§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. THORNE
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
There are one or two personal observations which I wish to make before I say anything about the details of the Bill. A number of my hon. Friends on this side of the House have told us at different times of the age at which they started to work in coal pits or factories or workshops. Some of them have said they started work at ten, eleven or thirteen years of age. Unfortunately, I was compelled to go to work when I had just turned six years of age, in consequence of the economic conditions prevailing then in the town in which I lived, which was Birmingham. That being the case, hon. Members will see at once that I had no opportunity of going to school. I never went to a school in my life. While I have heard hon. Members on this side of the House say they had a very poor education, the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) said on one occasion that he had had the opportunity of going to a college. I never had the opportunity of going to a college—except on one or two occasions, when I had to go to Saltley College, Birmingham, for the purpose of taking bread to the students. Another observation I want to make is that it is quite impossible for me to talk in what is called grammatical language. Still I am not very much concerned about what language I use as long as I can make people understand what I want them to.
When it was brought to my notice in the early part of this Session that I had been successful in the ballot and the party to which I belong decided that I should introduce this Bill in the name of the party I was under the impression that I was going to create a record. I thought I should be in a position to say that I was the only Member in this House who had moved the Second Reading of a Bill at the age of 77, but on making inquiries I found there was an ex-Prime Minister who was in this House for a good number of years, namely, the 752 late Mr. Gladstone, who, I think I am right in saying, was over 77 years of age when he introduced his second or third Home Rule Bill. Therefore, I am not in a position to create that record. Hon. Members will find out when they have arrived at the age of 77 that their memories are not so good as when they were young, and that is one of the difficulties under which I am labouring at the present time.
A Bill on similar lines to this was introduced as far back as 1926 by the late Mr. William Graham, backed by other Members of the party. Then Miss Wilkinson, when she was a Member of this House, introduced a similar Bill on 20th March, 1928, under the Ten Minute Rule, and on 1st November, 1928, she again introduced a similar Bill under the Ten Minute Rule. On both occasions she used very cogent arguments why the Bill should be allowed to pass. I think the hon. Member who intends to move the rejection of this Bill was in the House at that time, but then he and his friends raised no objection to those Bills. In the course of her remarks Miss Wilkinson made some extraordinary statements about the conditions in which office workers were employed in many parts of the country. She said:I should like to quote a case of a girl who wrote to me giving me a description of the office in which she worked. She said 'It is only a cubicle, with no windows, no ventilation, and five men besides myself work in this unhealthy place.'"—[Official Report, 20th March, 1928; col. 226, Vol. 215.]I suggest that the conditions prevailing then are still to be seen in many offices in different parts of the country. I am not in a position to give the House the number of commercial offices or the number of people working in them, and I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary to the Home Office has that information, but what I do know is that anyone who takes a walk from, say, Liverpool Street Station to the other side of this House will see huge blocks of buildings where thousands of shorthand-typists and other clerks are working—men, women, and girls. Anyone going outside this House at five o'clock on any night will see thousands of young men, young women and girls running along for the purpose of catching trains and omnibuses, and it is very evident that the great 753 majority of them are working in commercial offices. Modern offices are not so bad as the old offices. Not a few hundred yards from this House I have had the pleasure of visiting the imposing offices of Imperial Chemical Industries. Those offices are fairly up-to-date. There may be other offices of a similar character in regard to which neither myself nor any of my hon. Friends could make any complaint, but there is a very large number of offices, even Government offices, where employés are working underground in places which are badly lighted and badly ventilated.
Hon. Members cannot complain that the Bill has not been in their possession very long. It has been printed and in their hands for a good long time. I wish to pay a deep debt of gratitude to the very large number of papers which have taken this matter up. I am not sure whether hon. Members have read any of the articles, which have appeared in papers too numerous to mention, and I had better not mention any of them because I do not wish to give preference to one paper over another. I should like to quote part of a letter which was printed on 7th January, 1934, and is entitled, "An open letter to every Member, by Maud Dawson." She says, together with a lot of other statements:But those lucky ones are the few, not the majority. I have spent a week talking to girls in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff, Leeds, Glasgow, and several lesser provincial centres who are fated to eke out there a pitiable living in damp, tumble-down ill-lit, shockingly furnished, badly equipped, back street offices under conditions not fit for a pigsty. Some of them—and by that I mean some thousands—are even forced by their employers to work in cellars and dilapidated, underground, tunnel-rooms! On one hand we have the brains of the British Medical world, the greatest surgeons in the world, fighting the so far unconquerable human scourge of tuberculosis, battling bravely with the mystery of test tubes and diagrams in isolated laboratories. On the other hand, we have young girls and young women, who, mark you, are the mothers of to-morrow, languishing for eight hours every day in veritable death-traps, suffering—inescapably—in the very conditions which produce the white, hollow cheeks, the weak chest and the collapsing lung, that herald of the sentence of a cruel, gradual death at 30.Then she goes on to give the number of young men and young women who are working in those offices.
754 I come to the text of the Bill. I hope that hon. Members will excuse my making that long and rambling statement. There are 24 Clauses in the Bill. The first deals with sanitary conditions. I should be very much surprised if any hon. Member in this or any other House of Parliament could object to the conditions laid down in Clause 1. It is a Clause which I look upon as spring-cleaning. Wives of hon. Members have their annual spring cleaning because they like to have their homes in a sanitary condition. If It be necessary to spring clean homes, how much more necessary is it to spring clean offices in which young men, women and children work many hours during the day in badly lighted and badly ventilated rooms. The Clause provides that offices and rooms must be whitewashed once in 14 months. I do not think that anybody could object to that.
Clause 2 deals with overcrowding in offices. In one Clause of the Bill which was introduced in 1926, it was laid down that at least 600 cubic feet of space must be allowed in every room for each person working in that room.
§ Mr. THORNE
I am not talking about factories. This Bill does not deal with factories, either in regard to hours or wages. It deals with the healthy conditions of people working in offices. In Clause 2, hon. Members will find that the Bill lays down that 500 cubic feet must be allowed for every person working in a room, and that if those rooms are engaged by people working in them night and day, at least 1,000 cubic feet must be allowed. If the rooms are below ground, the 1,000 cubic feet provision applies. Perhaps I may illustrate what we are aiming at. There are two rooms outside this Chamber, one on each side at the back of the Speaker's Chair. The other day I made it my business to take the size of those rooms, and I found that they were 15 feet long, 12 feet wide and more than 12 feet high. The Bill states that the cubic space provision does hot apply to a room which is more than 12 feet high. I am not a mathematician, 755 but I think it will be found that the content of each of those rooms works out at 2,160 cubic feet. That would allow four clerks to work in each of them. I would not like my daughter or your son to be working in either of those rooms, because they are badly lighted and badly ventilated. I know those rooms are not in use except for putting the Ministers' red dispatch boxes in, and that they are not used for any other purpose. I do not think anybody can say that 500 cubic feet is too much for a boy or girl or young man to work in. I should like to say that, so far as regards the head office where I was general secretary until a few weeks ago, I find that the smallest room contains 270 cubic feet, and there is only one clerk working in it, so anyone who likes to pay a visit to our head office will find that it will not be affected by this Bill.
§ Mr. THORNE
I am sorry; I made a mistake; the smallest room contains 700 cubic feet, and there is only one clerk working in it. There are, of course, other offices where there are other clerks working, but the rooms are very much larger. On Clause 9 of the Bill there may be some objection from hon. Gentlemen opposite, because it lays down that no person under 16 years of age shall be allowed to work in any office. I am not going to enlarge upon the other Clauses, because it would take up too much of the time of the House, but, as everyone knows, a large number of older buildings are used for offices, and there is a large number of underground offices where the lighting is bad and there is no ventilation of any kind.
I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. I notice that the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) and some of his companions have a reasoned Amendment on the Paper for the rejection of the Bill. We all know the attitude of the hon. Gentleman. Nearly every Friday he is there punctually, when private Members' Bills come before the House, to move their rejection. If he sat for the same Division as I sit for, he would not take up that attitude, because, as a matter of fact, he would not be sitting here at all. I hope that at some time or other the electors in Croydon will have as much 756 common sense as the people in my Division have, and, when that time arrives, the hon. Gentleman will not be sitting on that side of the House. I hope that the result of the Debate will not be to write across this Bill "R.I.P." We have had too many of these Bills resting in peace in days gone by. I hope, also, that there is not going to be any manoeuvring to count out the House. I am hoping that the Debate will be exceedingly short, because I should like to get a Division upon this very important Bill.
I must apologise to the House for my ungrammatical language—[Hon. Members: "No! "] I am not a fluent speaker. This is not, of course, the first time I have spoken in the House or introduced a Bill. I have introduced Bills for the nationalisation of railways and canals, for the compulsory cultivation of land, and for the establishment of a citizen army—[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] Yes. In the old days I was one of those who, with all internationalists, believed in citizen armies—in wiping out professional armies and having a citizen army for defence. The three Bills that I mentioned never had a chance of getting a Second Reading in the House. I have been in the House ever since 1906, and I have seen many changes and many Bills passed. Ever since 1893 there have been many Bills passed through the House dealing with factory legislation, hours, rates of pay and many other matters. It was little over a century ago that the first Bill of that kind passed through the House. But up to the present there has been no legislation at all dealing with the unfortunate young men and women who are working in many commercial offices in different parts of the country. Therefore, I have much pleasure in moving that this Bill be read a Second time.
§ 11.32 a.m.
§ Mr. LEONARD
I beg to second the Motion.
I do not think that my hon. Friend needed to make any apology—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"]—either in regard to his ability to state clearly what he desires or in his exposition of the facts that concern many offices in this country. So far as I am concerned, I will confine myself to one or two words in seconding the Bill. I have had a considerable amount of industrial experience, and, in conducting business of that 757 kind from time to time, I have been able to see the conditions that affect many people who work in clerical occupations in this country, and I say quite definitely that they are far from satisfactory. Such conditions are not always confined to small establishments. I know a number of very prosperous concerns that look more to the production side than to the side that deals with clerical work, and I have seen conditions under the control of large concerns to which attention might quite fitly have been paid. With regard to the Bill itself, I am not prepared to go into details, but I think the Government should give some support to the effort that it represents. They themselves are sponsoring in another place a Bill dealing with shop conditions, and in that Bill there is protection for clerical workers who may be working in association with retail trades. I think it is quite logical to insist that, if a Bill in another place, sponsored by the Government, is paying attention to clerical workers and their conditions, we should be able to look for support from the Government in covering the same type of workers where they are not associated with retail shops. Accordingly, I look for some help from the Government in rectifying the abuses and conditions that obtain in many offices in this country.
§ 11.34 a.m.
§ Mr. HERBERT WILLIAMS
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, however good its intentions, proposes a great mass of needless and fussy restrictions and regulations not calculated to serve any useful purpose.A friend of mine has said that he believed this was the first time that the word. "fussy" had appeared in a formal Motion presented to the House, but the Bill justifies it. I enjoyed very much the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. W. Thorne), who is gradually approaching the stage when he will be the Father of the House. If he can only arrange for the transfer of three or four other hon. Members to another place, he will occupy that distinguished position, and he will fill it with dignity and with pleasure to all his colleagues. But the Bill has not much relation to the two speeches so far delivered. Last night there assembled 758 in the outer Lobby some 30 rather attractive young ladies, one of whom came from my constituency. She sent in a green card to say she wanted to see me about the Bill and I interviewed her and another young lady from the North of London. I started the conversation by saying that I was going to move the rejection of the Bill. I said: "Have you read it?" Neither of them had read it. We spent a little time going through it. One said she had never met a Member of Parliament before and did not want to meet another. That was not exactly on personal grounds. She made the remark, because she discovered that she knew nothing at all about the Bill that she had come to support. She had been provided with arguments covering a page of foolscap of which only ten lines referred to the Bill, which it described in grossly misleading terms. They had come quite innocently believing that the Bill was something entirely different from what it is.
There are a great many offices that ought to be improved. I have in my time done a certain amount of commercial travelling, and in general I think London is much better than some provincial towns. I have visited offices in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Newcastle, Leeds and Bradford which would not have been in the condition they were in if I had happened to be the manager of the firm. I do not want anyone to believe that I do not desire to see an improved standard. I very much rejoice that in a great deal of the building that has been going on recently the standard has been raised enormously. But we are not considering whether conditions are unsatisfactory. We are considering this Bill, and with regard to the Bill I must draw attention to the fact that in 1871 at the Crystal Palace, which is not far from my constituency, there was made probably one of the most remarkable political speeches of any time. I am referring to the great speech of Benjamin Disraeli in which among other things, he outlined a policy in respect of public health. A few days later Mr. Gladstone described the policy as one of sewage, and it was an apt description. Mr. Gladstone thought he was throwing discredit on it, because the Liberal party in those days entirely 759 failed to realise the necessity for a proper system of public health administration. When I come to read this Bill, Clause 1 (1) deals with what I might call general aspirations. It contains a certain number of general statements. I think we have to go a little beyond that. Mr. Disraeli was responsible in 1875 for carrying into law the declaration of policy that he had made at the Crystal Palace, and, if hon. Members will consult Section 91 of the Public Health Act, they will find these purposes:Any premises in such a state as to be a nuisance or injurious to health shall be deemed to be a nuisance liable to be dealt with summarily in the manner provided by this Act.It may well be the case that municipal bodies are not as careful as they ought to be in enforcing this. There is a further Sub-section:Any house or part of a house so overcrowded as to be dangerous or injurious to the health of the inmates, whether or not members of the same family, should also be deemed to be a nuisance.I should like the lawyers to state definitely whether for that purpose an office is a house. My impression is that it is. A further Sub-section refers to any factory, workshop or workplace, and I am under the impression that "office" comes within the description of workplace. Obviously, a workplace is something different from a factory or a workshop, and it does not seem quite sound of the hon. Member to say there has never been any legislation dealing with these matters. Clause 1 (a) is already the exsting law. Paragraph (b) says:It shall be kept free from effluvia arising from any drain, water-closet, earth-closet, privy, urinal or other nuisance.If the hon. Member will refer to Section 40 of the Act of 1875, he will find:Every local authority shall provide that all drains, water-closets, earth-closets, privies, ashpits and cesspools within their district he constructed and kept so as not to be a nuisance or injurious to health." So in fact that is already the existing law. The reference in Paragraph (a) to overcrowding I think, though I will defer to the lawyers, is covered by Section 91. So far as I am aware, there are no provisions with regard to lighting and the supply of drinking water, but the bulk of what I will call the declaratory parts of Sub-section (1) are really covered by existing legislation.760 Now we come to Sub-section (2), over which the hon. Member passed very lightly. He said offices had to be lime-washed every 14 months, but the Subsection says that if they have been papered, they must be repapered every three years. The bedroom in which I sleep was repapered last year after, I think, seven years. It was not repapered because it was unhealthy, but because my wife did not think it looked quite nice enough. It was not from the point of view of health, but because after the long hours that I work here she thought I ought to be cheered up with a rather newer and more attractive wall-paper. I was talking to a Member who is what I am not, a rather rich man, and who lives in a rather fine house. I showed him my room. He said, "Yes. We had our drawing room done the other day. It had not been done for 35 years, and it was looking rather shabby." If an office has been papered, distempered or varnished, it has to be washed with hot water and soap once at least every 14 months. I do not know whether the hon. Member realises that the chamber in which we meet is an office within the meaning of the Bill. I do not know whether the Office of Works washes the wood work with hot water and soap once in 14 months, but I am told they do not and that it would be very undesirable if they did. Clause 23 brings this very building within the scope of the Bill, and I think the Commissioner of Works, the Speaker, and the Serjeant-at-Arms are all going to be involved in very heavy penalties. These are very grave matters, because we should profoundly regret if the Speaker, the First Commissioner of Works, and the Serjeant-at-Arms, thinking they were not liable, refused to pay the fines and were removed to another place.
§ Mr. THORNE
Do I understand that the hon. Member means that this House comes within the definition of an office?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Yes, under the Bill. It is not my definition, but the hon. Member's. Bead the Bill. We come to Clause 2, "Over-crowding in offices." We have again to bear in mind that this is one of the numerous offices covered, and we have to have 500 cubic feet of space to every person. The cubic contents of this chamber are a little difficult 761 to measure, because it has not a completely flat roof and it has not a flat floor, but, assuming that it was flat throughout, there would be, in round figures, 150,000 cubic feet of air space in this chamber. I do not know whether those who sit in the galleries would come into the calculation because they would not be employed persons, but the rest, I think, are employed persons for the purposes of this Bill. The spectators who look on during our proceedings are not included, although from the sanitary point of view they ought to be included because they breathe air like the rest of us. Take the case when the House is very crowded on Budget Day or on some other notable occasion. There may be some 650 persons in it, and, if the whole of the air was brought in, we should get 230 cubic feet per person. But the hon. Gentleman does not allow us to take the upper air even though it is breathed in the galleries. We can only go up to 12 feet. If we reckon 12 feet from the raised dais we should get 80 cubic feet each, or one-sixth of that which he prescribes in the Bill. Frankly, I do not think that the hon. Member really thought this out when he drafted the Bill.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
It is true. It happens to be the fact. I am dealing with the Bill which the hon. Member has presented, and not with the aspirations which exist at the back of his mind.
§ Mr. PALING
As to Members of Parliament, would this place alone count, or would not all the rooms which Members of Parliament use for the purposes of their work, count as offices?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
When the hon. Member talked about the offices of the General Municipal Workers, he dealt with the matter room by room. We have to deal with this place room by room. If at any time there is not the requisite air space an offence is committed.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
If the hon. Member felt that before he resigned from the position which he has held with distinction, he could go out of his office and I could not imagine anyone trying to restrain him. To continue: 762Where an office is so situated that the surface of the floor thereof is more than five feet below the surface of the footway of the adjoining streetthe figure is increased. Later on we come to the prohibition of the use of underground offices which is defined in the same way. I was for eighteen months at the Board of Trade, and it was rather unfortunate that a very large department of the Board—the Mercantile Marine Department—instead of being situated in the new Government buildings in Great George Street, was situated in Great Smith Street. It was a very large department. It was a very great inconvenience, because the Mercantile Marine work is one of the most important features of the work of the Board of Trade. There was a constant desire to bring the whole of the staff, other than certain outlying offices like the Patents Office, into the same building, and certain discussions took place and investigations were carried out by the Office of Works. I remember that one day a remark was made to me by my Secretary, "They are thinking of using the rooms downstairs. Would you like to have a look at them"? I went down and had a look at them, and I came to the conclusion that if proper lighting was fitted up they would not be too bad, but nothing was done during the period that I was there beyond investigations.
I seem to remember that during the Election at Reading an emissary from some Civil Service trade union went round canvassing people and urging them to have me thrown out on the ground that I was forcing people to work underground. I did not discover it until after the Election was over, and I had been beaten. Hon. Members will remember that as the result of the General Election we were beaten, and one whose absence we all deplore, the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), whom I hope we shall all see back again very soon, became the First Commissioner of Works. Under the jurisdiction of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley a large number of people employed at the Board of Trade were placed in offices, which are in fact quite commodious, in the new Government buildings just across the road from here, but that would be illegal under the present Bill. I am very sorry indeed that the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley is not here to defend his action in that particular case, cutting 763 right across what his colleague the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) has incorporated in the Bill. Personally, I do not believe that there is any grievance on balance. Every one of us would rather work in a room which was definitely above the ground level, but I think that anybody who inspected those offices would not regard them as being unsatisfactory in any way whatever. Nevertheless, if this Bill represents the real, declared intentions of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, they are passing a vote of censure on their own leader.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I know that it is a rather customary thing for the Labour party to censure their own leaders from time to time. I come to Clause 4:The accommodation in the way of sanitary conveniences and lavatories provided in an office shall be deemed sufficient.I now come to another Act of Parliament. All these good Acts, I must observe, were passed by a Tory administration. I refer to the Public Health Act, 1890, which was when the late Marquis of Salisbury was Prime Minister. Section (22) says:Every building, used as a workshop or manufactory, or where persons are employed or intended to be employed in any trade or business"—
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
If one reads the provisions of the Public Health Acts of 1875 and 1890, is it not true to say that those provisions are permissive in respect of local authority administration, and that none of the local authorities will adopt these provisions? They do not have to respect all the provisions laid down under these Acts.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am coming to that point which is a perfectly legitimate one:.…shall be provided with sufficient and suitable accommodation in the way of sanitary conveniences.That is the general law of the land but in an adoptive Section. The hon. Member opposite suggests that that Section has not been generally adopted. In other 764 words, that our local authorities for 44 years have been grossly negligent in enforcing this provision.
§ Mr. DAVIES indicated assent.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
If that is the case, surely all that was needed was one short Clause to make this Section compulsory instead of adoptive. As far as I know, in the great majority of districts to-day, this Section has long been adopted. We hear reference to certain provincial towns where they have offices and have Socialist majorities, and, surely, if they hold these views, they at least should have adopted this Section from a Tory Act since they support it and if it is so good. But this provision has been the law of the land to all intents and purposes for nearly 44 years. Let us come to the detailed provisions of this Clause of the Bill:There shall be one sanitary convenience and one lavatory for every fifteen male persons employed at or in attendance at an office.The whole of this building is an office. The hon. Member opposite has been measuring rooms. I have been counting lavatories. As far as I can find out, there are 16 sanitary conveniences available for the male members of this House; there may be more, but there are only sixteen of which I know. Only ten of them are in obvious places, and a few are scattered about in all sorts of odd corners. Take the sixteen which I have discovered. It is roughly one in 40, and the Bill says one in 15 and it would be necessary, if the Bill passed, for the Office of Works to construct about 25 sanitary conveniences for the male members of the House. I do not know where they would put them. I have not seen the slightest indication that there is any shortage up to now. It says that in offices there must always be separate sanitary accommodation. For about eight years I had, as Secretary of a company, an office in Victoria Street. The office had originally been built as a flat, as were a great many of those offices. There were, I think, seven persons working in that office. It was a very comfortable office, and I only left it to go to the Board of Trade, and from the point of view of pure comfort I gained nothing by the transfer. [An Hon. Member: "What about salary?"] And nothing in the way of salary, 765 incidentally, but that is by the way. We had one lavatory and one sanitary convenience for the mixed staff. There was not the slightest objection from any point of view. If you pass this Bill, somehow or another, that office will have to be reconstructed. I do not know how you could do it. When people bring Bills before this House they ought to take the trouble to introduce Bills which are of some value.
Take Clause 8:While any person employed in an office is within the office for the purposes of employment or meals, the doors of the office, and of any room therein in which any such person is, must not be locked or bolted or fastened in such a manner that they cannot be easily and immediately opened from the inside.I have office accommodation consisting of two rooms, five minutes away from this House. I occupy one room and my secretary, a lady, occupies the other. The office lock is an ordinary Yale. Normally, my door is always fastened because visitors come through the other room. When I am away and my secretary is alone she invariably secures her door, so that people cannot walk in. It is well known that there are office sneaks who go round to offices for the purpose of stealing hats and overcoats, and occasionally people in offices have very unpleasant experiences with people who walk into their offices. It is now suggested in an Act of Parliament that a person working alone in an office must not secure the office so that an uninvited person cannot walk in. Are we going to suggest that every office door shall be open so that you cannot prevent anbody walking in who wishes to do so? It is an intolerable suggestion.
Then we come to Clause 9, a most extraordinary Clause. The first sub-section says:No person who is under sixteen years of age shall be employed.I do not know how many persons under the age of 16 are employed in offices within the meaning of this Bill, but there are between 600,000 and 700,000 young persons under 16 who have jobs of some kind or another. Looking at the statistics of insured persons according to occupations, and bearing in mind that a good many office people do not come under the financial and clerical sections but are included under the trades in which they are employed, there must be at least 100,000 766 young clerks, office boys and girls, under the age of 16. It is proposed that all those young persons should be dismissed the moment that this Bill receives the Boyal Assent. I said to the two young ladies who came to see me about the Bill; "Do you think that every person under 16 ought to be sacked from an office?", and they both replied: "Certainly not." Yet they had been induced by some organisation to come to this House for the purpose of trying to persuade me to vote for a Bill which contains a provision which is quite stupid.
Under Clause 10 the moment that anyone takes an office they have to communicate the fact in writing to the sanitary authority otherwise they are liable to a fine of £5. The moment this Bill passes Mr. Speaker, the Sergeant-at-Arms and the gentleman in charge of the Office of Works in this building, Mr. Wilson, will have to send a communication to the Westminster City Council that this is their office for certain purposes. In that notice they will have to state the nature of the work they do. It would be rather interesting to see the descripiton which these distinguished gentlemen would give of their work. They also have to give the name and address of the employer under which the office is to be carried on. It would be a little difficult to define who is the employer of some of these distinguished gentlemen. I believe the Sergeant-at-Arms is appointed by the Crown. Therefore I suppose he would have to insert the name of His Majesty as his employer. With regard to Mr. Speaker, I suppose we are the employers, so it would be necessary for Mr. Speaker to give all our names, which would mean that the name of the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) and my name would be bracketed together.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am trying to do so. I did not draft the Bill. I do not believe the hon. Member drafted it; that is the trouble. In addition to the provisions that I have just quoted, it is provided in Clause 11 thatThere shall be affixed at the entrance of every office.…
- (a) an abstract of this Act; and
- (b) a notice of the name and address of the local sanitary authority; and
- (c) every notice and document required by this Act to be affixed in the office."
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
It is not quite clear in the definition Clause whether the office is the whole building of a block of offices or whether each office is to be regarded as separate. In this building there are several different employers. The House itself is one employer, the Crown is another employer, the First Commissioner of Works is another and I think the Commissioner of Police is the fourth employer. As regards this Chamber itself, I do not that the approach of Black Rod in the future would be permissible. We have to put an extract of the Act on the front door in the name of the Westminster City Council, together with every notice and document required by the Act. In addition, there is to be a general register, in a form to be prescribed by the Minister of Health, giving particulars as to the young persons employed in the office, the cleaning of the office, etc. I suppose that it would be necessary to give the name of the charwoman and how often she comes.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
That is a different matter from saying how often we wash with soap and hot water the walls of the House of Commons. Then we come to Clause 13: "Periodical Return of Persons Employed."The employer shall, on or before such days as the Minister of Health may direct, at intervals of not less than one nor more than throe years, send to the local sanitary authority a correct return specifying, with respect to such days or day, or such period as the Minister may direct, the number of persons employed in the office…That brings in Members of Parliament. That is to be done at intervals of not less than one nor more than three years. I suppose we should send along a copy of Vacher, in which our names are printed. The list would be at once out of date if a General Election took place, and there would be no Statutory obligation to send in a fresh list.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
I can well understand that the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) is out to ridicule the Bill, but he ought in common decency and in fairness to the hon. Member who has moved the Second Reading of the Bill to say that he is not quite certain whether the House of Commons is an office. He may have consulted a lawyer and have found out whether that is so or not, but he is not certain. He is putting up a skittle in order to knock it down. He is putting up a premise and drawing all sorts of ridiculous conclusions from it.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
I am only applying such moderate intelligence as I possess in trying to discover what is in the Bill, because the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading did not really tell us anything about the Bill. When I said that a Crown Office came within the scope of the Bill, he disputed it.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
There is to be an inspector appointed for the purpose of the execution of this Act, and that inspector is to have the same rights of entry as any other persons, including, I suppose, the right of entry into this House at any time. Now we come to the definition of "office," to which the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. Williams) has referred. That is provided in Clause 20, which says:the expression 'office' means any room, suite of rooms, or premises, wherein persons are employed to perform clerical, professional or technical duties wholly or in part in any capacity.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
I wish the hon. Member would not think so much of himself. After the last two nights in this House I have not had much leisure.The expression 'employer' includes any body of persons, corporate or incorporateI certainly think that we come within that definition. We must read that in conjunction with Clause 23:This Act shall not apply to offices occupied solely by persons employed in the naval, military or air forces of the Crown or in a police force, but otherwise shall apply to offices occupied or used for employment by or under the Crown to which this Act would apply if the employer were a private person.There are a large number of people working in this building other than ourselves who are employed by or under the Crown. Every person employed by the Office of Works is covered by this Bill. There are a large number of people working in this building and, from the point of view of sanitation, this building comes under it. I use this building as an example because it is one with which we are familiar, but what is true of this building is equally true of a vast number of other buildings which would be subject to these entirely unnecessary restrictions. In Clause 20, Sub-section (2), we find:An office shall not be deemed to be ventilated in a sufficient manner unless the air therein is completely changed at least twice in every hour whilst persons are employed therein.That may or may not be a good provision, but most of us work in an office which has a fireplace and a window that can be opened, and there are crevices under the door so that the air is changed frequently, but with what frequency I have not the faintest idea. I have some engineering knowledge, tout I have no idea as to how you are going to measure in an ordinary office whether the air is changed twice in every hour. What is my general conclusion after considering this Bill? It is that a number of people, with a perfectly good intention, desire that certain undesirable features which now exist in connection with offices should be brought to an end, but instead of bringing in a Bill founded on Section 22 of the Act of 1890, which would have given them nearly everything they want, have introduced a Bill which contains provisions which are frankly ludicrous. I am treating the Bill as a joke because it is a joke.
§ Mr. THORNE
Is the hon. Member aware that a number of medical officers engaged in provincial towns are asking for similar powers to those contained in this Bill in order that they may be able to deal with office accommodation?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I do not think that any medical officer has asked for the provisions of this Bill. They may have asked for suitable provisions to deal with offices. The mistake is that the provisions of this Bill have been lifted from the Factories and Workshops Act of 1901, that is where most of Clause 1 comes from. That was legislation which suited certain factories, but the promoters of this Bill have blindly assumed that provisions which are necessary in factories where there may be steam and all kinds of dust, are identical by the kind of regulations which you want for offices. There has been no intelligent brainwork behind the framing of this Bill; I am not blaming the hon. Member because he did not draft the Bill. This House would gladly give a Second Reading to a Bill to ensure suitable sanitary conditions in offices, but it is said that the opportunity of a Friday has been lost by introducing a Bill which is thoroughly unworkable instead of a sensible Bill, giving effect to provisions to which the House would have given an uncontested Second Reading.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mr. LEVY
I beg to second the Amendment.
I approach this Measure from an entirely different angle to that of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams). I am not going to deal with it in a frivolous way. It is intended as a serious measure, and I want to deal with it seriously. I am a business man and have had forty years' experience in mills, factories and offices, and I can claim to have some little knowledge of them. The fundamental principles underlying the Bill are exceedingly far-reaching, more far-reaching than one would imagine on reading the Bill for the first time. To properly understand the Measure, you must read it not only with the Public Health Acts and the Factory Acts, but also with the general powers which various local authorities have, and with the by-laws which they are able to make under those general powers. I 771 have taken a good deal of pains to read this Bill in connection with these various Acts. I cannot claim to have the ability which many hon. Members of this House possess of being able to retain in my mind all the various details of Acts of Parliament and present in logical sequence the various matters with which this Bill deals, and I have, therefore, spent some time in making notes of the various provisions in other Acts of Parliament in order, to the best of my ability, to put before the House the reasons why I am opposing the Bill.
I am not opposing it because it has been introduced by the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne). I should most strongly oppose the Bill if it were introduced by anybody, or any Government, including the National Government. In my opinion, it is bad from beginning to end, and does not serve the purpose which it is intended to serve. It does not' benefit the working-man or the juvenile in any possible way, shape or form. I keep a secretary and an office. There are hundreds and thousands of people who are not in business who have an office. The room in which they work comes within the provisions of this Bill. I hope that I may be allowed to refer to the notes I have made not only in order to be brief but to be accurate, and to deal with the Bill in its logical sequence. I think that I shall then be able to show that no Government, no person, no responsible Member of Parliament in any part of the House, would go into any Lobby and vote for the Bill. It can be divided into two distinct parts, it has two distinct objects. The first is to regulate the conditions of offices and the second to restrict the employment of young persons therein. A similar Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on a previous occasion and never got a Second reading. The Bill defines an office as:any room, suite of rooms, or premises, wherein persons are employed to perform clerical, professional or technical duties wholly or in part in any capacity.It applies, therefore, not only to offices in the narrower sense, such as insurance offices, but to all premises, to all factories and workshops throughout the whole country where any clerical or professional work is performed. Therefore, it would also cover a large number of 772 places which are only temporarily used as offices, that is to say hotels and dwelling-houses and any other house that is used for that purpose. The Bill, therefore, would affect the industrial, commercial, and profession workers of the whole community. It is quite clear that the responsibility for introducing a Measure of such far-reaching importance is essentially one for the Government and certainly not one for a private Member.
As to the regulation of conditions in offices, under the existing Public Health Acts local authorities already have wide powers to deal with any premises in such a state as to be a nuisance or injurious to health. In so far as the Bill confines itself to laying down in Clause 1 general provisions regarding the sanitary conditions of offices, it is doubtful whether it adds to the powers already possessed by the public authorities for the purpose, so far as such powers are necessary. But the Bill is not confined to general provisions. It lays down a series of rigid and detailed requirements as to the conditions which must be observed in offices, irrespective of whether or not those requirements are necessary. These provisions not only destroy the discretion at present vested in local authorities to deal with premises generally, according to the varying circumstances in their localities, but are in themselves unreasonable, and they frequently go far beyond the corresponding requirements for factories as laid down in the Factory Acts.
I propose to give a few illustrations of the categorical requirements that the Bill lays down irrespective of whether they are necessary to the health of the people employed in offices. I am not proposing to go right through the Bill. Reference has been made to papering and painting. In Clause 1 the Bill lays down meticulous requirements as to the redecoration of offices, including a provision that all walls which have been papered must be re-papered once in every three years, regardless of whether such redecoration is in fact necessary. Then in Clause 2 the Bill lays it down that an office, including offices already in existence, shall be deemed to be so overcrowded as to be dangerous or injurious to health if less than 500 cubic feet of space is allowed for every person employed therein at one time, and in certain cases 1,000 cubic 773 feet. Under the existing Factory Acts the minimum cubic space per person is laid down as 250 feet during normal working hours and 400 feet during overtime. The Government's 1926 Factory Bill, while proposing to raise the requirement to 400 cubic feet in the case of workrooms constructed or completed in future, retained the figure of 250 cubic feet for all existing workrooms. Even in modern offices recently erected it has not been considered necessary to provide 500 cubic feet per person employed. It is clear that a universal requirement of 500 cubic feet would involve expensive and extensive reconstruction of many existing offices.
Let me deal next with offices underground. Clause 3 says that no underground room shall be used as an office unless it was so used at the passing of the Bill; further that even such underground rooms shall cease to be used as offices after three years' notice and after a certificate has been obtained from the local sanitary authority that they are suitable for the purpose. The existing Public Health Acts, as already pointed out, give full power to the local authorities to deal with premises that are injurious to health. Having regard to that provision, it would appear quite unnecessary to lay down a universal prohibition of the use of underground rooms as offices whether or not such rooms are injurious to health. It may be noted that the existing Factory Acts contain no prohibition of underground rooms except in the case of basement bakehouses, and that the 1926 Factory Bill only proposed to prohibit work in underground rooms in certain specified industries and processes.
Let me come to the ventilation question. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon said he was not certain how this matter would be dealt with. In Clause 20 the Bill proposes that an office shall not be deemed to be sufficiently ventilated unless the air therein is completely changed at least twice in every hour while the persons are employed there. There is a method of changing the air and there is a method of measuring it. It is not clear from the Bill, however, how this provision would be carried out, but if it involved the installation of special air-conditioning plant in every office, as it would, it 774 would clearly entail considerable additional expense, which is entirely unnecessary.
Then we come to the sanitary conditions. In Clause 4 the Bill proposes that every office must be provided with sufficient and suitable accommodation in the way of sanitary conveniences and lavatories, and it further provides that such accommodation shall not be deemed sufficient and suitable unless there is one convenience for every 15 males employed and one for every 15 females. The existing Public Health Acts already empower local authorities to see that suitable and sufficient sanitary conveniences are provided, including separate accommodation for both sexes where both sexes are employed, and the existing Factory law provides that in factories one sanitary convenience shall be provided for every 25 males and 25 females employed respectively. It will be seen, therefore, that nearly everything contained in the Bill is already covered.
But there are some underlying principles in the Bill with which I will deal. They do not appear on the surface, but they are fundamental. I come to the provision of rest rooms. The Bill provides that a rest room must be provided in every office in which 50 or more females are employed. The existing Factory law gives the Home Secretary power to make provisions for rest rooms by welfare workers, in factories. The 1926 Factory Bill did not propose to alter the law in this respect, or to lay down any categorical requirements regarding the provision of rest rooms. It is clear from the foregoing illustrations that the requirements which this Bill lays down are in many cases much more stringent than those laid down in the case of factories where strenuous manual labour is performed. The Bill would mean heavy additional financial burdens on industry and commerce and so far from benefiting the workers employed in offices, it might well imperil their employment by the additional burdens which would be imposed upon employers. It will be within the recollection of the House that I proposed to divide the Bill into two parts. I now come to the part which deals with the restriction of the employment of young persons. The Bill prohibits the employment in offices of all persons under 16 years of age, regard- 775 less of whether such employment is, in fact, injurious to their health or not. Thus, it clearly raises a fundamental question of principle regarding the age of entry into employment.
§ Mr. LEVY
I am coming to that. That is one of the underlying principles of the Bill. It is an indirect method of raising the school age from 14 to 16. That is a principle fundamental to the whole organisation of commerce and industry, and is not one which ought to be dealt with indirectly in a Bill for the regulation of offices. It ought to be dealt with on its merits, as an independent proposal. Under the existing law, no such prohibition exists in the case of factories and workshops. The proposal in the Bill would not only create an anomaly; it would be unfair to the juveniles themselves, in that it would restrict their opportunities of employment. At present the only prohibition on the employment of the persons under 16 years during the day is in connection with street trading, and, even there, local authorities can make by-laws allowing such persons to be employed in street trading under certain conditions. While there may be reasons for restricting the employment of persons under 16 in street trading, no such considerations can possibly arise in the case of offices, and the assimilation of office employment to that of street trading is entirely wrong. If the proposal in the Bill were carried, the question would arise of what was to become of those juveniles under 16 who are already employed in offices or who although still at school would normally obtain employment in offices on leaving school. That is the point which the hon. Member mentioned just now, and I wish to emphasise it. It is difficult to avoid regarding this proposal as anything other than an indirect attempt, as I have said, to bring about the raising of the school age to 16, and such an attempt ought not to be made in a Bill of this kind.
The Bill further proposes to prohibit the employment of juveniles under 18 during the night or on Sunday, and the term "night" is defined as covering the period between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. While 776 the employment of young persons under 18 during the night is already generally prohibited in industrial undertakings, exceptions are allowed from that prohibition and, in any event, while circumstances may justify such prohibition in the case of industrial concerns, no such circumstances exist at all, in the case of offices. The Bill also makes provision for enforcement of the proposed regulations by requiring the employer to keep elaborate records regarding the matters dealt with in the Bill and by giving a local sanitary authority's inspectors the same powers of inspection as those which are given to inspectors under the Factories Acts. It is quite clear that in the case of undertakings having both factories and offices, frequently in the same premises, a system of dual and perhaps triple inspection would result in additional expense and inconvenience to employers in the conduct of their business. It should also be noted that the Bill imposes elaborate regulations as to employment and office accommodation, irrespective of whether such employment or accommodation is in any way injurious to the health or welfare of the persons employed. These regulations would represent as I have said, a heavy additional financial burden on industry at a time when it can ill afford to indulge in these unnecessary refinements.
I hope I have said enough to satisfy the House that the Bill is bad from beginning to end. It is entirely unnecessary and it does not confer any benefit of any description upon the working people or the juveniles. I appreciate the good intentions behind it. It is like the path to hell—paved with good intentions. The intentions are undoubtedly good, but the Bill does not carry them into effect. It would not do what the hon. Gentleman is attempting to do. After what I have said, I hope he will not press the Bill at all but will withdraw it. If he is lucky, as I hope he will be, on some future occasion in the Ballot and brings in a Bill which is going to benefit young persons or the working people, he can rely upon my support and the support of all Members on this side of the House. The Members who support the National Government have the real welfare of the working people and the juveniles and of all concerned in industry at heart. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have no monoply of 777 interest in the welfare of the working people. It will be found if we study various Acts of Parliament, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman opposite has done, that the Tory party of this country have passed more Acts for the benefit of the working people of this country than any other Party. I oppose this Bill and I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman on reflection, will find it possible to withdraw it.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
May I correct a slight mistake? I pointed out that Section 22 of the Act of 1890 was an adoptive Section. Since then I have been reading it, and it states that if it is not adopted, Section 38 of the Public Health Act, 1875, operates. That Section reads, in part:Where it appears to any local authority by the report of their surveyor that any house is used or intended to be used as a factory or building in which persons of both sexes are employed.…at one time in any manufacture trade or business, the local authority mayrequire the owner to construct water closets and so on. Therefore, even though Section 22 of the Act of 1890 may not be adopted, the general power already exists.
§ 12.36 p.m.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I am sentimental enough to congratulate the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) on introducing this Bill at 77 years of age, and, as he said, he has never attended any school in his life. There are some men in this world who set forth in search of wealth, and when they get it they spend it prodigally. Other men go forth in search of power, and when they achieve it they use it mercilessly. I feel sure that I am right in saying about my hon. Friend that all he desires is the good will of his fellows, and in that respect he has succeeded wonderfully, in spite of his lack of education. I think we have all come to the conclusion, after hearing him this morning, that education is not all that matters in this world, though it is a very good walking stick as it were. I have been a little surprised at the speech of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) and at his use of the word "fussy" in the Amendment. I thought I might retort by informing him, very delicately, that he is a little too fussy himself. His speech was not worthy of himself, it was not worthy of the occasion, and certainly it was unworthy of this House, as I shall endeavour to show. We 778 are indeed dealing with a very serious problem, and I do not know whether hon. Members realise what it actually means. There must be in this country about 1,000,000 person employed in offices. [Hon. Members: "More!"]. Well, as a Welshman I never exaggerate. So far as I have been able to gather, there is never a record anywhere, even in the Registrar-General's returns, of the actual number of persons employed in offices in this country, but in America they take a census of occupations in the way that I should like one taken here, and it has interested me to note how the number of clerical workers has increased in industrial countries during the last half-century or so.
As an illustration, I would point out that in 1880 there were only 172,000 clerks in the whole of the United States of America, whereas in 1920, 40 years later, there were 3,000,000, and if the same proportion applied to the country, there must be about 1,000,000 persons employed as clerks here. This Bill is important, not merely because of the number of persons employed in offices, but because of the neglect in the administration of provisions dealing with the health and welfare of clerks in general. I would make this comment in passing, that if these 1,000,000 people were all members of a trade union, this Bill would hardly be necessary. They would have dealt with their problems on the spot, as the miners, the shops assistants have done in part, and as the factory workers have done almost universally. It is indeed the lack of trade union organisation among the clerks themselves that warrants my hon. Friend asking Parliament to do for them legislatively what ought to have been done by trade union action long ago.
When the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) speaks of Acts of Parliament already on the Statute Book and of this Bill as being unnecessary, I think he must be wrong, because the provisions of the Acts to which he refers are permissive, and even when they are adopted, the local authorities may not put them into operation. I can assure him, and I think the representative of the Home Office will agree, that even when a local authority has adopted the health provisions of the 1875 and 1890 Acts—and I would appeal to the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle), who knows more about this than I do—medical 779 officers of health universally declare that they have not sufficient powers to deal with unhealthy offices, shops and workshops even now. I sat on the Select Committee on Shop Assistants, where, if my memory serves me aright, the Medical Officer of Health for the County of London declared that, in spite of all the health provisions of Acts of Parliament, the County Council in some respects were still in a difficulty in taking proceedings in these cases. Consequently, the hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that argument to-day.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The hon. Member must know that Members of an Opposition are always in a difficulty in producing a Bill, because they cannot call upon the officers of Government Departments to draft their Measures for them. They have to do the best they can, and after the next General Election, when the hon. Gentleman's party sits in a minority here, he will find himself in exactly the same position, if he is lucky enough to get here himself and if he is also lucky enough to win the ballot and produce a Bill. I believe in that case he would bring in a Bill to deal with the water supply, and I would like to congratulate him on what he has done in that connection. He has been very persistent, and I am sure that he has influenced the public by what he has done. That is exactly what we are trying to do to-day by the introduction of this Bill. It does not matter if it is clumsily worded. We put it forward as a demonstration, to call the attention of the Government and the public to the rotton conditions that prevail in some of the offices of this country. Many Bills have been introduced into this House with not every word of which hon. Members may have agreed, but they have given those Bills a Second Reading on the understanding that they could be amended upstairs. There are many provisions in this Bill, I suppose, which, if it secured a Second Reading, would be amended in Committee.
780 Let me point out another error into which the hon. Member for South Croydon fell. He spoke of two things, and however familiar he may be with other questions, I do not think he is as familiar as he ought to be with these two problems. He spoke of the clerks as if they fell into the same category as other workers. Under the Common Law of this land the shop assistant and the clerk are domestic servants, and because they are deemed to be domestic servants, they are entitled to wages during sickness. Consequently, they do not fall to be dealt with as ordinary workers under the law. Another error into which the hon. Member fell—
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
I do not know why the hon. Member talks of an error on my part. I made no reference to the subject.
§ Mr. DAVIES
No, but the hon. Member tried to connect the conditions under which clerks are employed with the conditions under which ordinary artisans work.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The hon. Member referred to the powers of local authorities and said they could attend to the health conditions of all the working people in their area, including clerks. I will leave that point and come to another. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the word "nuisance." Hon. Members who have sat on local authorities will understand the difficulty of interpreting that word. They know that however unhealthy an office may be it would never be regarded as a nuisance.
§ Mr. DAVIES
But two medical officers of health will have different interpretations of what is unhealthy. In the appointment of medical officers, whenever I have had anything to do with them, I have always voted for the man who took my point of view. There are some people in this country who never regard anything as unhealthy. They must see a person drop dead in an office before they will regard the place as unhealthy. That is their attitude of mind, and the hon. 781 Member for South Croydon represents that attitude. In his attempt to pour ridicule on this Bill he rather overreached himself. The House of Commons is very sensitive to that sort of thing. The trick can only be played on occasions, but when it is played it has to be done properly, and it was not done properly this morning. As to the Houses of Parliament, why should they not, if there are offices within the precincts come under the Bill? I have seen offices connected with some of the most wonderful buildings in this country, which are not fit for people to work in. There is no doubt that in recent years, when architects have been called upon to draft their designs, they have made proper provision for office accommodation. All the latest buildings are provided with proper office accommodation, but less than 20 years ago I saw one of the biggest buildings, where 2,000 persons were employed in one of the largest cities of the country, and the clerks were told that they must work in a basement below a basement—not ten or a dozen, but hundreds of them.
The attitude of mind of the ordinary employer up till recently was that he could push his clerks to work anywhere. I agree that there has been a change, and I am sure that the mere introduction of this Bill will warrant my saying that there will be a further change for the better. With regard again to the House of Commons, does the hon. Gentleman suggest that we are cramped at this moment so far as the cubic contents of this place are concerned?
§ Mr. DAVIES
I do not absorb more of the air of this place than the hon. Gentleman does, and I am sure I do not absorb more of the time of the House than he does. I think I may claim for myself that when I do absorb some of the time of the House I do it intelligently. The real fact is that for the coalminer, the engineer, the factory worker, the shipbuilder, the sailor, the farm labourer and the shop assistants, Parliament has from time to time come to their aid in doing something to regulate their conditions of employment. I think the conditions of employment even of the bricklayer are safeguarded by law in some respects. Up to now the clerk has been left out in the cold and he does not count 782 at all under the law. The hon. Member for Elland said this Bill went to the foundations of society. A century ago or less there sat on those benches men who spoke exactly like he did about proposals for factory legislation. When I was a collier in South Wales we expected every autumn that, as an act of fate, there must be a colliery explosion in October or November, simply because it had happened almost every autumn. What has happened since? The enactments of Parliament during the last 50 years in providing for mines inspection have done one thing at any rate, and the people in South Wales do not believe now that it is necessary to expect a colliery explosion once a year.
Let me admit that I have found no means of checking whether clerks are more unhealthy or whether their mortality is higher than among any other classes, but I would remind the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment that there is a vast difference between a sedentary occupation, such as that of a clerk and any other occupation. When the hon. Member for South Croydon spoke of the House of Commons, I would remind him that he can always walk out when he likes, as he always does when I get up to speak, just as I walk out as soon as I can whenever he gets up to speak. We have to take seriously into account the task that the clerk is called upon to do. To sit down for four or five hours at a desk is a different problem from standing at a loom or hewing coal, or laying bricks, or handling tools. We have to remember that the modern office is gradually becoming a miniature factory. The hon. Gentleman talked about his own office. I think that my office may be more important than his and is doing much more important work. I have endeavoured to study the problem of the modern office, and all the requirements of this Bill are already provided for in my own office. Anybody who has never been inside a modern office would be- amazed at what is happening there. It contains the addressograph, the adding machine, in some cases printing presses, colossal typewriters, counting apparatus, stylographs and all manners of machinery, some of which is driven by electricity.
§ Mr. DAVIES
All offices are not quite as modern as that. We have to think of this office problem from a different angle altogether. Hon. Gentlemen are always putting extreme cases against Measures of this kind. They say that the clerk or secretary of an employer would be affected. Why should not he or she be affected? Why should not every person employed in an office have decent conditions in which to work? What is wrong with a proposition of that kind?
§ Mr. DAVIES
Wherever clerks may be employed, I want them to be safeguarded as to cubical contents at least to the same extent as those who sleep in common lodging-houses. That is not too much to ask. The hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded the Amendment, talked glibly about Government offices. Let me tell him that I have been absolutely ashamed of some of the offices of the Ministry of Labour.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
I referred to the Board of Trade underground rooms and the people placed in those rooms by the Labour party three years ago.
§ Mr. DAVIES
They could not do it if this Bill were carried. I want an Act of Parliament which would prevent even a Labour Government doing wrong. I have never seen any Government made up of angels, especially the Government to which the hon. Member belonged.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I want to join the type to which the hon. Member for South Croydon does not belong. Then there are the employment exchanges, some of which, it is true, are not fit places for persons to work in. It is a strange thing that Government Departments and employers of labour will open an office anywhere, will buy up any old buildings for the purpose of an office, but who would think twice before opening the same place as a shop or factory. Consequently, I think that our case is a very strong one on that score alone.
784 Let me appeal to hon. Gentlemen to give this Bill a Second Reading to see whether we can amend it into a proper Act of Parliament. The Government of the day have introduced a Shops Bill in another place, and, in spite of our criticism of that Bill, we welcome it. That Bill in respect of all young persons up to 18 years of age in certain occupations will do very nearly all that we are asking in this Bill on a very much wider scale. If I may refer to the provisions of that Measure for a moment, I think that the wording is very much better than the wording in some portions of our own Bill, but it is always understood, as I have already indicated, that people employed by the Departments to the draft Bills can do it very much more efficiently than Members of the Opposition, who are not paid to do this kind of work. Take the provisions of the Shops Bill. It says:Suitable and sufficient means for ventilation shall be provided, and suitable and sufficient ventilation shall be maintained.That is what the Government themselves are going to do in respect of shops. The heading of the new Clause in that Bill is:Arrangements for health and comfort of shop workers.There are 2,000,000 of them, and the Bill we are proposing to-day wants to give to the one million clerks of this country equal conditions to those which are proposed by the hon. Gentlemen's own Government in relation to shops. For these reasons, I appeal to hon. Gentlemen to let us have this Bill. It can go upstairs, and if they have any reasonable Amendments to propose, we will give them consideration. We do not say that this Bill is perfect. I have never seen a perfect Bill yet, except one I introduced myself. Everybody thinks like that. At any rate, this Bill is a beginning; it starts us on the road to cleaner, better offices, and to healthier conditions for the million clerks employed in them.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Douglas Hacking)
I may be asked by Members of this House why it is that the Home Department is taking part in this Debate, and I will give two reasons. The first is, that I think Friday afternoon would not appear to be complete without a speech from the representative of the Home Office. Secondly, this Bill 785 does not content itself with dealing with matters coming within the scope of the Public Health Acts, that is sanitation and ventilation. If that were all it did, the Minister of Health or his Parliamentary Secretary would be standing in my place to-day. The Bill goes very far beyond that. It deals, in addition, with matters such as overcrowding, rest-rooms, restriction of periods of employment, periodical returns of persons employed, doors being made to open from the inside, safety appliances and with other matters, all of which collectively can only be dealt with properly, effectively, efficiently, completely, satisfactorily and absolutely by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department or his Under-Secretary. In fact, this Bill is based largely on the provisions for the same purpose contained in the Factory Acts, which, as the House knows, are administered by my right hon. Friend. Hence my presence here this afternoon.
The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill said that he had never been to school. The manner in which he introduced the Bill makes me doubt very much the desirability of modern education. He certainly lacks nothing in his ability to make people understand what he desires to impart, and that is really all that matters. I have known many hon. Members of this House who claim to have been exceedingly highly educated, and who have, on occasion, completely failed in that respect. This Bill might be described as a restrictive Measure. It restricts so many things, that I cannot, for the life of me, see why it should not go one step further and possibly complete its task by limiting the number of private Members' Bills which concern the Home Department, and which are introduced in this House with constant regularity almost every Friday afternoon of the Session. That additional restriction might, perhaps, have won me over in support of the Bill, however bad some parts of it may be. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) riddled this Bill with perfectly fair criticism. It may have been harsh criticism, but it was perfectly fair. He showed the Measure, as printed and introduced by the hon. Member, to be quite farcical. The intentions of the hon. 786 Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) may be sound—they probably are sound—but I am sure that he never intended that the provisions should have the effect so accurately described by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon.
The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. K. Davies) said that the Public Health Acts which have been referred to this morning were not compulsory. That is not quite right. The Act of 1875 is not an adoptive Measure but a compulsory Act, and, if there is a nuisance, the local authority are compelled to take notice of it. The hon. Member for South Croydon asked whether the Public Health Act, 1875, extended to offices. Section 91 of that Act speaks of "premises" in such a state as to be a nuisance or injurious to health, and says that any house or part of a house so overcrowded as to be dangerous or injurious to the health of the inmates is to be deemed to be a nuisance. I understand that there is no doubt about the words "premises" and "house" including offices. The Section also saysany factory, workshop or work place not kept in a cleanly stateshall be condemned as a nuisance. There seems to be some doubt whether the expression "work place" includes "office," but the official view is that it does so extend. Unfortunately, we have reason to believe that some local authorities do not accept this statement; but no test case has ever been brought before the courts. I repeat, however, and I trust it will give satisfaction to the hon. Member, that the official view is that a workplace does include an office. What is the justification for this Bill? If anybody could have influenced hon. Members to vote for it I am sure the promoter would have done so, but even his arguments failed to convince us. In fact, he did not give many arguments in favour of the detailed proposals of the Bill, and the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard), who seconded it did not give any reasons at all why it should he passed. I have taken the trouble to look into the history of this matter. The conditions of employment in offices have only twice been the subject of investigation. Before the War factory inspectors inquired into the question of extending the Factory Acts to typewriting offices and similar offices. They did not at that 787 time consider such extension necessary or desirable. Six years ago another investigation was made by one of the medical officers of the Ministry of Health. The results of that investigation were summarised in the report for 1928 of the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health, and I quote from pages 232–3 of his Report for that year. I ought to preface these quotations by saying that there have been some doubts about the powers of inspection by local authorities. In some towns there was a certain measure of routine inspection, but in other towns inspections were made only after complaint had been lodged. Sir George Newman said in that Report:Examination has been made of complaints submitted over a period of time in representative large towns. The volume of complaint is limited. The highest figure in any of those towns over a period of two years" is 80, but in 17 of 21 towns tile average is less than 10, and from 10 the return is nil. Most of the complaints are concerned with unsatisfactory or insufficient sanitary accommodation and defective drainage, or with such nuisances as offensive smells, accumulations of refuse, rats, etc. It is exceptional to find any reference to such conditions as ventilation, lighting and cleanliness. It cannot be said from the evidence that the number and type of complaints brought to notice reveal a large volume of serious defects.He goes on to sayMost of the medical officers of health consulted doubt whether systematic inspection is necessary, or whether the results would be proportionate to the time and expense involved. Much might be doneI wish the House to mark these words—
if defects were brought to the notice of the public health department. In the view of the Ministry the term 'workplace'and this is a justification of what I said a few minutes agoincludes an office, and local sanitary authorities have, therefore, all the necessary powers of entry.That is a very important statement, and the Home Office agree absolutely with regard to what is said about a workplace being an office. It is true that Sir George Newman drew attention to the necessity of some special consideration being given to basements, but there was no evidence of abuses such as would justify so drastic a measure as the present one. The proposals in this Bill are based upon the restrictive code found necessary for factories and for work-. 788 shops They ignore completely the recommendations of the Select Committee on Shop Assistants, which reported in 1931, although I should have thought that the conditions in offices approximate more closely to conditions in shops than to conditions in factories. The hon. Member for Westhoughton, who backs this Bill, was a Member of that Select Committee on Shop Assistants and signed a report which included a new definition of the term "shop assistant." Paragraph 75 of that report saysThe term 'shop assistant' should be defined as 'any person wholly or mainly employed in connection with any shop for the serving of customers or the receipt of orders or the collection, despatch, or delivery of goods or in any clerical capacity.'I repeat "or in any clerical capacity." What did my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton and his friends recommend with regard to a shop which should apply also to an office? On page 72 of the Report these words are found:They accordingly recommend that provisions similar to those contained in Part I of the Factory and Workshop Act of 1901 so far as they deal with conditions relating to health and welfare, but of a more general and less detailed character, should be extended to all shops and warehouses.Let the House note the words "more general and less detailed character". Then they also saidYour Committee concur that the application to shops of many of the detailed Orders made under the Act of 1901 would be undesirable.And further they saidYour Committee are of opinion that it is enough to require that heating, lighting, ventilation, sanitation, washing accommodation and other amenities in a shop should be suitable and sufficient having regard to the nature of each individual shop.That was the view of the hon. Member for Westhoughton not very long ago, that was the definite recommendation of the Select Committee to which he was pleased to append his signature. There is a great change to-day. Then, only three years ago, it was enough to require that the heating, ventilation, etc. should be suitable and sufficient, but apparently that is now totally insufficient to satisfy the hon. Member. To-day he must have inspectors to ascertain when the offices were painted, when the windows were last cleaned, to calculate air space, and to ascertain whether doors open inwards or outwards. He must have inspectors to satisfy themselves at all times that offices 789 are free from effluvia. All offices are to have an adequate supply of pure drinking water. The inspectors are to perform many other duties.
The Bill goes even farther than the Factory Act or than the Labour Party's Bill, which was introduced when they were in office a few years ago. In the Act, and in the Bill, there is a power to exempt a factory from for example the requirement of lime-washing. There is no power of that kind in this Measure. Clause 2, Sub-section (1) and (2) contains a provision for a minimum standard of 500 cubic feet per person during the day; if the room is used for 15 hours a day continuously, the minimum must be 1,000 cubic feet per person, irrespective of the amount of ventilation. That is far in excess of anything we find in factory legislation, and of the proposals of the Factory Bill introduced in May, 1924, by the right hon. Member for the Clay Cross Division (Mr. A. Henderson) supported by the hon. Member for Westhoughton whom I see on the front bench opposite me this afternoon.
Surely this Bill is rather advanced. It says, among other things, that no person under the age of 16 years may be employed in an office under any conditions, and yet it is open to those same young persons to take employment in factories and in shops. Clause 71 of the Factories Bill of 1924 says that a child—the definition of a child is "one who has not attained the age of 14"—shall not be employed in a factory or about the business of any factory.I would ask the House to think of the absurdity. The present Offices Bill proposes that a young person from 14 to 16 years of age shall not be employed in an office, and yet under the Factories Bill of 1924 a young person could have been so employed in a factory, and can be employed in a factory to-day. I should have thought that if it be unhealthy to have employment in an office, it was equally unhealthy to have employment in a factory.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
Will the right hon. Gentleman pardon me for a moment? He taunted me a moment or two ago that I had signed the report of the Select Committee on Shop Assistants, and with the fact that the Select Committee's report proposed certain conditions for offices and shops. He 790 does not like this Bill about offices; do I understand by implication that it is the intention of the Government to implement the recommendation of the Select Committee on Shop Assistants in respect of offices?
§ Mr. HACKING
The hon. Member will have seen the Bill introduced into another place. If he reads it he will see that offices within the premises of shops are included in its provisions.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I quite understand the provisions of the Bill which is now in another place, but that Bill deals with clerks employed in connection with shops, even with the new definition. What I was asking the right hon. Member, since he has been taunting me that I signed that Report is: Does that imply that the Government are going to implement that Report in respect of offices other than in connection with shops?
§ Mr. HACKING
The Bill that has been introduced in another place deals with shops and with offices which are part of the shop premises and it would not be possible to extend the scope of the Shops Bill so as to include offices connected with industry.
§ Mr. THORNE
The Factory Acts apply in the workshop, but upstairs where the clerical assistants are working, it does not apply at all. That may happen in shops.
§ Mr. HACKING
I am quite aware that there is a difference between an office and a workshop under the Factory Acts, but I do not think that that point has any connection with the argument which I have just used. What I have said is that in an office connected with a workshop you would not be able under this Bill to employ a person under 16 years of age, whereas the existing law says that in the workshop, or the factory itself, you can employ a person under the age of 16. I should have thought that that was an anomaly which could not be justified in this House.
Clause 9 of the Bill says that no person under 18 years of age may be employed after 9 o'clock in the evening, or on Sunday, or for more than four hours without an interval of one hour for a meal. That again goes far beyond anything in existing legislation. Moreover, that provision cuts right across the Bill which has been 791 introduced in another place in connection with shops, and to which I understand the hon. Member for Westhoughton will give some measure of support. That Bill restricts the hours of work of young persons in shops. It includes young persons employed in office work in retail shops and also reduces the period which may be worked without a meal interval. I do not wish the House to get the impression that we have not full sympathy with certain points, and probably with the general principles, which are contained in the Bill now before us. We have full sympathy with the intention of the hon. Member and that has been borne out by the introduction of the Shops Bill, which deals with certain offices in a way which I believe will gain the approval of all sides of the House. The proposals of the Bill which we are now discussing would not only involve a tax upon trade and commerce—not that that is an undesirable thing necessarily if the cause is good—but it will also involve a heavy expenditure by local authorities in connection with the appointment of officials.
Clause 23 of the Bill must also be taken into account, because it provides that the Bill shall apply to offices occupied or used for employment by or under the Grown. This Clause encroaches possibly unknown to the hon. Member upon the prerogative of the Crown and raises a very important question of principle. As at present advised, the Government could not see their way to recommend to His Majesty that assent should be given to the proposal contained in this Clause. In any event, Clause 23 is unworkable, and it could not stand as at present drafted. It treats the head of each Department as the person responsible for the structure and the condition of any office used by any particular Government Department. The hon. Member must know, and I am sure that the House realises, that in practice and in fact, the Commissioners of Works are responsible for all Government buildings. Under this Bill each Department would be bound by local by-laws, and be under the jurisdiction of local sanitary authorities. Assuming that Clause 23 were amended to make the Commissioners of Works responsible, under the definition of "employer," contained in the definition Clause, and assuming that the Commissioners of Works had the responsibility for all these 792 offices as an employer, it would still be difficult to administer. I hope the hon. Member will try to imagine the confusion that would be caused to the Office of Works, with a large number of offices in every part of the country, by having to work under the authority of very many different local sanitary officers, each of whom would be granted a very wide discretion under this Bill. It would be quite hopeless for any Commissioner of Works to understand what was going on and the different conditions which were being enforced in different parts of the country; it would be hopeless for him to try to carry on under such conditions.
I do not know who drafted this Bill, but I would venture to suggest that, whoever it was, his vocation as a draftsman has been wasted. He would have been far better employed, in my submission, in writing a humorous sketch for Mr. George Robey, or a leading article in some children's comic journal. No Member of this House would be prepared to support or advocate bad conditions, wherever they might exist, whether in offices or elsewhere. Bad conditions should be swept away, and personally I am surprised that any employer should cause anybody to work under unhealthy or dirty conditions.
As I have said, the Government have every sympathy with the hon. Member's intention, but that is as far as we can go. Local authorities have, I submit, adequate powers of entering into offices today. The then Minister of Health, in reply to a Question in this House on the 27th February, 1928, advised local authorities, on inquiry, that they had powers to undertake systematic inspection of offices as well as inspection on complaint. That answer, given deliberately in this House, seemed to clear up quite definitely any possible misunderstanding as to the rights of inspection which might previously have been present in the mind of any local authority in the country. It is doubtful whether anything more is needed to deal with the regulation of offices than the full application of the sanitary provisions of the existing Public Health Acts. The Government, at any rate, are satisfied that there is no evidence of abuses that would justify the placing on the Statute Book of so drastic a Measure as this, and, consequently, while having every sympathy with the intention of the hon. Mem- 793 ber who introduced the Measure, their advice to the House is that the Bill should be rejected.
§ 1.28 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel SANDEMAN ALLEN
I should like to support this Measure, because I consider that its objects are very good, but the methods by which those objects are to be attained are so appalling that I cannot possibly support the Bill as drafted. The destruction of business that would result from it can hardly bear contemplation. Every working man in a small garage where there is an office inside the garage is subject, from the smell of petrol or something like that, to the "other nuisance" referred to in Subsection (1, b) of Clause 1. If that expression were taken literally, it would mean that if your office boy had a dirty neck he would (have to go and wash it. The Bill is absolutely ridiculous in heaps of ways.
For instance, I would suggest to the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) that Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 would cover election committee rooms during an election, and the hon. Gentleman would find himself in considerable trouble as a consequence; while the provision in Clause 9 prohibiting the employment of people under 18 after nine p.m. would affect all voluntary canvassers, and all persons under the age of 18 who were so employed would find themselves in severe trouble. Throughout the Bill there are the most ridiculous anomalies. The building trade would come in for a fortune if the Measure were passed, because in practically every office in the Kingdom there would be something wrong; but the dislocation of normal business activities would be such that the trade of the country would be almost completely ruined. I must say I am delighted to think that the wonderful tunnel which is being constructed under the Mersey is going to be finished before this Measure comes into operation, because Clause 3 provides that:No underground room shall be used as an office unless it was so used at the passing of this Act.If that tunnel were opened in 1935, after this Bill had become an Act, and if there were an underground office in the tunnel, the Corporations of Liverpool and Birkenhead would be completely "euchred"; they would not be able to 794 use the office at all. That is the sort of ridiculous drafting that one finds in the Bill. Clause 23 says:This Act shall not apply to offices occupied solely by persons employed in the naval, military or air forces of the Crown, or in a police force.What would happen to civilian employés in the Territorial Army who were put into a canvas office or an office in barracks which probably might not comply with the Act? Would it be necessary to rebuild all the Territorial offices in this country in order to comply with the Act? No matter where you turn in the Bill, you find, in one Clause after another, provisions so ridiculous that really they are not worth close study. For instance, Clause 16 says:If complaint that an office is not kept in conformity with this Act is made in writing to the local sanitary authority by the owner or occupier thereof, or by a person who is or has at any time during the six months preceding the date of such complaint been employed in such office, or the authorised agent of such owner, occupier, or person, the local sanitary authority shall afford reasonable facilities to such owner, occupier, person or authorised agent to appear before it or a committee appointed for that purpose and by himself and others to support such complaint.That would mean that every office boy who wanted to create a disturbance could immediately write to the sanitary authority, get an inquiry, and have people running round and disturbing the employer for no reason at all. Whichever Clause you look at in the Bill, you find difficulties which are practically insurmountable, and I submit that it would be a grave error on the part of the House to take any notice of the Bill at all. Its objects are worthy objects, but the methods of attaining them are so ridiculous as not to be worthy of the consideration of the House. Therefore, I support the Amendment.
§ 1.34 p.m.
§ Sir FRANCIS FREMANTLE
I rise with mixed feelings to speak on this Measure, because for a considerable period, certainly for eight years, I have taken a considerable part in bringing to the notice of successive Ministers of Health and Governments the necessity for some legislative or administrative action in regard to the particular evil which the Bill seeks to remedy. I cannot say that I approve of or support either this Bill on the one hand, or the Amendment on the other. My hon. Friend the 795 Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), being in a holiday mood, made fun of certain extreme aspects of the Measure, but it is fairly obvious that that could be done with pretty nearly any Measure under the sun. It is quite easy to pick out one particular application of one particular detail of a Bill and show that it would be an absurdity. Obviously, in the 10 minutes or so which my hon. Friend devoted to the Bill, he was in a holiday mood, and his remarks must not be taken very seriously.
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
What does the hon. Gentleman mean by "holiday"? Is not this a working day of Parliament?
§ Sir F. FREMANTLE
Yes, but not for the hon. Member for South Croydon, apparently. It is clear that any measure dealing with sanitation has to be taken with a grain of salt. It is because it is able to be administered in a humane and sensible way by local sanitary authorities that you can get over the obvious anomalies that may be introduced if on the whole your measure is in the right direction. There is no question that there is very serious reason for disturbance as regards the health of those working in some of the offices in which the clerical profession work, but even that is not so easy to prove. I went very thoroughly into the matter with the life tables in the census in 1921, and I was given most elaborate figures as regards the comparative health, firstly for all cases, and secondly, as regards phthisis, of those included in the clerical profession working in offices. If you take clerks as a whole, at some ages they show a worse mortality, both from phthisis and general mortality, than the figures for all occupied and retired males. That would be given by some people as the natural clinching figure, but it is not, because, on the other hand, with regard to the higher ages, from 35 upwards, the mortality, both phthisis and general mortality, of clerks as a whole is considerably better than that for all occupied and retired males.
So if we want to get at the truth, we have to analyse the figures and take them for different classes. The reason for the anomaly is that some clerks are housed in their offices extremely well and others 796 extremely badly. If you take the figures for commercial clerks generally, still more for bank officials and clerks, insurance officials and clerks, and railway officials and clerks, you get different figures. The figures for banks, insurance and railways are better than for all occupied and retired men, but if you take commercial clerks you get a considerably worse figure. As always happens when dealing with vital statistics, when you have made an elaborate study of them, you come to the conclusion that you have to go out by the same door that you went in. In other words, you can arrive at the same conclusions by common sense. If you are working in any of the good offices that exist, your health is as good as if you were working anywhere else, say, for instance, in the library of this House. On the other hand, the position in many offices is very bad. The instance given by the hon. Member who spoke last of an office spatchcocked into a little garage is about as bad as it can be. A man sets up a garage, perhaps hiring out cars, and he has to do it as cheaply as possible. He puts up a little tin shed in a corner and hires the cheapest typist he can. Those are bad conditions which no one can support. The same thing will happen with old factories and workshops which may have to have clerical offices which were never required in days gone by when the proprietor worked his own factory, and did his office business in his own house. The same factories nowadays have to have clerks and offices have to be fitted into the building somehow.
There is very great need of attending to the condition of offices in a large number of cases. I took the matter up some years ago, and I applied to the Medical Officer of Health for the City of London, who sent me a memorandum which he had issued in 1913, and also up-to-date figures and experience. They were what you would expect from a man of that sort. They were very reasonable. He was not a man who would ever go off the deep end by suggesting impracticable things, nor would he be satisfied by allowing to continue conditions which he felt were injurious. He was a man of very high standing professionally who was expected to make his report thoroughly, and he did it without any regard to the ulterior influences that might be brought to bear for and against what 797 he suggested. The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Thorne) seemed to take the credit to his party for having taken the initiative in this matter. We all know the interest that Miss Wilkinson took in it, but that was not original. We go back anyhow to 1912, when Lord Salisbury introduced a Bill in the House of Lords which included the question in the general provision of shops and workhouses. The definition of underground workrooms may not be altogether regarded with favour, but it is not enough to say that underground offices are necessarily bad. We are used to living in congested quarters rather than going to garden cities, as I should like people to do, so we must be content with being crammed into high buildings using the space underground as well as the space above ground. There is no question that you can perfectly well make a basement healthy, but it has got to be made healthy. It is not intrinsically healthy if regard is not had to the requirements of ventilation, lighting and so on, but there is no reason why you should condemn all underground offices as such. Dr. Howarth's conclusion, after referring to various minor points which required attention, was,This is sufficient to indicate the importance of the subject and, as most workers in the City live outside the City boundaries the responsibility of ensuring that they pass their working life under satisfactory conditions is not one that can be disregarded or passed over lightly.The War came and put an end to his activities at that time, but the matter was taken up again after the War. The history is very much the same as has come out in the course of this Debate. It is as well to remember that there is much more certainty now with regard to the conditions than there used to be.
The matter was first gone into as regards the demand for legislation in 1912. Some hon. Members may remember the case of Powell against the Junior Army and Navy Stores in 1912, in which the complainant claimed damages, alleging that he had become consumptive from the neglect by the defendants of their duties as employers to provide reasonable and proper accommodation. The case resulted in judgment being given for the defendants. The Home Secretary at the time was Mr. McKenna who was asked by Mr. Ponsonby whether he would introduce legislation to deal with the 798 subject of clerks and typists who were forced to work in dangerous and insanitary surroundings. He replied that sanitary conditions in offices and similar places came under the general legislation regarding the public health, and that he would consult the President of the Local Government Board as to whether the existing powers were sufficient.
The view taken by the Local Government Board was that, if offices and premises were in such a state as to be a nuisance or injurious to health, they should be dealt with under Section 91 of the Public Health Act, 1875, to which reference has been made to-day, and by the provisions of the Public Health (London) Act, 1891, which empowers local authorities to take action not only where conditions are such as to be offensive and dangerous to the health of neighbours, but also where the conditions injure the health of the workers themselves. They really did not receive, either as the Local Government Board or since as the Ministry of Health, nor did the local authorities apparently, many complaints to investigate.
From 1912 onwards a resolution in favour of legislation has been passed each year by the Trades Union Congress. The position was perhaps stated as well as it has been stated by anyone in a letter which I received from the National Federation of Professional Workers in; 1927. They put it in a modest and sensible way, and said that, while the majority of offices were as well ventilated, lighted, heated and provided with sanitary amenities as the present circumstances would allow, there remained a very large number which were overcrowded and unprovided with sanitary conveniences, badly ventilated and inadequately lighted and heated and so on. The latest available official mortality statistics show, as I have said, that there is a serious state of affairs. The Diseases Regulation Bill sought to remedy the worst of the evils, and I was asked for my support of the Bill, which was practically the same Bill as that which we have to-day with one or two Amendments.
§ Sir F. FREMANTLE
It is the same legislation, and the same propaganda goes round in support of it each year. Therefore, from the actual machinery employed it appears that the matter has not really been considered since as applied to recent experience, but the matter was not allowed to rest either by myself or my hon. Friends on the opposite side of the House, because we did not care to leave the position as it was. In 1923, a Bill was introduced by the late Mr. William Graham which sought to apply factory legislation to offices. The Bill made no progress. In 1924 a Bill was introduced by Mr. Romerill, and a deputation went to the Prime Minister for the purpose of urging the Government to take up the Bill. Whether they would have done so or not, we do not know because the General Election intervened and brought it to an end. In 1925 a private Member's Bill was introduced, but it was thought that the proposals were too sweeping to be effected by a private Member's Bill in much the same way as the Bill introduced to-day is considered to be too sweeping for a private Member's Bill. Since then the Government has been asked repeatedly in the House of Commons whether they would introduce legislation for the protection of office workers. They went into the matter. A Committee of our party of which I had the honour to be Chairman took a deputation to the Minister, and I also saw him and had correspondence with him on the subject.
The matter was brought before the Minister by the Boroughs of Hackney and Bermondsey who urged the Government to introduce legislation granting to local sanitary authorities powers for the inspection and supervision of offices in this way. Obviously, the Minister wanted to know how far this sort of thing would apply to other boroughs, and the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee took the matter up. They were asked in what respect the existing law was found to be defective. They went into the matter and found that it was not easy to make the case sure. On the 12th June, 1925, a deputa- 800 tion from the Trades Union Congress was received by the Home Secretary, and they directed attention to the Resolution of the Congress urging that facilities should be given to Mr. Romerill's Bill, and the Home Secretary held out no opportunity for such facilities being given. He urged particularly at that time the difficulty of imposing any further expense—it would undoubtedly have been an expense—upon commercial firms who had great difficulty in making ends meet. That is not a particular point which affects perhaps myself, or my colleagues the medical officers of health, or those who desire this Bill.
I hope that that will not be allowed to weigh very much with the Government in any action that we may ask them to take in this matter at the present time. There is no question that matters are so serious in bad offices, and they ought not to be allowed to stand in the way any more than bad housing or slum clearance. As the Government have shown that it is necessary to take up slum clearance despite vested interests, and very often, quite rightly, the interests of owners of property, it is equally necessary in the matter of offices, and questions of inconvenience can only be met by laying down the duty absolutely clearly, by defining it, and giving the administration to the local sanitary authorities, who, I am certain, would be very lenient in the interpretation of the law, though, I should hope, firm.
That is how the matter was left at the time the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee took up the question to try and decide whether the word "place"—to which the Minister of Health and the Home Secretary agreed, and to which they agree to-day—should not be interpreted so as to include offices. They wanted to be certain that that was the case. Eventually they sought the views of local authorities. Replies were received from 26 councils, and 18 of them supported the representations that some further legislation was required, believing that they were not sure of their ground, and the remaining eight borough councils found no difficulty with regard to the inspection of offices. The Committee again gave consideration to the question and asked 801 the Minister of Health to introduce legislation to make sure on the point. The Minister of Health, in his reply, pointed out the points of the law which had already been made by my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Home Affairs, showing fairly clearly that in London sections of the Public Health (London) Act as well as the Public Health Act, 1875, cover offices. In the circumstances the Minister said: that hewould be glad to be informed of specific instances in which the powers have been exercised with regard to offices, and have been found defective.
§ Sir F. FREMANTLE
I will touch upon that point later. I am dealing with London at the moment. In regard to London, obviously, there would be no object in legislating further if the powers exist and are not carried out. The important thing is to make the authorities carry them out. As certain metropolitan boroughs have said that further powers are required it is for them to show why they are required and to demonstrate that the powers they have are not sufficient. If on the other hand the powers are sufficient then they are failing in their duty. As a result of inquiries made by the Committee it was found to be doubtful whether an office or a lock-up shop was a workshop or a workplace, and it was suggested that there should be a test case. In certain boroughs the medical officers went in to make their inspection and found that they were not impeded in their duty. There was a correspondence between the Minister and myself on the subject. It was agreed that there should be a test case, and the inspectors went but nobody would bring the test case. Therefore, the Minister had to make up his mind what to do. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in the habit of doing, he made up his mind clearly and definitely, and in a letter on 4th February, 1926, he stated that in view of the decision in the case of Bennett v. Hardy in 1900 it appeared that Section 2 was wide enough to cover the premises referred to.
Nothing further has happened since then. Therefore we may take it as perfectly clear that as regards London the Metropolitan Boroughs have complete 802 power. If they have complete power, they have complete responsibility for dealing with the subject. I think that if the ordinary course of the law was brought into operation by those who are so keen on getting this new legislation, the object would be served. Instead of promoting fresh legislation it would be better to put into operation the existing legislation, because fresh legislation will only add to the confuson which medical officers of health and others experience. Instead of having extra legislation with extra officials if the authorities will bring matters to the court which they have every right and every power to do we should achieve our object. Otherwise, complaints should be made to the Minister of Health and we should insist on those who are responsible carrying out their duties. I understand the Under Secretary to say that expression "workplace" in the Public Health Act, 1875, applies to other towns as well as London.
§ Mr. HACKING
What I intended to convey was that the Government view is that the expression "workplace" used in the Act of 1875 applies to all offices all over the country, and we submit that the powers of inspection apply also.
§ Sir F. FREMANTLE
It is true that the sanitary authority through its sanitary officer has power to go into any place whore a nuisance is suspected, but the difficulty is that he cannot go into a place with a view to seeing if there is a nuisance or not. I think it has been clearly and definitely established that except under the Public Health Act outside London he has no power of general inspection. He has only the power of going in where he suspects a nuisance. It is not easy to suspect a nuisance without having a complaint. You cannot expect the young clerk to complain, even if he or she knew to whom they could complain. If he or she made a complaint they would not be very popular with the employer. Generally, people are accustomed to inspections of houses and they expect the sanitary officials to come along, but the ordinary clerk feels helpless in a matter of this kind. It is a matter for the sanitary authority but it does not come into the hands of the sanitary authority unless they have some other power. It is necessary to get some other power and it would not be difficult 803 to give that power. It would not require the large Measure that we are considering to-day.
I appeal to hon. Members on the other side who, like myself, are enthusiastic in their desire to promote the health of the people and to do away with abuses, to take it from me as an experienced medical officer that one of the great difficulties with which we are confronted in doing our work, and one of the difficulties experienced by the sanitary authorities in doing their work, is that there has been too much overlapping legislation. It happens so often that a new law is brought in with machinery which seems good in order to correct particular abuses, but in order to do that one has to give special power and to create special officers, as this Bill proposes. Then the authority charged with carrying out the Act becomes so interested in the new law—if they do become interested—and in the new officers that there is a tendency for them to forget some of the other laws that they ought to be carrying out. A large amount of legislation has been passed already to deal with nuisances but those nuisances continue to exist because the authorities do not carry out the powers that they already possess. A great mass of the difficulties that arise and the serious danger to the health of the people through bad office accommodation could be dealt with under existing powers.
I hope that the Minister of Health as a result of to-day's Debate will be able to take further administrative action in order that more attention may be paid to bad conditions in certain places. I should have thought that it would require more definite evidence, more precise evidence, than we have had to-day of the actual injury to health before we pass any further legislation on the lines of this Bill. If the National Association of Professional Workers or if the trade unions would give definite evidence and bring before the Minister of Health, I think we should find that they would be doing good work and probably the Minister of Health would take further steps to get the law put into action. I beleive the law would be found sufficient to do what is required. As vice-president of the Royal Sanitary Institute, having been on its 804 council and its Parliamentary Committee for a long time, I had a letter from that institute, at the beginning of February, in which they give support to this Bill, somewhat on the general lines that I have been making, and say that greater powers are required by health authorities to deal with insanitary conditions in offices. I have given my reasons for believing that that is required but more on the lines of a general carrying out of the existing law. After the extremely useful discussion that we have had to-day I think the matter might be left there. I do not think it would be a good thing to spend time in the Committee upstairs in further discussion of the details of this Measure.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Mr. HICKS
I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) on having brought the Debate back to realities. The Trade Union Congress, the Clerks' Association and the Women Clerks and Professional Workers' Association are not yet satisfied that the grievances under which they suffer can be adequately dealt with under the present laws, by approaching municipal authorities in order to get the sanitary authorities to inspect the premises and see that the persons employed are working under healthy conditions. This matter has been seriously considered by the trade unions for many years. They have sent deputations to the Home Office and other Government Departments asking for their help and support, showing that this is a matter that has exercised their minds for years past. They feel that existing legislation is not equal to the task. We are indebted to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department for giving us a definition of "working place." He says that there has been no test case, and that it might not be so favourably interpreted if there was a test case, but I am sure that we shall take advantage of the statement he has made and utilise it for the purpose of seeing that many of the present undesirable conditions under which thousands of clerks are compelled to work are rectified. So far representations have not brought any redress.
We are, of course, quite willing to listen to any practical amendment which is submitted in order to bring the Bill 805 into line with what we desire to accomplish. It has been suggested that the language and phraseology of the Bill are such that it does not give us that for which we are asking. The aim of the Bill is simple. It is to see that the health of all workers in offices is reasonably safeguarded. The Registrar-General some time ago, for the purpose of finding out the relative state of health in various groups of workers classified the people of Great Britain into 180 different groups, giving one as the most healthy occupation and going up to 180. Commercial clerks are as high as 129. It is true that general clerks are not as high, they are somewhere about 80, but as far as ordinary clerks in offices are concerned the general method is that before you engage a clerk, apart from his capacity to meet your requirements, you ask him to supply a medical certificate of good health before engaging him, and that presupposes that you are engaging someone in a first class state of health. Even in the case of ordinary clerks they figure at 80. Some figures have been given to me by the General Secretary of the Clerks Union, taken from the Registrar-General's Report, and they show that one out of every four deaths is due to consumption, 25 per cent., and that one-third of the deaths amongst clerks are due to some form of pulmonary disease. More than 50 per cent. of those who die of consumption are between the ages of 20 and 35.
§ Sir F. FREMANTLE
The hon. Member must realise, on the other hand, that a larger proportion of men of weak constitution go in for clerical work than for other occupations which require people of a sounder constitution. That vitiates his figures to some extent.
§ Mr. HICKS
That may be so, but the figures are so astonishing and so terrible that they should be a sufficient stimulus to anyone interested in this matter, and who has the power and authority, to stop at nothing in order to remedy such an undesirable state of affairs. An enormous quantity of information has been given to me concerning these workers. I do not propose to read it, but terrible facts are revealed as to the conditions under which many clerks are working. It would be easy to select quotations showing that many of the 806 offices are dark, damp and dirty. They ask that something should be done on their behalf.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and 40 Members being presen—
§ Mr. HACKING
The hon. Member says that he has had many complaints. I should like to ask whether these complaints have been submitted to the local authority, who can deal with them if they are brought to their notice.
§ Mr. HICKS
The description given to me is that of offices which are generally regarded as overcrowded and unhealthy. I am not able to answer his question immediately, as to whether they have been submitted to local authorities. My point was that if the clerical workers belonged to trade unions in sufficient numbers it would be relatively easy to get their grievances ventilated, but the fact is that these young men and women, who are in many cases employed in ones or twos or threes or fours, are not organised as they should be. But that does not absolve us of responsibility in the matter. We know that the conditions under which thousands of these clerks work are eminently undesirable. All of us want to pay a tribute to those employers and industries that have good offices, and we are all sorry to know that there are so many of the other type. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for St. Albans say that as we had now proclaimed war on the slums we should at the same time engage in a campaign against slum offices. I beg the House to believe that the sponsors of the Bill do not feel that existing legislation is equal to the task of getting grievances remedied. If present legislation was sufficient we would utilise it. Because it is not sufficient it is necessary to have a Bill of this kind.
§ 2.18 p.m.
§ Mr. McENTEE
As one who has worked in offices that are good and in offices that are bad, I feel I would not be doing my duty to those who have worked with me in the past without emphasising the point already made as to the necessity for improvement. Every speaker whom I have heard, including the Under-Secretary, admits that there is to-day a very serious condition in a considerable number of offices. The Minister appeared to believe 807 that if existing powers were exercised the evil conditions could be removed almost entirely, if not entirely. Every professional organisation that numbers clerks among its members has endeavoured to operate the existing law, and has found that in spite of its efforts the evil still exists. The Trade Unions Congress is an active organisation and in regard to industries uses the existing law very effectively in order to obtain better conditions for the workers in industry. Is it not reasonable, therefore, to believe that if it had been possible to exercise the law in the same way with regard to the clerical profession it would have been exercised before now? The experience of the associations of clerical workers and of the Trade Unions Congress is that in spite of every effort they have been able to make within the existing law they have not been able to touch the evil conditions that prevail. Some strengthening of the law is therefore desirable.
I think the Under-Secretary might have gone further than he went. The Minister of Health has certain powers in cases where local authorities do not put the existing law into operation and where an evil is proved to exist. Would it not be possible for the Ministry of Health and the Home Office to point out to local authorities that in their view the evils exist and that the existing law could be exercised to a greater extent in order to remedy the evils? If that were done local authorities would have a wider conception of their duties and some of them might exercise the powers that they possess. The hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) has had a very wide experience in these matters, but having listened to his speech I was left somewhat doubtful as to what he believed. In one part he seemed to agree that there was necessity for a strengthening of the law. He did not agree with the Bill, for he thought that if put into operation it might have serious effects in a direction opposite to that which was intended. But he did say that there was a necessity for some alteration of the law. Towards the end he appeared rather to go the other way and to say that any improvement of the law might complicate matters still further.
The speech of one hon. Member surprised me. He gave the instance of the 808 Mersey Tunnel. He said that this Bill was so ridiculous that if it became law and an office was created in the new Mersey Tunnel, that office would be condemned because it was underground. I do not know that even that would be a great disadvantage to the Mersey Tunnel or any similar tunnel. After all, there is an end to a tunnel, and it would be quite easy to have an office outside the tunnel. Really it was a very extreme example that the hon. Member gave and in my view it was a very ridiculous one. It is admitted that there is an evil. No speaker has said definitely that there is no evil or that there is no need for action by Parliament and the local authorities to redress that evil. Everybody at least pays lip service to the principle of the Bill in admitting the unsatisfactory conditions under which many men and women are working in offices to-day. Surely it is the duty of Parliament to see that those conditions are remedied.
It is said that this Bill is bady drafted. I do not profess to have any special capacity for drafting Bills, but I am prepared to admit that if I were drafting this Bill myself, I would make it much simpler. But it requires expert knowledge to draft a Bill. Those who introduce Bills in this House frequently admit that those Bills are not well drafted and ask the Government to help in improving them. If the Government gave favourable consideration to the Bill, it could be knocked into shape in Committee with the aid of the Government draftsmen, and made a useful Measure. I think the Government might have supported the Bill to that extent, since it is for the purpose of remedying an evil which they admit. I hope they will yet see their way to give facilities to a Bill which would be of great advantage to a very large number of deserving citizens in this country.
§ 2.29 p.m.
§ Mr. ANNESLEY SOMERVILLE
The hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) and the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) have given us arguments in favour of a Bill of this kind, but not in favour of the Bill which is before us. The hon. Member for West Walthamstow admitted that this Bill has faults and said that if he had the drafting of it, he would make it much simpler. I suggest that hon. Members opposite should withdraw this Bill and produce 809 that simpler Bill of which the hon. Member spoke. This is one of those Bills for which one feels an instinctive sympathy. I have always felt great sympathy with those who are tied to office stools throughout their working lives. The Under-Secretary for the Home Office and also the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) have, however, give us very strong reasons to show that this Bill is unworkable.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Members in question must be aware of the fact that they cannot read newspapers in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am well aware of the rule, Mr. Speaker, and I do not think I was guilty of breaking it. My hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) and I were discussing the points of a speech to be delivered on this Bill. We were looking up certain facts in the "New Leader" which is the official organ of the party which we represent in this House. I always imagined that it was within the rights of a Member of this House to consult any journal which he felt should be consulted in connection with his work here. I can assure you, Sir, that it was no part of our intention to break the Rules of the House by reading the ordinary current news of the ordinary daily newspaper.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think there is a particular Rule about any particular paper. This is a general Rule.
§ Mr. A. SOMERVILLE
I was dealing with the point that the supporters of the Bill pleaded for a Second Reading in order that it might be amended into a workable Bill in Committee upstairs. It seems to me that it would be impossible to make this Bill workable without altering its whole principle. The hon. Member for West Walthamstow said that he had worked in good offices anl bad offices. It would be interesting to know whether some of the bad offices were Government offices.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
That is a useful admission. It would be easy, I am sure, in this city to take Members round to offices which are supposed to be of the best order, but which would not fulfil the conditions of this Bill. If the Bill were passed, it would necessitate the transformation of a large number of first-class offices, including, I understand, some of the rooms in this building. That may be a desirable thing but my point is that if we give the Bill a Second Reading and send it upstairs, it will be necessary to transform it to such an extent that its own promoters will not know it.
The Bill proposes to deal with underground offices. Many underground offices are pleasant and sanitary and many overground offices are the reverse. It may be said that the power to decide is put into the hands of the local authority. That is one of the weaknesses of the Bill. It affords the power to the sanitary authority of interfering where its interference is not warranted. A further complaint against the Bill is that it creates another class of inspectors. We are becoming over-inspected and if the process continues the result will be that half the population will spend their time inspecting the other half, and that other half will have to work hard in order to maintain the inspectors. As to the point about complaints, that provision in the Bill gives the opportunity to anyone who has a grudge against the owner of an office, for instance some employé who has been dismissed, to bring a complaint which might be a serious cause of annoyance to a deserving person. These are points which deserve consideration, and I repeat my request to hon. Members opposite to withdraw this Bill and to produce something simpler which we can all support and which will be of real use to those whom we earnestly desire to help.
§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Sir WILFRID SUGDEN
It is not often that I find myself in opposition to my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville), but on this occasion I regret that I certainly do so. I want to support this Bill. It may be that there are features in it that are not sacrosanct, but I have never seen or heard of a Bill that was perfect on its introduction, and I welcome most warmly the attempt that the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) is making to deal 811 with this most important and vital section of our public and social life. If this Measure had a detrimental effect upon the trade of the country, even although certain parts of it might be admirable, one would have to consider most carefully its interplay and its effects, but I have scrutinised it closely, and I find that it would affect very probable places, for example, where the Crown is a very bad landlord. I know that the Crown desires to be an excellent landlord, but the Crown has presented to certain of its officers the duties and responsibilities of its properties mainly where justice is dispensed, hence the Crown through its officers, of course, cannot in the slightest degree object to being criticised. The Crown is one of the greatest landlords in the country, and I say, with some little knowledge, that it is not the best of landlords either in regard to certain of its properties.
I think the hon. Member for Plaistow has done a very splendid service to his day and generation in introducing this Bill, although, as the hon. Member for Windsor stated, it may have features which are not admirable and which could be eliminated. The Crown, in all its extended ramifications, is responsible for some most disreputable looking police courts, and I could give data in respect to some of the county courts of this country that would shame some of the sweating shops in the Black County, in respect of the sanitary conveniences, and certain other essentials as well, including, lighting and airspace.
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
My right hon. Friend, having a very practical knowledge of the Home Office, will know that things have to be bought and sold in connection with a court of law and that certain departments of the courts are therefore shops in respect to the Shops Act from a health standpoint, even although it be only a matter of pieces of paper on which print has been stamped but which has or has not received a public monetary stamp. Therefore, in regard to justice, there are selling departments which would come under this Bill as shops, and so I differ from my right hon. Friend.
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
No, I was speaking of police courts, not police stations. It is necessary to have certain things in them, and for the purposes of this Bill they are shops. My first desire, therefore, is to see that those associated with these organisations as well as the traders of our country are good landlords, and I welcome most warmly this attempt to deal with this most important question. Secondly, if the Bill had the effect of depreciating any attempt to resuscitate trade and industry, one could feel a tremendous sympathy for those who might make a very strong objection to being further handicapped in respect of industry and trade, but when one considers carefully the balance-sheets of the city proprietors of the offices and suites of offices, when one notices the enormous prices they charge for their premises and the enormous profits that are made by certain associated trust companies which deal mainly with office property in which thousands of my constituents have to work the majority of their working days, one realises that something must be done.
This matter does affect my constituency most profoundly. There are large groups of young people who, as I could prove by the numbers who travel by the trains from Leyton to London, are most assiduous, regular and punctual, many of them passing to their work in the City long before many hon. Members of this House think of rising from their beds. I have a peculairly promising population of young folk in my constituency, and I have had to complain many times to the railway company that as many as 20 of them sometimes have to travel down in a single carriage to their homes after a long and tiring day's work. One has 8,000 or 9,000 men and women coming up to town daily to spend their lives in some of these offices, and it is about time that something was done to see that they were able to work under conditions that are as good as those under which the ordinary unskilled artisan has to work in factories. It is high time that something was done to stop the rather illegitimate profits acquired by reason of non-application of the by-laws which every city possess for supervising the conditions in these offices, but which become a dead letter. If this Bill does 813 anything to awaken some of the local authorities as to their responsibilities in regard to offices, it will do well. Some of these offices are a "nuisance," municipally, as well as legally, and so I support the Bill with very great pleasure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor, who has great experience of these matters, and my hon Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle), who spoke from a medical standpoint would, I am sure, support me when I say that from the medical standpoint, the continued use of underground offices is to be deplored and is making the use of a second type of eyes, namely spectacles, more and more essential. No one can say to what extent underground lighting is causing defective vision in this country and the time is coming when something more should be done than at present obtains to improve the lighting of some of of these underground dens. I use that word definitely, because many of them are dens. While I am not particularly devoted to the wording of Clause 3 or saying that it covers all that is necessary in respect to the lighting of some of these underground offices, at any rate it could be usefully shaped and adapted when it goes to the Committee upstairs or to a Committee of the whole House. Something will have to be done in respect to the eyesight of the workers and particularly of the clerical workers and those who have to occupy these offices especially as closer and more concentrated work is claimed from them.
I am not going to discuss the question of sanitary conveniences on Clause 4, but much requires to be done. I could tell this house of certain very famous centres of our profession where the lawyers' clerks have not always the very best type of suitable sanitary arrangements.
Now what about the Temple? But of course, the Temple is sacrosanct. It is a very interesting place with a remarkable history. I could tell the House something of the Knights Templars who had their assembly places there when Richard Coeur de Lion was dealing with matters in this country in some slight degree but mainly with countries in the East. But that would not directly apply to the Clause dealing with sanitary conveniences at this period. Very helpful work could be done by that Clause if it were applied to certain parts of the Temple enclosures.
814 The Clause dealing with means of escape in case of fire is most important. I wonder if some hon. Members have carefully investigated what would happen if a second Great Fire of London was to happen. Some of us have had experience in dealing with compensation in connection with fire and explosions in, for example, the gas explosion in Holborn, and the collapse of certain offices in the City of London where large numbers of young people were trapped. Again, I myself saw over 200 people passing along a steel girder between one office and another of an important Fire and Life Insurance Company in the City when a fire broke out there and the passages were not available. They were three storeys up from the ground without a sheet underneath to prevent them falling to the ground.
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
No, because many of them were my constituents, and my constituents are invariably in that state of health and mind that their nerves are good and they know how to conduct themselves; they were in such a condition that they were able to escape from the burning part of the building by crossing the girder and landing safely on the other side. If this Bill had been on the Statute Book, they would have been able to get to safety without risk. If my hon. Friend in introducing this Bill has done nothing else but protect the workers in some of our City offices, he will have done a great public service. He does not invariably take the proper political line, but in this case he has a really useful view-point in respect of his constituents and mine.
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
West Willesden shows admirable taste in their choice of Member, but I have known places in Willesden where there is such intense crowding that the working people do not always have the opportunities for light, air and conveniences that they should have. Another matter dealt with by the Bill are the hours of employment. I do 815 not know why these questions of hours of employment of clerical workers and people in offices have not been considered before. Usually the trade unions are very helpful in protecting hours of artizan labour, but they have been very remiss in this matter. They should have been busy long before this on behalf of these clerical and office workers. The hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill is a leader in the Trade Union movement, and I am delighted to support him on this occasion. With the speed lust with which business is conducted to-day there are employers who do make efforts on behalf of the staffs in the offices, but I know offices where the proprietors and owners themselves are able to have certain daily facilities not only in respect of brain recreation, but in respect of digestive recreation; and I say that it is necessary that something should be done so that if there are spells of great activity in the City—I hope they are going to be more and more frequent—there will be proper arrangements in respect of relief or, it may be relief shifts, for these young people who work in artificial light and in conditions which do not give the amount of air which the law allows to a prisoner. If you send a man to prison you are compelled by the law to give him a certain amount of air space. Employers, however, are allowed to put young people into rooms where you would not be allowed to put a prisoner. The time has come when this must be remedied. While every Clause of this admirable Bill cannot be accepted, the Bill is a worthy attempt, and I shall back it and vote for it.
§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Mr. SUMMERSBY
The hon. Member for West Leyton (Sir W. Sugden) has made the best of a bad Bill. I am one of the most patient listeners in the House and I have noticed that when a Member makes a personal reference or refers to anything in his life, it is received with great respect and interest, although sometimes the Member is sorry afterwards that he made the reference. The hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne), when he introduced the Bill, said he had not been to school. Maybe he has not played cricket at Eton and Harrow, nor have I, but he has learned the lesson which they learn at those places, 816 or should learn, namely, the lesson of self-control and how to be a sportsman. He was in great distress when the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) was attacking the Bill in his most able manner. The hon. Member treated it in a somewhat light-hearted way, and I am sure it was done in that way, cleverly as it was, in order to spare the feelings of the hon. Member who had introduced the Bill.
The Bill has mainly been opposed from the legal point of view by Members who have a knowledge, which I admire and envy, of past Acts of Parliament and of the legal aspects of the question. I cannot claim to have such a memory or knowledge from research as to be able to deal with the Bill in that way, but I would not take second place even to the hon. Member for South Croydon in my knowledge of the difficulties that employers have to face and of the effect of legislative restrictions on employment. I have seen so much of the difficulties which the employer has to face in launching out on any enterprise when any fresh legislation is imposed, that I feel it is my duty to those who wish to obtain employment to oppose anything in the way of fresh legislation. We have in this, as in all other matters, to guard against the danger of going from one extreme to the other. Desirable as these things may be—and I know we all desire to see better conditions for the working classes, no matter whether they be factory workers, typists or any other class of workers—it is quite possible that in trying to help them we may do them a very serious injury. After all, what part in commerce or industry does the office take? Is an office the whole part or a very small part?? It may be like an iceberg, which has only a very small part visible above the water, and a very much larger part submerged.
Anyone who has decided to launch out upon some enterprise has, first of all, the difficulty of finding a factory site, and then of dealing with landlords, local bylaws, the borough surveyor, the banker, of ascertaining whether his goods are going to sell, engaging his staff and scores of other difficulties which only the man who is embarking upon an enterprise can realise. Last of all, he says that he must have a head office where he can go himself. Is it realised what amount of persecution he would be under if such a 817 Bill as this became law? It would be quite enough to make him say, "will not embark on the enterprise, but will throw up the whole matter," and perhaps anything from 20 to 100 people might not find employment.
I was called in last week to look at a factory which a friend of mine said she had been carrying on for 12 months. She asked if I could possibly find financial assistance, or help in any way, so that the factory might be kept going a little longer, as she did not want to throw out of work 50 girls who had been very good workers. I advised her to the best of my ability, but I heard next day that she had decided to close down the factory as she could stand it no longer. She told me, "After you left the inspector came in and pointed out that it was so many months or years since I had whitewashed the lower floor, and he insisted on my doing it. We had a bit of a row. It was more than I could stand, so I closed the premises." That is not an extreme case. There is a psychology or mentality running through the whole thing which makes a Bill like this a very damaging thing.
Whole industries have been wiped out of existence by such legislation. Hon. Members will remember what is known as the Truck Act. Thirty years ago every drapers' shop used to have a workroom with 10 to 30 women and girls, who were referred to as dress-makers, until some people discovered, as the hon. Member discovered here, and we already know, that the conditions under which some of them worked were not ideal. An Act of Parliament was passed which enforced certain conditions which made it impossible for their employers to continue to employ the women and girls, and make profit, or indeed anything at all. The result was that all those places were closed down, a tremendous number of people have since been drawing unemployment pay, and a newer generation was prevented from obtaining employment which they would have found were it not for legislation which made it impossible for employers to carry on according to the conditions required.
If the Exchequer cannot find the money, or it is not convenient to make all the employment exchanges healthy according to the requirements of this Bill, I am sure that private owners and 818 individual business men cannot be expected to do so. There is nothing in this Bill to prevent the office boy wiring up the door knobs with electric current and giving everyone a shock. There are many points in the Bill which go very much too far. I do not know how many offices there are, and how many clerks are employed, in the City of London, but I imagine that if this Bill were passed and were thoroughly carried out in detail, at least 100 inspectors would have to be employed to inspect the offices in the City of London. I am very sorry that I cannot support the Bill.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
I think that the House and country owe a debt to the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) for bringing in this Bill, and we are fortunate in having so long a time for its discussion. It is a pity there was not the same impulse for the consideration of the environment of office-workers when the impulse was felt to improve the conditions of factory life. It cannot be said that our office workers are exposed to less strain upon health than factory workers. Office workers are not instructed in personal hygiene. They are not an organised body of workers who, by pressure of unions, can extract by compulsion or persuasion proper working conditions; nor is the nature of office work such that it can be easily adapted to the ordinary welfare arrangements which have been undertaken in industry.
The Bill before us is admirably arranged, although subject to much criticism in detail. It has 24 heads for administrative development. With a Bill such as this submitted to the close consideration of a competent Committee, nothing but good can result. It would be wrong if I, with my experience of what the Home Office has done for industrial workers, did not express a hope that that tactful management of industry should be used for the development of office life. The Home Office is in a central position to advise on health matters. There is a toleration of local abuses through custom which would not obtain were the supervision of offices under a control at once tactful, experienced and central. I think that one must admit at once that any legislation can only register what is the practice 819 in the best offices, and it necessarily follows that if we tolerate inferior health conditions in other offices, then such businesses are entering into unfair competition with offices properly organised, supervised and regulated.
London to-day can be looked upon as one huge office. Half of London, perhaps, consists of small factories, and the other half of offices, and in those offices, speaking subject to many qualifications, there are two types of workers. First, the employer the manager or the director, past middle life, and therefore tough and not likely to be affected by an environment in which he has grown up to which he has become acclimatised. He has in his employment young life, not yet toughened, not yet salted; and what may be suitable, and indeed admirable, to the employer, may not be suited to the new life coming on. Many of our employers in London have standards of hygiene at home which they have learned in the capitals of Europe many, many years ago, and no one would say that those standards which they learned in their youth abroad are the standards we would like to see perpetuated in the City of London. We have national services which train our children to a very high standard of personal hygiene, which is reflected in their homes as well as in their schools, and that training is largely wasted unless those lessons can be carried out in office life.
Then, again, I would suggest that young people in office life are going to be subjects for the care of the panel system of medicine, and it is better that disease should be prevented than that we should spend endless sums of money later in life in curing disease in surgeries, dispensaries, convalescent homes and sanatoria. A pound spent in prevention—although I speak almost as a member of a suicide club—saves the spending of many pounds in later life to cure. There is nothing more wonderful than to go to a modern factory and see all that is done in the matter of health records, welfare work, health supervision, prevention of accidents and the following-up of absentees. To me it is an astonishing piece of preventive medicine, carried out where casualties in industry take place, and in that the Home Office, the trade 820 unions and the employers have co-operated to an excellent and admirable common end. Yet in this City of London, which lives upon the work of factories throughout the country, and the justification for whose existence is solely that it may distribute and sell the products of factories, these lessons of hygiene are not remembered and not put into practice.
It is fair to say that in medieval days the streets of London were malodorous. It is practically certain that our ancestors wore leather jerkins and never sat in their offices without sweet herbs to remove the evil effluvia, and without back scratchers, because they seldom used to soap themselves; and I can assure the House that in the development of London as an office centre many insanitary small houses are now offices, carrying out a function for which they were never designed and to which they could never be adapted. One can find in my constituency, the back streets of which are almost rural as far as the quality of building goes, thousands and thousands of workers, with the conditions in which they work frankly supervised by no one. The air in these small domestic offices is malodorous. As to the feeding arrangements, the food is taken to the place in bags or in pieces of newspaper and eaten at the desk. The conditions for feeding in these small offices are no better than what we can remember when we went into workshops in our boyhood and saw engineers eating at the bench, and then sleeping on the bench between the morning and the afternoon spells of work. A practice which the workshops have forgotten is still being carried on in office life.
There is another side to this story. Besides, the use of house property for office work, for which it is so ill adapted, there is this strange feature, that in the new architectural development of London no attention seems to be paid by even our leading architects to the mental and moral effects of what they think is economic and progressive building. To a sensitive person there is nothing more depressing than to be sent into the bowels of the earth, into a concrete box, and there, breathing air from a source you cannot understand, illuminated by a fixed point of glaring electricity, sit shut in that concrete box for such hours 821 as are necessary for your work. You have no outlook and no distraction. When we were boys at school and we were bored with our tasks, we were saved from boredom and from punishment by the relaxation that we could get by looking at the birds outside the window, or even by counting the flies upon the pane. If you work in these modern city offices which are the pride of architects, and you descend into the bowels of the earth and into your concrete box and if you have in you the makings of a neurotic, a few years' incarceration in that box will develop the tendency within you. It is well known that one of the worst effects of prison discipline upon a man is the sense of inclusion—which is given the technical term claustrophobia—against which the spirit of man revolts.
I do not think that any one can look with gladness upon the development more and more of these large concrete boxes throughout London, into the bowels of which hundreds of people descend at fixed hours. Such people have no visual distraction and no auditory distraction; they have artificial light and artificial ventilation; they rise in a lift to the top floor and eat artificial food, grown goodness knows where and much of it preserved for unknown lengths of time; then they descend to their work again. All this deserves the closest attention of those who are responsible for the public health. One cannot say what germs of neurosis are developed by this artificial life. I have yet to learn of anything more certain to-day in medicine than that the old fulminating, destructive, microbic diseases are giving way to more subtle nervous manifestations which are equally destructive of human peace, though not so dramatic to look at. The medical care of our office workers is the next line along which public health measures should be developed.
There is but one point lacking in this Bill, and I would draw attention to it in the hope that in the Committee stage it can be rectified. In our best factories, either by practice or by Home Office Order, there is regular medical inspection of workers, and there are such officers as "appointed factory surgeons." In the City of London and in many great cities, firms do, by public spirit and common sense appoint their own surgeons, 822 and there are many who have a system of intermittent medical inspection of their employes. Nothing but good to the public health could result if what has been proved good in factory life could also be introduced within the offices of this country.
There are certain details in the Bill which are irritating. Few men occupying any position in this world do not have a secretary. Wherever she works she must have an office, and it rather goes against the flesh that in the little room or cubby-hole or converted box, in which the secretary works there must be a notice on the door outside as to the number who can be employed there, the number who can use the sanitary convenience, and the number of hours during which the secretary may work. That is irritating, but it is a sign of the times that people must be instructed in their rights, and that unless their rights are put under their eyes, they will forget them, and the old abuses will be carried on. I am afraid that that cannot be avoided.
All the preventive work intended by this Measure could he carried on with very little inspection. It is astounding to realise how small is the staff which inspects the factories and mines of this country. If I can trust my recollection, I think it will be found that the medical staff of the Home Office is, in numbers and upon paper, miserably small, while the results for which they are responsible are admired throughout the world. I cannot conceive that one would need for the supervision of offices any greater staff comparably than is used by the Home, Office for its factory inspection. Furthermore, the visits of inspectors need not be frequent. An occasional visit, and even the possibility of a surprise visit, will keep a whole neighbourhood in good order for months on end. The fact that inspection is possible under the Bill does not imply that there will be increased, troublesome, or tricky inspection, and that provision does not frighten me at all. One does hope, however, now that the Government are administratively responsible for the well-being and health of the people of this country from the time before they are born up to their exit, that the environment of a great part of the people throughout their working life may receive some closer medical supervision.
823 I have said, and others have said, that there are many faults in this Bill, but the Committee stage exists for the rectification of faults. I have no doubt that those hon. Members who follow the legal profession can find many loopholes and faults in the Bill, but I am certain that the spirit of the House of Commons is behind the Bill. The young people who work in offices deserve protection. They are not informed enough to maintain their own rights. The health of the young should be of greater concern to us than the health of the old, and, looking at it as a piece of preventive medicine, as an attempt to check the ill effects of the over-urbanisation of life, I welcome the presentation of this Bill, I commend it most sincerely to the good will of the House, and I hope that in Committee it will receive close and improving attention and will come back to us as a workmanlike Measure.
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Mr. WISE
I cannot share the optimism of the hon. Member for Mile End (Dr. O'Donovan) in anticipating that the passage of this Bill through Committee will be an easy one. In fact, unless the Promoter is prepared to accept every Amendment suggested by opponents of the Bill, I conceive that it would be very likely to remain upstairs for two or more years. The Bill is so full of anomalies that it is very difficult even to begin to deal with them. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) exposed a certain number of the more glaring fallacies, and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department did even more to prove to the House how impossible it was that any form of legislation of this kind should be allowed to go forward, even to the Committee stage. The only advocacy of the Bill which has been in any way convincing has come from the hon. Member for Mile End and the hon. Member for West Leyton (Sir W. Sugden), who, I regret to see, is not in his place. One is tempted, when one finds both these two hon. Members supporting the Bill, to go back to the old exclamation of surprise at the somewhat unexpected whereabouts of Saul among the prophets. Why these two hon. Members should have lent their support to the Bill I really cannot say. The hon. Member for Mile End is, I suspect, speaking up 824 nobly for the very distinguished trade union to which he has the honour to belong, because the whole purport of his speech, as far as I could see, was to create more work for the medical profession.
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
If my hon. Friend had listened to me with the attention that I do not deserve, he would have noticed that I said that, if my wishes were translated into practice, I should be speaking as a member of a suicide club, cutting away work from the medical profession.
§ Mr. WISE
I agree that that was in fact what the hon. Member said, but, on the other hand, I am sure I am right in saying that he did suggest that the one thing lacking in the Bill was adequate medical inspection, which would presumably have to be carried out by qualified men, in addition to the corps of sanitary inspectors who would be pestering every office. Although I admire my hon. Friend's, shall I say, trade patriotism in endeavouring to provide medical inspection in addition to the hirelings of the local authorities, I cannot but think that the ordinary owner or employer in an office would be quite sufficiently victimised by the sanitary inspector sent by the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne), and that he might be spared the more skilful but equally irritating attentions of members of my hon. Friend's profession. Some of the implications of the Bill have not yet been put to the House I would suggest to the hon. Member for Plaistow, to take an extreme instance, that if he happens himself to be unwell and is in the fortunate position of being able to employ a secretary, if his secretary comes to take down his letters at his bedside, the room becomes an office.
§ Mr. WISE
It is, in fact, in the Bill, in Clause 20:The expression 'office' means any room wherein persons are employed to perform clerical, professional or technical duties wholly or in part in any capacity.It is clear that, whatever the size and conveniences of the hon. Member's bedroom, he would, if he had his secretary there to dictate letters, be making his 825 bedroom into an office and would, therefore, have to display upon the door a notice saying how many people were employed therein, and also he would be subject to an arbitrary inspection from the local sanitary authority to see if his bedroom was in a cleanly state and that it was free from effluvia and was not overcrowded and, as it would also be in use clay and night, there would have to be 1,000 cubic feet of air space for each person therein.
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
This is a dreadful reflection upon the practitioner who was looking after my hon. Friend. If there was a medical registered practitioner in attendance, he would not allow overcrowding or effluvia or anything deleterious.
§ Mr. WISE
Again I accept what the hon. Member says about his health. I attribute it to the same cause to which I attribute my own rude health, that we are both beer drinkers. I also suggest that the inspector, when he came into the bedroom—this is a hypothetical case again—would have to inquire whether it had been recently repapered and, if it had not, I presume he would be able to order the hon. Member to repaper it or to limewash it. He would also, I presume, be able to inquire whether the windows had been cleaned in the last 20 days.
§ Mr. WISE
Then the hon. Member would be able to face the inspection with equanimity, but some of use who live in flats and have to employ expensive window cleaners might not be able to afford that. The second Clause is probably even more muddled than the first. It says that an office shall be deemed to be overcrowded if there are less than 500 cubic feet of space for every person employed. The right hon. Gentleman explained to the House that that was just double the requirements of the ordinary work room. The cubic capa- 826 city figure was laid down after very careful inquiry for the workroom, where far more physical energy is put into the work, using up more of the air and creating a greater heat. If 250 cubic feet are sufficient for a working man surely, it is a monstrous thing to suggest that 500 cubic feet will be in any way anything but an absurd figure for office space.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
Is it not the case that mental energy requires more cubic space of air than physical energy?
§ Mr. WISE
I am not prepared to enter into a debate on the comparative requisites, but I am certain that it is a fact that physical energy uses up more of the air in a room than mental energy, because otherwise life in this House on crowded nights would be almost intolerable. While on the subject of this House, I observe that the hon. Member for South Croydon made a few pertinent observations as to what would happen if we applied the principles of this Bill to the House. I think he did not remember that the further definition here said that any cubic capacity over the first 12 feet from the ground shall be ignored in the reckoning of the necessary 1000 cubic feet, and 1000 cubic feet would be necessary for this House which is sitting both day and night. If the hon. Member wants, as he should want, to apply his principles first of all to his own class of work, he must either exclude the press and the public—and I am sure that, there are very few Members of the House who would like the press to be excluded—or be faced with the problem that there would never be a quorum in the House because there would not be room enough for 40 Members. He has a curious definition in Clause 3 of an underground room. He says that an underground room is one wherethe surface of the floor is more than five feet below the surface of the footway of the adjoining street.I submit that that is an unduly drastic definition of an underground room. There are many people in London who are living in rooms of that kind and are very glad to live in them, and they are paying rents of about £5 a week for the privilege of living in rooms which are further underground than that. I cannot believe that the hon. Member seriously intends to pursue a Measure 827 which would mean pulling down and rebuilding almost the whole of the City of London. You have there a crowded office population, and it has to be accommodated, by the rules in many cases of its own organisation, within a half-mile radius of the Stock Exchange. There is no alternative to using underground offices other than rebuilding all the existing buildings inside that radius until there is sufficient height above ground to accommodate the necessary office staff. Indeed, in spite of the statements of the hon. Member for Mile End as to the deleterious effects of working in small underground offices, I have myself worked in an underground office for a period of about two years, and I am sure that I have not developed any form of neurosis, not even that of the entirely incomprehensible name which the hon. Member used. Clause 3 is not only unnecessary but it would be a very serious burden on the carrying on of business all over the country, certainly in the City of London. It would be so much a burden that it almost appears as if the hon. Member for Plaistow were pursuing the avowed object of his party, which is to break down the capital system by making it wholly impossible for that system to do any work at all. That may be his hidden motive. Whether that is so or not, only he knows, and he has not taken the House into his confidence in the matter.
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
Do I gather that the hon. Member has a conscientious objection to underground rooms being shut up by the local sanitary authority, if they are not satisfied that they are suitable as regards construction, light, ventilation and all other respects?
§ Mr. WISE
May I point out that it is not merely a question of underground rooms which fail to satisfy the sanitary authorities, who already have considerable powers, but it is provided that after three years from now, it does not matter whether the sanitary authority objects or not, the mere fact that it is an underground room will be sufficient to have it cleared.
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
The provision is that it shall not be used after three 828 years unless it has been passed by the local authority.
§ Mr. WISE
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. That is true. I can only suggest that three years from now is the time when the hon. Member for Plaistow anticipates the return of his party, with his triumphant majority, when they will have sufficient control and perhaps the sanitary authorities will make up their minds not to carry on with underground rooms. The unfortunate employer of labour has already burdens enough placed upon him by legislation. He has enough forms to keep. The extra staff required because of the legislation of the last thirty years is already a serious overhead charge on industry. The employer is required under this Bill to keep a whole series of registers, some of which have to be affixed to the door of his premises, and others of which has to be kept inside the office, showing on a prescribed form the number of young persons employed there and also particulars as to the cleansing of the office. Whether that means the family history of the charwoman or not I do not know. What "particulars" as to the cleansing of the office may mean, I do not know. Does it mean that on the form you have to state whether the office is cleaned by a mop, a broom, a Hoover, or a scrubbing brush?
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
Was it with intention that the hon. Member has passed over Clause 4, a very humane Clause which prevents certain undesirable things happening with regard to the sanitary conveniences? How is it that in his careful consideration of the Bill that humane Clause has not been dealt with?
§ Mr. WISE
In any case I have always thought that Clause 4 was extremely indelicate. This entry in its various forms which an employer is to be compelled to keep is for one purpose, and that is to provide evidence against himself. It is a legal principle of which I have never heard before that you are to compile 829 testimony against yourself and that it is to be used to inflict a penalty not exceeding £5. As a method of raising revenue for the State it may be all right, but as a legal principle it is rather trespassing on the rights of Englishmen, which even this House has vigorously defended.
The other point which has not been cleared up by any hon. Member supporting the Bill is the question of rest-rooms for female workers. It is laid down in the Bill that where 50 or more female workers are employed a rest room shall be provided for them. Whether that means in an office belonging to one firm or in a block of offices, the Bill does not say. If it means female workers employed by one firm there is no great difficulty about providing a rest room, except that it is, in fact, unnecessary. There is no reason why the number of 50 should require a rest room any more than any other number. If 10 female employees do not want a rest-room, why should 50? And if 50 do want a rest-room, then one female worker must; and a man who has one office with one typist must provide a rest-room for the typist. The Bill must be logical. I know of no medical reason why the mere assemblage of women in large numbers makes a rest room more necessary than it does in the case where they are working in smaller numbers.
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
Women require rest rooms at certain periods and for certain delicate reasons, which are very pressing when women are employed in large numbers. During the war, the Ministry of Munitions always saw that their employés were provided with a rest room wherever female workers were employed.
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
If the hon. Member wishes instruction and will ask me privately afterwards, I will enlighten him.
§ Mr. WISE
After the hon. Member's indelicacy in dwelling on Clause 4, I should have thought the he would have enlightened me at once. If it means one big firm there is no difficulty in providing a rest room, but a block of offices may have 2,000 women in separate offices while in each office there may be only four. You may have thousands of firms occupy- 830 ing the same building. Are these women to be deprived of their rest room? And if they are not, who is to provide it? Is there to be a general subscription amongst the firms using the building?
§ Mr. WISE
What I am objecting to is that it should be made compulsory. Is this to be a charge on the landlord? What is it to be? None of these things are explained in the Bill, nor is anything else explained in the Bill, except the drastic desire to add to the difficulties which already hamper industry, find more work for inspectors, and add to the already swollen horde of State servants and local authority employés who exist in this country at the moment. Even at that, as a cure for unemployment I do not think the Bill can possibly be given a Second reading.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
The opposition to the Bill has been very hard driven to-day. The whole of the speeches that have been made have been Committee stage speeches. From the speech of the hon. Member who moved the Bill's rejection down to the speech of the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise), no one has faced what the Bill is really about. Instead, hon. Members have devoted their time to attempts to pour ridicule on Clause 4 or Clause 12. But behind all this there is a very serious problem. People who are now employed in offices enjoy virtually no kind of protection from the law of the land in regard to their conditions of employment.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
The right hon. Gentleman states that there is no protection for them. As a former Minister of Health he must be aware that Section 91 of the Public Health Act of 1875 gives that protection. Why did he not enforce it as Minister of Health?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
If the hon. Member had awaited my next sentence he would have heard me deal with his newfound knowledge of the Public Health Act of 1875. There is no local authority in this country which does not know that the powers under the 1875 Act are utterly inadequate to deal with this problem. That is general knowledge. There is no body of medical officers of health who do not know that that is true. The 831 whole purpose of the Bill arises because existing legislation, the administration of which vests in local authorities and not in the Minister of Health—people who have been at the Board of Trade might learn a little more about the Ministry of Health—is inadequate to deal with the problem. Take London, where for 27 years you have had a local authority whose heart has beat in unison with the Tory majority in this House. I assume that the London County Council, if it could have dealt with this problem, would have dealt with it.
Let me give one case of the West End office of a very large firm. There are fifty-five people employed in a basement which has two small windows at the far end of a long room, and the windows open out on to a lift well, beyond which rise high blocks of flats. Little light enters. There is a female staff of over 40. They share one lavatory and one small wash-basin. That is in London. That is the sort of problem with which this Bill is dealing. People may criticise Clause 4, but this is a real problem. How far does it go in the effect it has on the people who follow sedentary occupations in offices? The death rate among clerks in commercial offices is almost double what it is in agriculture. Nearly one quarter of the people employed in offices die of phthisis and pulmonary diseases. Over half of those who die from consumption are between 20 and 35 years of age. Everybody who has investigated the problem knows that that tragically high death rate is due to the conditions under which those people are employed.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I would not say that the vast majority occur before 30. I am merely pointing out that among people who have been in offices from the age of 14 or 15, over half the cases occur between the ages of 20 and 25. That really is the case for the Bill. Since the beginning of the 19th century Parliament has been engaged in establishing general regulations of employment. Just 133 years ago this House began to travel on the road towards the factory code and exactly 100 years ago there first came into 832 operation the biggest of the early Factory Acts. Within ten years of the report of the Royal Commission which had shown the existence of such scandalous conditions of employment in the mines, this House put through some of the most drastic legislation the country had ever seen. The only industry in which female labour is forbidden is the coalmining industry, and that was done nearly 100 years ago.
The system of factory and workshop legislation, of mines regulations, of Shops Acts has extended year by year because public opinion realised that the conditions of employment for many people were intolerable. Public opinion also realised that it was not the slightest use leaving the matter to the voluntary action of employers of labour. Broad-minded and far-seeing statesmen have shown, in Act after Act dealing with industrial regulations, a realisation that the establishment of reasonable working conditions and their imposition on all employers was an act of justice to the good employer and something which conduced to national efficiency. Let it be assumed, as it often is, that the people who go into clerical occupations may not be the kind of people physically who could stand work in coal mines, engineering sheds, or on railways. Let us say, if you like, that they are not the most robust class of people in the country, because of that very fact there is a greater obligation on the community to ensure that the conditions under which they are employed are reasonable. There is no other way out of this situation. If we are to leave it to the goodwill of the employer, some far-seeing employers will realise that it is to their own individual commercial advantage to provide decent office accommodation with the proper ventilation, and proper sanitary arrangements; but a large number of others will not feel any moral responsibility to provide such accommodation.
What is the position in thousands of offices both above ground and underground? They are badly ventilated, badly lighted, disgracefully overcrowded and insanitary. There are girls in London and in provincial towns, in the 20th century, working in rat-infested cellars. Those are conditions that do not obtain in all offices, but the fact that certain big employers have 833 established a higher standard ought to compel this House to bring other people up to that standard. I am satisfied that, whatever Government may be in office, every Government realises that in the last resort the state of our nation depends upon its people, and we cannot have probably 1,000,000 or 1,250,000 people who are employed in clerical occupations living in industrial conditions which not merely interfere with their efficiency, but may be a great danger to their lives.
The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) calls the Bill fussy. Is it fussy to try to improve the conditions under which people just as good as the hon. Member are living from day to day? Let us admit that there are provisions in the Bill which ought to be modified. If we had had the genius of the hon. Member on this side, we might have produced a better Bill. It would not be the first time, if a Bill got a Second Reading, that it was altered in Committee. Even the National Government cannot bring in all their Bills in a form so good that they need not be amended. The Unemployment Bill now before the House has been drastically amended, although the Government have had two years in which to think about it. The main argument against this Bill to-day is that it is open to criticism on Clauses 1, 2, 3, and 4. That is what the Committee stage is there for.
I suggest that this a large field of employment which is virtually unregulated to-day, in which the State has never effectively come to the assistance of the good employer on the one hand and of the mass of workpeople employed on the other. It would be reasonable to give the Bill a Second Reading. We on this side are not unreasonable, and, after all, hon. Members opposite would have a majority on the Standing Committee and they could make the Bill pretty much as they wanted to make it, because we should be outnumbered. At least, let this House, on an occasion like this, not cast a vote against any attempt, through effective national action, to do something to protect the conditions of our fellow citizens who are performing work as useful as that performed by other people, even by Members of this House.
Let the House give the Bill a Second Reading and then alter it as they like. Let the House carry on with the work 834 which was begun 134 years ago with the health and morals of apprentices in the first Factory Act, the first piece of modern industrial legislation. Let the House be prepared to carry that kind of work into a new field, just as our predecessors in Parliament have extended one kind of Act after another to classes of workers who hitherto were not included. All that we are asking for office workers is the same kind of protection for their working conditions of life as it has granted now for a long time to factory workers and miners. I would like to see a great industrial Code which covered the terms and conditions of employment for all who live by their labour, but unfortunately we are building up this fabric little by little, brick by brick. We believe this is a valuable brick, and I hope hon. Members opposite, however much they may disagree with its details, will allow us to lay this brick this afternoon.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. RAIKES
The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), speaking from his great knowledge as an ex-Minister of the Crown, went so far as to state that this Bill would have the advantage of saving those who are now living, to use his own phrase, in rat-infested cellars in London. I venture to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the existing health and sanitary laws are quite sufficient, if enforced, to deal with the rate infested cellar or any such conditions to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. I protest that the right hon. Gentleman in that phrase and that suggestion has misled the House as to the position at the present time. It is all very well to make use of such phrases, but I suggest that hon. Gentlemen opposite should keep themselves a little more closely to the facts.
§ Mr. E. WILLIAMS
Did the hon. Gentleman hear the speech of the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle)? He is a medical officer of health, and one of the hon. Gentleman's fellow supporters of the Government, and for half-an-hour he proved to the House the inability of the present law to remove the evils that exist to-day.
§ Mr. RAIKES
The reply to that is very short. If the present law is fully applied I suggest that it can deal with them.
§ Mr. RAIKES
I dare say he does, but I am sure that the hon. Member for St. Albans did not allow himself to be carried away by phrases about rat infested cellars, which always come so quickly from the benches opposite and are produced to carry away persons who have not studied the facts very closely. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about employment and the fact that young people between the age of 14 and 16 coming into employment very likely get consumption and die at a comparatively early age. My hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise) showed clearly that consumption is not confined to the young people who go into offices. There is always a certain high rate of consumption among young people, office or no office. At a time when children leaving school require work more than anything
§ Original Question, again proposed.
§ It being after Four of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.836
§ else, this Bill would close still another avenue to them. The most impressionable years in a child's life are those when he has left school, and if he has an opportunity of working in an office it keeps the child straight; it teaches him to be a useful citizen and gives him the opportunity really to pull his oar in the race of life.
§ Mr. RAIKES
I mean the child of every class who leaves school and requires work. We are not debating what the school-leaving age should be.
§ Mr. THORNE rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 40; Noes, 60.835
|Division No. 168.]||AYES.||[3.59 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Grundy, Thomas W.||Paling, Wilfred|
|Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent)||Hicks, Ernest George||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Janner, Barnett||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Buchanan, George||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Knight, Holford||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Cove, William G.||Lawson, John James||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Daggar, George||Logan, David Gilbert||Thorne, William James|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Lunn, William||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||McEntee, Valentine L.||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Dobble, William||McGovern, John||Wilmot, John|
|Edwards, Charles||Maxton, James||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Weish Unlv.)||O'Donovan, Dr. William James|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Owen, Major Goronwy||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. G. Macdonald and Mr. Groves.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'tN.C.)||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Range, Norah Cecil|
|Brocklebank. C. E. R.||Llewellin, Major John J.||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)|
|Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)||MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G. (Partick)||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)|
|Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||McLean, Major Sir Alan||Salmon, Sir Isidore|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Maitland, Adam||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Savery, Samuel Servington|
|Doran, Edward||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Smiles, Lieut. Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Duggan, Hubert John||Mitcheson, G. G.||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Entwistle, Cyril Fullard||Moreing, Adrian C.||Stevenson, James|
|Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Fermoy, Lord||Peake, Captain Osbert||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingtwinford)|
|Fox, Sir Gifford||Penny, Sir George||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Gluckstein, Louis Hallo||Petherick, M.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Grlmston, R. V.||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bllst'n)||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Hanley, Dennis A.||Ralkes, Henry V. A. M.||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Ramsay T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Wills, Willrid D.|
|Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Reld, David D. (County Down)|
|Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Renwick, Major Gustav A.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Rickards, George William||Mr. Levy and Mr. Herbert Williams.|
§ Whereupon Mr. Speaker adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.
§ Adjourned at Seven Minutes after Four o'Clock until Monday, 19th March.