the question of these accidents, as soon as a really dangerous machine is invented, you will find at once great pressure being brought to bear to make it as safe as possible.

As soon as new symptoms of industrial disease are discovered, all the skill that can be found is brought to bear to try and find remedies. At the end of it, one is still left with the fact which strikes one on practically every page of this report, and that is the almost incredible number of avoidable accidents. I can only suppose that it is very much on the lines of the analogy which the hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) made, that just as these who travel about the roads frequently think that motorists have no idea of the danger and power of the cars which they are driving, so in industry one can only imagine that the employers and the workpeople have become so accustomed to, or perhaps have not fully realised the potential dangers of, the engines which they are working. There are also the old-fashioned ways which still exist in many industries. The hon. Member opposite referred in particular to the improvements which have been made, to the great advantage of the sight of the workpeople of this country, in regard to the lighting of factories. That is true, and it is also true that on page 21 of the report there will be found most astonishing cases of the use of batswing gas burners and even of candles in certain works in the silversmith, cutlery and allied trades. One gets there evidence of the varied activities of the factories.

Hon. Members by looking at the index and headings of the report will see the wide variety of subjects dealt with. For instance, there is the question of safety. The hon. Member for Swansea, West referred to the work that is being done by safety committees and conferences, and one can only hope that that work will go on and develop. If hon. Members would like to note a very interesting example on that line they will find on page 36 an interesting account of a building contract of some considerable size, to the amount of £180,000, which lasted for 22 weeks and found employment for 300 men, where packets of cigarettes were offered each week to each contractor who did not have a lost time accident amongst his workmen, and as a result only two slight accidents occurred. I quote that case as an instance of what can be done by exercising a little imagination and incentive. It seems to me that in regard to some of these problems if one could only strike home to those concerned the dangers and difficulties involved one might get more satisfactory results than we are getting to-day.

The employment and welfare problems are very fully explained in the report. With regard to staff, to which the hon. Member referred, there are still the vacancies to which he alluded, some of which were left unfilled during the economy campaign a short time ago, but I can give him an assurance that the strength of the Department is to be reviewed before the next Estimates are presented to the House. As regards the non-appointment of a new senior engineering inspector, I would point out that the work has been reapportioned and other arrangements made, and they are working perfectly satisfactorily. The hon. Member asked me a great number of questions, and I hope I shall be able to reply to them, but if not, and if other hon. Members wish to see the replies, I will do my best to let him have replies later, or perhaps when we meet in the autumn I shall be able to give him full information. I was very much struck by the hon. Member's questions, because I looked through my own copy of the report as he was asking his questions, and I had marked the very matters to which he referred. Therefore they are not only of particular but of general itnerest.

He asked a question about the foreign factories and said that there was some danger that the working conditions of the employés in the factories were being degraded. Our experience has been that we have found that the factories which have come here comply with the requirements of the law, but if the hon. Member knows any case of any firm to which he would like to draw my attention, we will have the matter specially investigated. I am to receive a trade union deputation to-morrow in regard to one of these problems. The inspectorate has been given instructions to watch this matter very closely, because the last thing we want in foreign factories being attracted here is that the conditions of employment should be worsened. If there are any cases which any hon. Member has in mind to which attention should be given, I hope that they will let me have details of them.

The hon. Member asked me if the time has not come for a medical inquiry in regard to the more looms per weaver problem. Whether the time has come or not there appears to be a slight misunderstanding in regard to what the report says on that subject. The details of piece work on page 81 to which the hon. Member alluded have nothing to do with that question. Those are details with regard to certain prosecutions, but they had nothing to do with the more looms per weaver question. The position is that we have not yet sufficient medical data. The process to which the hon. Member referred of the now method of working looms is comparatively recent and anyone with the slightest knowledge of medical matters knows that you cannot make deductions without a certain period of time having elapsed. We have not sufficient data for scientific investigation, but I can give the hon. Member the assurance that this is one of the matters to which the inspectorate intend to devote their attention this year. Beyond that I do not think I can go.

With regard to the question of the dust trouble in malthouses, we have taken up that matter with the industry with a view to preventing the inhalation of dust, and conversations are going on as to the best method of dealing with it. The hon. Member also referred to the very distressing problem of skin cancer, which is not only an industrial disease but one of the great scourges of civilisation. He told us that there had been a tendency for this disease to increase. I do not think that we can make that deduction. Because the figures go up it does not necessarily mean that there are more cases. It may mean and probably does mean that the cases which exist are notified more quickly and perhaps earlier than before. I do not think that anyone reading the report would feel warranted in making the deduction which was made by the hon. Member. There has actually been a decrease. In regard to one class of case which the hon. Member quoted, and which he said had increased, the figures on page 55 indicate that there has been a decrease in each year since 1929. If you take the figures back as far as 1920, when there were very few recorded cases, I think that in that year there was one death in 45 cases reported as compared with 40 deaths in 143 cases reported last year. The hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans who knows more about medicine than I can ever hope to know will agree with me that in 1920 the occupational nature of this disease was only beginning to be recognised. Therefore, it is a question of more accurate records to-day than a greater incidence of the disease. I hope that may be the case.

As regards anthrax, the increase in the number of cases is only small, And it has nothing to do with the Liverpool disinfecting station. As will be seen from the report it arises entirely from hides and skins, cases due to which have risen from 2 to 10. The answer to the question of the hon. Member is simple though not perhaps satisfactory; it is that no one has yet devised a method for treating hides and skins for anthrax and, therefore, there is some risk. The hon. Member pleasantly suggested that we were doing a great deal for British agriculture, providing large sums of money, but not doing anything to deal with this disease. I think I should tell him that the cases of anthrax come entirely from imported hides and skins, and, therefore, the more we can do to improve British agriculture and reduce the imports of hides and skins the more we are doing to prevent this disease. No doubt in time some method will be found for dealing with this disease, but at present it defies all scientists and medical people. I hope that only in rare cases will this disease be found in the future.

The hon. Member also asked whether the Government had any policy with regard to the removal of industries to the south. That is a much wider problem than anything with which I am concerned this afternoon, but my answer to him is that no doubt it will be one of the considerations which will influence the attitude of the Commissioners who are reporting on industrial conditions in the so-called derelict areas. As far as the Home Office is concerned, it is not a matter with which we are directly connected. I agree with the hon. Member, I do not want all the factories to come to the south of England. I sit for a northern constituency, and I should be glad to have new factories established in that area, but it is not a matter within our competency.

The two-shift system is at present being investigated by a committee. How soon it will report I have not the faintest idea, but until it does report, and until we have had time to consider its suggestions as to what should or should not be done, the Government could not really contemplate suspending the issue of any further orders authorising the working of two-shifts in response to the joint application which is necessary under the Act, because that would be asking the Government to do something which is against the expressed will of Parliament. The hon. Member probably knows that the Labour Government issued a considerable number of orders authorising the two-shift system, and I think we must wait and see what the committee reports. For the moment we could not possibly _undertake not to issue any further orders when they are drawn up in accordance with the Act, after joint consultation.

The accident at Brackley is being investigated by the chief inspector who himself went to Manchester. He held a conference with employers and workers, and a committee, with representatives of the Factory Department, is being set up to investigate the whole matter. I understand that the workers do not want, to be represented on a technical committee but naturally they will be kept informed of all that goes on and every effort will be made to deal with the problem. As regards buildings and the dangers which arise, the hon. Member will no doubt have been informed by his hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. G. Hicks) that the group of trade unions with which he is asociated came to see my right hon. Friend yesterday on this subject, and as regards the scaling of boilers by boys a recent report shows that there has been considerable improvement in recent years, which is satisfactory. As regards film studios—this is a catalogue of quite unconnected problems but I am answering them in the way the hon. Member put them to me, and he appears to have been at some pains to find out the interesting points in the report—we had a report from the chief inspector and the position is now being reviewed. As a matter of fact, the report shows that the dangers are considerably less than they were three years ago. Long may that continue.

The hon. Member also raised the question of meat mincing machines. That is a very interesting subject and I hope everyone will read pages 39 and 40 of the report where they will find that as a result of discussing the problem with the National Federation of Meat Traders Association they at once fell in with the view that it was necessary to make mincing machines safer. If the hon. Member would like to come to the Home Office Industrial Museum in Horseferry Road he will be able to see the actual safety device—the neck of the machine is now so narrow that it is impossible to get the hand in at all and consequently impossible to have your fingers chopped off. The 7,000 shops referred to by the hon. Member were retail shops, not factories or workshops, but the inspectors of the Home Office made a special visit to them last year and advised the owners as to the dangers of mincing machines in general and of the machines they were themselves using. Appropriate action was taken, the advice was put at their disposal and they were warned that they should put in this comparatively cheap improvement. What further action will be required to be taken will depend on the extent to which the advice is taken but the matter will not be lost sight of. There is also the question of machinery in offices and banks. Offices and banks have a lot of machinery, but I do not think that hitherto it has been considered as dangerous. Most of them are the same kind of machines which people have in their own houses; they are not dangerous except when they get the figures wrong.


Some of these machines are run by electricity, in some cases firms print all their own matter by machinery.


That is not quite the machinery which I thought the hon. Member had in mind, but I will tell him this, that until we get some evidence of their being dangerous it is difficult to inquire. If the hon. Member will give me any cases where an investigation will be useful we shall be prepared to make the investigation. Really, neither accounting nor tabulating machinery in offices can be considered as making the Factory Acts applicable to offices.

The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) asked me to say something with regard to silicosis. My right hon. Friend has for a very long time had the matter under consideration. He has now completed his review of the proposals which were submitted to him for the amendment of the silicosis compensation scheme for coal mines. Last week he sent to the Mining Association and the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain a memorandum indicating his conclusions. The main fact which emerges from the memorandum is that the Home Secretary recognises that the limitation of the scheme to particular underground processes gives rise to serious difficulties, and he proposes therefore to extend the scheme so as to bring underground employment generally in coal mines within its scope. I think that that probably will be satisfactory to a great number who have been seriously worried by this problem. That is the main point which representatives of the miners have been urging upon my right hon. Friend. He did, however, promise at one stage of these negotiations that he would give both sides a final opportunity, before he proceeded with the scheme, of sending in observations. So when he sent a memorandum last week to the two parties concerned he enclosed a draft of the actual scheme which he proposes to make, subject to the consideration of any further observations which reach him within the next few weeks. We do not want the matter to drag on but it is only reasonable that at the end of these long negotiations, each of the parties having been sent the draft order, should have one last opportunity of putting any points to my right hon. Friend.

The only other point oil which there is anything to be said is the tremendous increase in accidents, to which hon. Members have referred. It may be unpalatable but it must be the case that as employment increases, unless a great deal more attention is paid by all concerned to safety devices, there are likely to be more accidents. There is more likelihood of accidents with 1,000,000 on the job than with only a few. The hon. Gentleman will see in the chapter relating to safety some discussion as to the causes of the increase in accidents. It is partly because there have been long periods of unemployment, and because many of the workers are suffering from lack of nourishment, and physically and mentally are less alert and more liable to mishap than in normal times. That is obviously true. On restarting work the workers tend to over-exert their strength and energy and others take some time in getting used to working conditions again. That is unfortunately part 'of the aftermath of the great period of unemployment. It is a tragic reflection that in all probability by the law of averages before we meet again there will have been something approaching 30,000 accidents in industry and probably as many as 150 people will have lost their lives.

This fact puts considerable responsibility on everyone concerned. We here represent our constituencies in Parliament, but in the Recess we ought to represent Parliament in our constituencies. There is a great deal that hon. Members can do. I wish, therefore, that they would study this report for themselves, and that those who have most influence with employers would take such opportunity, as come their way of indicating the nature of the Chief Inspector's Report; and that those who have most touch with the workpeople would indicate to them where in the report there are remarks made—I will not say criticisms—showing where greater attention on the part of those employed in industry would help to diminish the number of accidents. If that were done I think we might get some reduction in the number of accidents.

These matters are largely matters of education. If only more would come to the Home Office Industria! Museum and see the kind of safety devices which up-to-date factories can employ to avoid accidents, I think we might get an improvement. The House may rest assured that the Home Office will do its utmost to improve working conditions and reduce danger. An increase of accidents must not be taken as any indication of failure on the part of a very hard working department of the Home Office in that regard. There is bound to be a certain amount in the human element, but it is the duty of the Home Office and the inspectorate of factories to try to minimise as far as possible, by warning, by advice, and in the past by legislation, the terrible toll of accidents which year by year we see reported.