HC Deb 13 March 1936 vol 309 cc2491-577

Order for Second Reading read.

11.7 a.m.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is the first occasion on which I have addressed the House, and I count it a privilege to introduce the Debate on the Second Reading of this Bill, because of my long association with clerical workers in the struggles in which they have been engaged. The principles of the Bill have been debated in this House on a number of occasions, and I think I may claim that the Bill now before us has profited to a considerable degree from those earlier discussions. I think that the promoters of the Bill have, to a considerable extent, met the criticisms previously put forward. Many of the Clauses which were described as unduly fussy in previous debates have been deleted, and I hope the House will now find the Bill workmanlike and of such a nature as to command general approval. I hope the House will give it a Second Reading—if there are points in it which call for redefinition that can be done in Committee—so that those who have the objects of the Bill at heart may feel that this neglected section of workers is receiving more consideration than has been the custom in the past from the House of Commons.

The shaping of the Bill has been influenced in some degree by the Shops Act, 1934. In the drafting of the Clauses we have been guided to some extent by the methods adopted by the Home Office when that Act was before the House. At the outset I want to anticipate a certain criticism which has been urged against this type of legislation. I notice that some weeks before the Bill was actually drafted a blocking Motion appeared on the Order Paper, an extraordinary procedure seeing that no one in this House was, at that point, aware of the contents of the Bill, but there does seem to be a view in certain quarters of the House that legislation of this kind is not called for, because there is already enough legislation in respect to offices for the prevention of nuisances, and that further legislation would only confuse administration. It is true that since the last debate on office conditions a Shops Act has been passed in which certain offices are included, but that Measure covers only a small section of the field and the vast majority of general offices are outside the regulations altogether.

It is true, too, that since the last debate further legislation in the field of public health has been under contemplation, and certain points which in the last debate seemed a bit obscure are cleared up in the recommendations for new legislation which are now being considered by the local authorities throughout the country. For instance, in the last debate some doubt was expressed from this side of the House as to whether offices were included in the term "work places". Doubt was also expressed as to the right of entry into offices for the purposes of routine inspection. But the new public health legislation contemplated for next year will clear up these points so far as the provinces are concerned, and I believe that the right of entry is admitted in the case of public health legislation for London. I am fully aware that there is a considerable provision in respect to sanitary conditions in the Public Health Acts 1875, 1899 and 1891 (London) and in the Factory Act, 1901, and in view of the fact that in the Factory Acts and the Shops Act a great deal of public health legislation was re-enacted and that special provision has been made for miners and the men of the mercantile marine, we feel that this other very considerable section of the working population should now be provided for. A special code ought to be established re-enacting to some degree the public health legislation as it affects them, so that the grievances felt by large numbers of clerical workers may be removed and a code of law brought into existence which will work effectively for the standardisation of conditions in offices.

I submit that there is very real need for the legislation proposed in the Bill. There is practically no systematic or routine inspection of offices to-day. When we consider the appalling conditions which exist in many offices, details of which I shall give in a few moments, and remember, too, that any old place may be used as as office without let or hindrance, it must be obvious that in certain respects existing legislation is inadequate. The factory inspector does not appear to include the inspection of offices within his duties, whatever may be defined by Section 4 (1) of the Factory Act, 1901, and it is generally admitted, and it has been admitted by the Home Office, that inspection by local medical officers of health is limited to cases to which their attention has been drawn when nuisances have arisen. Whatever may be the position in regard to power of entry into offices, and whatever may be the definition as to what constitutes an office, it must be generally admitted that there are no regulations governing inspection of offices. Some may be worked out just now by the Home Office or the Ministry of Health in respect of the Shops Act, but, generally speaking, inspectors, either under local sanitary authorities, the Home Office, or the Ministry of Health are not guided by any standards or regulations necessary for the proper discharge of inspection work.

Everyone knows that if one waits for complaints to arise in an office before inspection is made, that inspection will be of a very limited character. Men and women in offices are not prepared to risk victimisation or unemployment as a result of representations of that kind. I have in front of me a letter written by a responsible official of a very responsible organisation, and she says with regard to the efficiency of the Public Health Acts: We reported a case of rats to the public health officer some time ago, and he visited the place. As soon as he had disappeared, the employer called the girls together and raved, vowing that he would find out who had made the complaint. The girls in a fright left…[the organisation]…and though the rats have disappeared so have our members. Moreover it is quite certain that those girls will never make another complaint whatever the conditions may be. It is because of the grave abuses that exist, because it is felt that substantial changes in office regulation are only possible by the enactment of the Bill, and because, whatever the conditions of light, ventilation and temperature nobody bothers to inspect such offices, that all the organisations concerned with clerical workers are pressing for the enactment of the Bill. The organisations of clerical and non-manual workers generally are behind this Bill. I need only mention the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries, the Railway Clerks' Association, the non-manual side of the Trade Union Congress, the National Federation of Professional Workers, the administrative group of the Transport Workers' Union, the National Union of Clerks, the National Association of Distributive Workers, the Shop Assistants' Union, and the Bank Officers' Guild. All those organisations are pressing for the enactment of the Bill.

May I ask the House to consider a number of facts concerned with clerical employment and workers generally? The class of non-manual workers now numbers in the neighbourhood of 4,250,000, roughly a quarter of our working population, and of these, not counting the Civil Service, 1,300,000 are clerical workers. This section of the working community has become increasingly important in the economic life of the State. Into that section, women are coming in very large numbers. This non-manual side of industry is part of the great working-class population, for these workers are, in the main, drawn from working class homes, have attended schools similar to those attended by the manual workers, their standard of remuneration is often very much the same, and a great deal of the work now done in offices is of a routine kind. In many of the offices, conditions are rapidly changing, and a process of mechanisation is going on. There is increased noise, and the routine work creates for the workers increasing strain of a nervous kind. It is, therefore, important that this great section of the working community should have a standard of conditions which can ensure their health and which shall be not less than that which is enjoyed by other sections of the great working-class population.

It has been urged that there is little need for a Bill of this kind, in view of the fact that a great deal of rebuilding and rehousing of the clerical population are going on, but even in respect of many of the new offices there is admitted into them a considerable amount of underground employment, where the temperature and the light are very grave considerations for clerical workers. Apart from the fact that new buildings are going up. a great deal of transfer is still going on from private houses, which are being transformed into offices. Even warehouses are being transformed into offices, and consequently buildings which structurally are not adapted, and were never built to be offices, are being used. Clerical workers are being obliged to endure undesirable conditions as a result of the use of buildings which were never intended structurally for the purposes for which they are now being used.

There is evidence in medical statistics of this change, and of the stress and strain of modern office work. It is difficult to get reliable, medical, statistical information, but doctors inform us that there is a marked tendency among clerical workers towards tuberculosis, digestive and nervous disorders. Such ailments arise in part from the conditions of employment, and make it more desirable that conditions of work in offices should be such as to prevent the occurrence of this unfortunate ill-health. The ill-health of commercial clerks is well known, and was referred to in the previous Debate. The higher percentage of digestive troubles among clerical workers in contrast with other sections of the working community is also well known and the high mortality per 1,000 in clerical workers is also admitted. In the last Debate it was stated that the death-rate among clerks in commercial offices is almost double what it is in agriculture. Nearly a 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.

We have been told by the Home Office that the conditions of employment in offices have been inquired into on two previous occasions, once by the Home Office in a case which represented a very narrow inquiry, and on the second occasion by the Ministry of Health eight years ago. Sir George Newman, in carrying through this inquiry, got into touch with the medical officers of health of a number of important towns, and he reached the view, after consultation, that there was no considerable volume of complaint in respect of conditions in offices. He pointed out, however, that the average, in from 17 to 21 towns, of complaints received by medical officers was less than 10, and these were chiefly concerned with sanitation, smells, the presence of rats, and so on, but in his view there were no serious defects, and the medical officers who reported doubted whether a system of inspection was necessary. But the fact remains that in many places thus reported upon by medical officers eight years ago it appeared that there was an utter lack of inspection and supervision, and that certain offices were in an appalling condition and injurious to health. He also directed attention to the conditions in many basements, and felt that something should be done to regulate basement employment. Of these inspections by medical officers, a small number arose from complaints made to them, but, if the number of cases brought to the attention of Sir George Newman was small, that is largely due to the fact that clerical workers cannot afford to risk unemployment or victimisation by complaining of the conditions in their offices. I should like, if I may, to give the House a few cases which have been brought to my notice during the last few days, and which justify some vigorous action by the authorities. One girl writes: The office staff were housed on three floors. This held in all about 50 girls and three office boys. The floor of which I was in charge, dealing with all figure work, held from 10 to 13 girls, according to the time of year and season. We were fortunate inasmuch as we worked in daylight, as we had a glass roof. This room was vermin-infested and rat-ridden, and it was no uncommon thing for the girls, whose ages ranged from 14 to 25 years, to become hysterical during the breeding season, when the rats were more bold. In summer it was invariably hot, owing to the glass roof, and in winter it was freezing cold or smelly due to a gas radiator. We had also working in the same office a Burroughs adding machine and an Addressograph machine worked by power, and the telephone switchboard was also in the same room, so that we were never free from noise. The floor below us had no window direct into the room, and the nine girls had continually to work in artificial light. There were two lavatories, one of which was shared by the factory staff, and one washbasin. No towel or soap was provided. Altogether the place was overcrowded, filthy and insanitary, and it was no worse than dozens of others in the same road. Also in this district there are many small factories employing one girl, who is placed in a small cupboard-like room without daylight or heating apparatus, and who have to work in these quarters from 8.30 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, risking health for their daily bread. In another case, in the City of London, it is reported that, while the offices were fairly satisfactory, the sanitary and lavatory accommodation was disgraceful, there being no lock on the outer door, and both sexes having to use the same place. Another office, not very far from this building, is the subject of the following communication: I undertook the post of supervisor of typists at the above address less than a month ago, but the conditions were so bad that I gave notice on the third day. The room in which I was called upon to work was one storey from the top of the building. There were 11 girls, including myself, in this room. It was far too small. The ceiling was low and the lighting was atrocious. As the girls were engaged in filling in addresses, which they had to find as quickly as possible, mainly from small print, this poor light was particularly distressing. The whole room was filthy. Both the heating and the ventilation were poor, the latter arising out of the former. To keep the place warm and at the same time airy seemed impossible. There was one washbasin, which did not clear properly. Of another office in the West End it is reported that three girls are employed in a sort of passage, with no window, and a skylight which leaks when it rains. Another report says: Twelve people work in one small office which has no window on to outside air. Two sides of the room have windows of glass which look on to another office. The top of this glass has been taken away so that they can get air from the outer office. This is the only means of air, and an electric fan has to be kept going in this winter weather. It is quite common for the girls to have to go outside as they are overcome with faintness. Until recently this room had a stone floor, but a wooden floor has now been laid. One girl has just had to leave, as she simply faded away in this atmosphere. There are two other rooms, one of which is merely a vault. It has no window whatever, and this applies to another office. All these offices have to have artificial light all day. I could give other instances, but I think that what I have quoted is sufficient to indicate that there is need for drastic regulation, and that I have made out a case for careful consideration of this Bill by the House.

Turning to the principles of the Bill, it has, as I have said, ceased to be the fussy and vexatious Bill that it was described as being in the previous debate, and we have kept in mind the recommendations made by the Select Committee on Shop Assistants, which reported in 1931. That Committee recommended that provisions similar to those contained in Part I of the Factory and Workshop Act, 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. We contend that they should also be extended to all offices. The Committee also reported that many of the detailed Orders under the Act of 1901 would be undesirable, and this we have admitted in drafting our Bill. The Committee considered that it would be enough to require that the heating, lighting, ventilation, sanitation, washing accommodation and other amenities should be suitable and sufficient, having regard to the nature of each individual shop, and we say, also, each individual office. The Bill, therefore, is drafted in accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee and with the methods adopted by the Home Office in the recent Shop Acts. The Bill falls roughly into two parts, one concerned with health and sanitary accommodation in offices, and the other with the employment of young persons. With regard to the latter, I need only say that these proposals are drafted with a view to giving some small protection to the weakest section of the working corn-inanity, many of whom to-day are compelled to work long hours at very exacting labour. We want to have the same measure of protection for them, and I think the modesty of the proposals will recommend them to the House.

Turning to the main provisions of the Bill, what we seek to do is to secure a standard, prescribed through the Ministry of Health, of cleanliness, sanitary accommodation, ventilation, lighting, temperature and washing facilities. We want to prevent overcrowding. We want to enforce the provisions of the Bill through to the local sanitary authority, with powers reserved to the Ministry of Health to take prompt action should occasion arise. We also seek to regulate the use of underground offices and to deal with fire escapes. The Bill entrusts to the Ministry of Health to lay down standards by regulation in the light of its considerable experience in the administration of public health. Only in one place have we referred to a quantitative standard in regard to accommodation. That standard of 400 cubic feet is the recognised standard for overtime under the Factory Acts and was the new minimum suggested in the 1926 Government Factory Act for new factories. It follows that what we are trying to do is, notwithstanding the provision already made under the Public Health legislation, Factory Acts and shops Act which the House raised in 1934, to obtain supplementary provision for the office worker. We suggest that all the powers of factory inspectors should be given to inspectors of sanitary authorities to enforce the provisions relating to ventilation, sanitation and so on.

When we talk of sufficient and suitable standards, we mean the definition introduced by the Home Office in the Shops Act in relation to any office or part of an office suitable and sufficient having regard to the circumstances and conditions affecting that office. There may be some slight difficulty in defining what precisely an office is, but I think the definition in the Bill is a working definition and, if there are difficulties in respect to it, it can be improved in Committee. If the present law and its administration had proved satisfactory there would probably be no case for the Bill, but I submit that, in the light of the evidence that I have brought forward and in the light of the case that I have attempted to make, there is good reason why the Bill should have the careful consideration of the House and be referred to a Committee. The opposition to it seems to me to be directing a kind of smoke screen behind which interests will be safeguarded and certain abuses may continue undisturbed. It is similar to the days of early factory legislation, when the same kind of fussy obstructionist tactics were pursued. The principles of of the Bill were adopted by Parliament us late as 1934 and we have tried to produce for a very neglected, but a very considerable section of the working community a workmanlike measure in order that they may have a code of law to protect them in their employment. The introduction of the Bill to-day is sufficient evidence not only of the desire for it, but of the persistence of the organisations concerned in their demand and the reality of their cause.

11.40 a.m.


I beg to second the Motion.

My hon. Friend who has laid this proposal before us, by the clarity of his argu- ment and the force, the moderation and the soundness of the proposition that he has submitted is entitled to our most sincere congratulations. I hope and believe it is an indication of the assistance that we shall receive at his hands later on in determining the serious questions that will come before us. The House should not be under any misapprehension because of the moderation of those concerned but should understand that a strong and growing feeling is developing among a very large body of workers because of the failure of Parliament to make reasonable provision for them and something like disappointment and dismay is developing amongst them at the attitude which has been displayed by the Government and their supporters towards proposals of this character.

There is a disposition in some quarters to the view that the legislation that we are proposing affects only a comparatively small number of people. The Bill is designed to make provision not only for clerical workers but for all who work in offices. It is admittedly difficult to speak with precision of the number of people who would be affected. The statistical information available is not as satisfactory or as complete as we should desire it to be. That may be yet another indication of the disposition that there has been in certain quarters to neglect to make records in regard to this section of the working population which for many years has been considered to be necessary and desirable in respect of others. But such examination as it was possible to make of the Census of Occupation statistics shows that in 1931 there were approximately 4,500,000 people engaged in non-manual occupations in England, Wales and Scotland and the great bulk of them may be regarded as being engaged for a great part of their time in offices. The whole tendency in modern industry and commerce, with the introduction of labour saving machinery, rationalisation and devices of one kind and another is to reduce the number of people engaged in manual occupations, and by the development of sales methods, displays of one kind and another, research development and so on, which have heavily increased in recent years, to increase pro rata the number of persons engaged on the non-manual side.

Those of us who support the Bill are prepared to make all reasonable allow- antes. Though we claim that 4,500,000 are interested, making no less than 23 per cent. of the total working population, if allowances are made—and it is admitted that there should be rigorous exclusions of those in respect of whom there is any doubt—we still find ourselves confronted with these facts in relation to non-manual workers of one kind or another who unquestionably spend the greater part of their working days in offices. There were no fewer than 1,375,000 clerks, draughtsmen and typists in this country in 1931. In addition 293,000 were engaged in public administration. It will be generally admitted that they work in offices. Do not run away with the idea that the conditions under which they work, even in offices for which this House is responsible, are of a character that can be regarded as satisfactory. In addition to these there are 847,000, who in the census of occupational statistics, are described as general managers, superintendents, foremen, etc., the bulk of whom, if not all, spend the greater part of their time working in offices. In the group of clerks, draughtsmen and typists there were, in 1931, no fewer than 580,000 women and girls, and the processes of industry to-day are such that the number which had grown rapidly between 1921 and 1931, has gone up pro rata, as all indications show in more recent times, but between the years to which I have referred, there was an increase of 150,000 women and girls in industrial and commercial employment working in offices in England, Scotland and Wales. These women and girls, a large proportion of whom enter upon office work between the years of 16 and 17 and remain there from eight to ten years, are the mothers-to-be. Does this not place upon us the bounden duty to protect them against the physical dangers, apart from other dangers, to which I need not allude here, which arise from unsatisfactory office accommodation.

The Mover of the Motion has given the information available—it is a pity that more definite statistics are not at hand—of the mortality arising from tuberculosis and other associated diseases, but there is one aspect of the case to which I would draw the attention of the House. It is most significant that in the health tables commercial clerks, who are scattered about the industrial field, badly organised, and therefore unprotected and not vocal to the extent that their brothers and sisters are in other clerical occupations, frequently working under conditions which are an absolute disgrace to their employers, are 129th on a list of 180 so far as mortality is concerned. Insurance clerks, bank clerks, Civil Service clerks and railway clerks, who have had the good sense and judgment to organise themselves and to enable their views and claims to be submitted and generally to be reasonably considered, work under conditions where the employing bodies are compelled, therefore, to pay due regard to decency and reasonableness in the matter of office accommodation, and they are respectively 12th, 15th and 18th on the list against commercial clerks, 129th. There is a deposition, which is not absent from the House to-day, to regard rather lightly the proposals which we are putting forward. I invite that who oppose these proposals to provide their remedy by saying in what direction it is possible for the clerical workers and others to seek and to secure relief and a solution of the troubles and dangers to which I have made reference.

I speak with all diffidence of the serious trouble which arises from the prevalence of tubercular and pulmonary diseases in the presence of one who is an eminent authority upon questions of this sort, and who, I hope, will provide us to-day, as he has before, with his valuable assistance in the matter. These diseases, as I am sure he will he willing to confirm, are notoriously bred under conditions where gresh air, sunlight, ventilation and sanitation are absent. "Slum offices" is the correct term to use in connection with some of the premises, the existence of which we are aware, and tubercular disease bred in a slum office is no respecter of persons. An active, stalwart youth, or a bright, bonnie girl, light-hearted and healthy, may all, unknown to themselves, pick up the germ while working under these conditions, and years after, during a period of lowered vitality, it expands into activity and blazes up, and soon there is an empty chair, aching hearts, and in the case of the woman perhaps motherless children also. I know from sad personal experience how true this may be. An eminent surgeon who was a Member of this House in a previous Parliament told me that the disease could be contracted and lay quiescent for a period of even 20 years, so that some of you may find yourselves in the position in which I have found myself—unable, at first, to determine and to account for the presence of the disease in a daughter or a son, but able to trace it ultimately to the fact of being called upon to work under conditions such as I have indicated. This is the unhappy lot of a large number of our fellow-workers who have to work in offices.

It may be suggested that the evidence which has been laid before the House is not sufficient to justify drastic changes of the character which have been advocated, although I would not so describe them. I have no desire unnecessarily to occupy the time of the House this morning in quoting cases, but my information is derived from a. different source from that of the Mover of the Motion. I have had the responsibility for nearly a generation of helping to guide the fortunes of one of the largest, if not the largest organisation acting for clerical workers in this country. I have also been for 10 or 12 years the president of the National Federation of Professional Workers, which is taking now, and always has taken, great interest in this proposed legislation. I want to confirm what has been said, that every organisation representing the clerical and allied workers, without exception so far as I am aware, is behind this Bill and earnestly desire that something should be done in the direction which it indicates.

I invite those who are opposing the Bill to say whether the hundreds of thousands of educated, moderate, reasonable people who are organised in these trade unions are not capable of suggesting the kind of provision that is necessary for them, or are not able to see what is unreasonable, or what hon. Members opposite have considered to be unreasonable in the past. I hope that they have learned better in the meantime. The National Federation has received recently spontaneous communications from workers in offices who are aware of the attempt to secure legislation of this sort and who desire to lend their aid by the provision of information. I would quote only a few cases. Here is a case of a woman who was working in a commercial office in London and was obliged to leave after a month, because the conditions under which she had to work were impossible. She had to work in a tiny room, with no window and no ventilation. There were five men besides herself in this unhealthy space, working with defective electric light. Even in this short space of time the conditions affected her sight and now she has to wear glasses.


Did she lay a complaint after she had left?


How easy it is for a person working under those conditions to make complaints! If complaint has to be made she has to make it to the local sanitary authority, the medical officer of health, who has to be convinced before action can he taken. Moreover, he has not the right of entry to the place. I invite the representative of the Home Office to say whether the right of entry has been established.


The hon. Member has not answered my question. Did she lay a complaint after she left?


In reply, I would ask the hon. Member to consider the advisability, the practicability of laying a complaint of this sort.


Did she do so?


Will the hon. Member express an opinion as to the possibility of her receiving from the employer a reference or a character with a view to future employment if he knew that she had been responsible for making a complaint about the office accommodation which, judging from the hon. Member's opposition to the Bill, he would regard as satisfactory accommodation? Medical officers in my own experience have said to me bluntly in regard to cases which I have taken up that a place has to be a stinking nuisance before it is possible for them to take action. They can only take action as a result of a complaint made by those, who are working there, and those people may be penalised, because an employer who is content to provide that kind of accommodation would not be too scrupulous in regard to any action which he might take in respect of an employé who complained about his accommodation. Here is another letter: I do not dislike my present work, but I find the hours long, nominally nine to six, but we are always kept later. I have to work all day in an office with no windows and with only artificial light, which I find very trying. Here is a third case: I am having to work in a very dark and damp basement, and unless I obtain another position my health after a time will be affected. It may be said that we are simply quoting cases with regard to the less desirable establishments in commercial life. There are institutions in this country whose prosperity cannot be questioned and whose ability to provide office accommodation of a satisfactory character is beyond doubt. There are palatial buildings to be found on the finest sites in London and in every provincial city or town occupied by branches of the great banks, and so on. These offices are very attractive where the public have to do their business, but it would not be fair to assume that the offices in which the men and women employés are required to spend their time, are of the luxurious or attractive character that one sees in the front of the buildings in our main thoroughfares and squares. We have had information sent to us in regard to banks.


On a point of order. Is the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) entitled to approach the officials of the Home Office under the Gallery for the purpose of obtaining information?


I see no objection to it.


I was under the impression that the Home Office and its representatives would be quite neutral, and would not supply any hon. Member with information to be used in the debate.


I see no reason why they should not be considered neutral in this regard. The hon. Member is as much entitled as the hon. Member for South Croydon to consult them.


Here are three cases relating to bank branches of what are known as the big five:— (1) Men and women sharing the same lavatory; (2) no lavatory at all. Staff have to go across to a teashop on the other side of the road.

Captain DOWER

On a point of order. We are entitled to know in what bank those conditions exist.


If the hon. and gallant Member wishes to know privately, I shall be glad to let him have the information.

Captain DOWER

No. Publicly.


There is justification for reticence on our part.




Is it a co-operative bank?


I will arrange for the fullest information to be given to any hon. Member privately, provided he will give me an assurance that the source of his information is not disclosed. So broad-minded are the directors of the banks that they decline to recognise the trade union representatives, and we are justified in being careful of what we are doing in regard to them. If hon. Members want to find out whether the facts I am giving are correct or not, steps can be taken either to verify or deny my statement. Here is another case: The lavatories are on the 7th floor and the women who use them can only gain reentry to the office by ringing a bell. —[Laughter.] That seems to amuse hon. Members opposite. This is the report of another case which has been sent to the office of the National Federation: At the head office of one of the Big Five I was told of a woman who was taken seriously ill with heart attack. She was first attended in the cloakroom as there is no rest room, and she was so ill that a doctor had to be summoned. The cloakroom was so unsuitalde a place for the doctor to attend to her that she was brought downstairs in the lift. She collapsed and had to be stretched on the floor in the corridor, and there the doctor had to attend her. The doctor was amazed that there was no womens rest room where he could attend to the patient.

Lieut.-Colonel KERR

Was that in one of the head offices of the Big Five?


Yes. I indicated earlier that the support of these proposals is not limited to those engaged in industrial concerns. The Civil Service Association representing 70,000 civil servants recently passed a resolution unanimously supporting the Bill. They have good reasons for doing so. I have in my hand information with regard to office accommodation under the control of the Minister of Labour—the Claims and Records Office at Kew. The staff housed in this building is 2,600. The structure was erected during the War to deal with an emergency situation which then existed, and was not intended to stand permanently as accommodation for the Government staff. As a consequence, the building has become progressively more unsuitable for the purpose for which it is used. A lot of details are given in regard to ventilation, lighting and the lack of lavatory accommodation. Here is another case in which the Government are responsible, the Borough Employment Exchange, which is a building consisting of a number of wooden huts in the Walworth Road. As offices they present every major and minor difficulty. The place is verminous, the lighting is poor, and the ventilation is deplorably bad. In the summer the heat is intolerable, and in the winter the cold is unbearable. For years the staff have complained against the conditions under which they have to work. I have also information about other Employment Exchanges at Shepherds Bush and Grimsby.

My hon. Friend has explained clearly the general objects and structure of the Bill, and I hope he has said enough to induce hon. Members and the Government to reconsider their position in regard to this Measure. The Government had the hardihood to claim that they have the interests of the black-coated workers at heart. Some of us have been searching carefully for a number of years but have discovered very little evidence of this interest, although there was an indication of some encouragement to the black-coated workers in the manifesto which they issued during the last election in which there was an indication of recognition, somewhat vague and unsatisfactory. Here is an opportunity for the Government to show that they are desirous of doing something to protect the health and interests of the non-manual workers. I have no doubt the suggestion will be made that existing legislation is adequate to meet the circumstances, that the Factories and Shops Acts and the Public Health Acts will meet the situation. We deny that suggestion. We deny it not only here, but have denied it frequently in our discussions of a detailed and extended character with the representatives of the Home Office. I am not going to claim, indeed it would be idle to do so, that we have succeeded in pursuading the Home Office that the present legislation is entirely unsatisfactory, but the Under Secretary will no doubt admit—at any rate if he has a copy of the report of the last interview we had with the Home Office—that there was an admission on their part that difficulties existed in respect of legislation. There was the point of the right of entry, and also whether the Factory Acts which may be entirely suitable for factories and workshops are not entirely unsuitable for offices. There was also an admission on their part—I have no desire to exaggerate—that there is an undoubted weakness in so far as the application of the Public Health Acts is concerned, because the action to be taken there is on the initiative of the local authority.

We ask that this large body of workers shall be treated at least as favourably as similar groups of workers. During the last half century this House from time to time has laid down conditions attaching to the employment of men and women in factories, in workshops and in mines. The group on whose behalf we are speaking is as large as any of these. Surely hon. Members are not prepared to suggest that they are less worthy citizens and less entitled to the consideration of this House than the manual workers. I ask the House and the Government not to turn them empty away again. Do not mistake moderation and a disposition to be tolerant for weakness. There is a growing body of opinion among these people that they are being treated unfairly. They are convinced that the proposals of the Bill, while they may be capable of amendment in Committee, are of a reasonable and fair character. The suggestion that legislation of this kind will simply lead to the appointment of more Government officials, and what has been described as fussy interference, is only worthy of those who opposed the Factory Acts. Hon. Members who come forward with arguments of that sort are the political heirs and successors of those who opposed every extension of industrial protection to men and women, of those who opposed the Plimsoll Line and of those who objected to every social effort to protect the workers against unfair- ness and injustice. In supporting the right of employers to provide practically any kind of accommodation which they themselves think satisfactory you are encouraging the unscrupulous and unsatisfactory employer, whose commercial standards are no higher than his conception of his responsibilities towards his employés against the fairminded and decent employer. I have no desire to show any heat, I want to be fair and moderate, but it is a little difficult to restrain oneself when one is conscious of the conditions over a long period of years which have existed in the City of London and other places. I do not desire to occupy any more time, as I know others wish to speak. In conclusion I would urge that the most serious consideration should be given to this matter and that an honest effort should be made on the lines proposed to deal with what is an admitted evil.

12.15 p.m.


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, so far as it is efficiently workable, merely re-enacts the existing law in different words, and which will lead to confusion in administration because it brings under its provisions offices which in many cases are regulated either by the Factory Acts or the Shops Acts. I would like to congratulate the Mover of the Motion for Second Reading, not because I agree with him but because I think that he moved the Motion with lucidity and sincerity, and I am sure that he did so with optimism that the Bill will go through. The hon. Member will be welcomed in our debates. With regard to his optimism I would quote two lines from the celebrated poet Alexander Pope: Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blest. We on this side of the House do not oppose the Bill because it is brought in by the Socialists. In fact we are always prepared to support any Bill, from whatever quarter of the House it is presented, provided it is a good Bill. If hon. Members will study the records of Acts of Parliament that have been passed to benefit the black-coated workers and the working people of this country they will find that more such Bills have been passed by the Tory Party than by any other Party. I think we can properly describe this Bill as a hardy annual. It comes up with great regularity. I remember that in 1934 I seconded the rejection of a Bill that was presented by an hon. Member from Glasgow. It differed from this Bill in only three particulars. It provided that every office should have air-conditioning plant installed and that air should be changed twice in every hour.


That is what we want here.


I agree. That 1934 Bill provided that, quite irrespective of the state of the decorations in the offices concerned, every three years the offices should be lime-washed. Then we had to have a wonderful restaurant provided, and all juvenile labour was prohibited. This Bill is exactly the same, as the old lady would say, but a little bit different; it is exactly the same as the other Bill, with the differences that I have mentioned. If this Bill were passed it would affect the whole commercial, industrial and professional life of the country. To be understood properly the Bill must be read in conjunction with the Public Health Acts, the Factory Acts, the Shop Acts, the General Powers Acts of the local authorities, and with the by-laws that the local authorities are empowered to make under those Acts. If I may be allowed to make another quotation I would say: It is only part we see, but not the whole. Every house in the country where any clerical or professional work is done would be affected by this Bill. I have a small office in my house where I keep my secretary. [HON. MEMBERS: Shame."] "Honi soit qui mal y pense." Wherever any clerical work of any description is done in any house or cottage throughout the country, this Bill would affect it. Whit does the Bill propose? We have to affix at every entrance of every private house where any man does any clerical work of any description, whether he be a doctor or anyone else, a notice. Clause 8 says: There shall he affixed at every entrance of every building in which offices are situate…

  1. (a) an abstract of this Act; and
  2. (b) a notice of the name and address of the local authority; and
  3. (c) every notice and document required by this Act…
It says "at every entrance of every building." That means the front entrance, the tradesmen's entrance, and the garage entrance.


The hon. Member says that the Bill would affect every one who works in his own private office in his own home. Let me draw attention to the definition of an office. It says that it is a place "wherein persons are employed to perform clerical, professional or technical duties." One or two other paragraphs in the same Clause emphasise the question of employment. Therefore the Bill does not apply to the office of an individual as mentioned by the hon. Member.


It applies to a man's own wife or his daughter if she does a job for him. It does not follow that the service has to be remunerated service. If the Bill is interpreted literally we find that wherever any clerical work is done in any cottage or house the Bill would apply. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I ask hon. Members opposite to read the Bill. If they do not mean what the Bill says, they should withdraw the Bill and bring in another that does say what they mean. I listened to every complaint that was made by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, and I am positive that I am correct in saying that every one of their complaints could be dealt with either by the Public Health Acts or the other Acts that I have already mentioned. There is no exception at all. The public health authority has the right of entry. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes. Section 102 of the Public Health Act, 1875, reads: The local authority, or any of their officers, shall be admitted into any premises for the purpose of examining as to the existence of any nuisance thereon, or of enforcing the provisions of any Act in force within the district, requiring fireplaces and furnaces, to consume their own smoke… and so on. There is consequently no question whatever that this Bill is entirely unnecessary to remedy or to deal with any of the complaints made by the hon. Member. All this Bill seeks to do is to turn every house where any clerical work is done into an office, and I am sure hon. Members opposite do not seek to do that. But that is what the Bill says and, therefore, the Bill is bad from beginning to end.

In the case of underground offices, which are defined as being three feet from the surface, so that they could be semi-basements, a certificate can be obtained to carry on for three years, but for no longer. Every office in the House of Commons would come within the category. Thousands of offices which are perfectly all right in the City of London would come within the category; but for some reason best known to the drafters of the Bill, Government offices and Royal Palaces have been excluded. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read the Bill!"] No, they are not. They were excluded before, but they are now included. [An HON. MEMBER: "Royal Palaces are excluded!"] Why should you exclude Royal Palaces from your Bill? If the Bill is a good one and hon. Members have the interests of all workers at heart, why do they say that the workers employed in the Royal Palaces should not be allowed to work under as good conditions as those elsewhere? The Bill is an unworkable one, and it is bad from beginning to end. I sincerely hope the House will do the same in the case of this Bill as it did in the case of Bills of a similar character in the past, and reject it. There is no need at all for the Bill.

I notice that hon. Members opposite, when they have not a very good case so far as the facts are concerned, generally appeal to emotion. Sometimes they appeal to passion and emotion instead of logic and reason. If hon. Members deal with this Bill from a logical and reasonable standpoint, they will find there is nothing in it that is necessary at all. Every complaint which hon. Members opposite have made is provided for under the Public Health Act, the Factories and Shops Acts, the General Powers Acts of the local authorities or the by-laws which the local authorities are enabled to enact under the general powers which they have. If the local authorities do not enforce those powers and use them, that is nothing to do with Parliament.

The hon. Member who seconded brought forward some very serious allegations regarding the conditions of various buildings. He ought to have complained at once to the local authorities, which have powers under the Public Health Act to remedy every complaint the hon. Member made, without any exception. This Measure would have the effect of turning every little dwelling and every large dwelling where any clerical work is done into an office where an inspector would have the right to walk in, independently of and apart from the Public Health Act. Nobody knows that better than my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who has been very active in dealing with the Public Health Act, the Factories and Shops Acts and other Acts of a similar kind. I am sure he will agree with me that all the complaints that have been made could be dealt with under the Public Health Act. I hope the House will reject this Measure by a huge majority.

12.31 p.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I shall not be able to follow my hon. Friend the Member for the Elland Division of Yorkshire (Mr. Levy) in all his arguments, nor do f entirely agree with some of them. That, however, is immaterial, and the reasons will be obvious. I do not think the House can be asked to accept a Bill brought forward by the Socialist party for propaganda purposes. It is typical of the Socialist party that they always want to claim that they are the people who bring forward any Bill which is for the benefit of the workers. It was Lord Salisbury who, in another place in 1912, brought forward a Bill which was turned down by the Liberal party and backed up by the Socialist party in the country. That was the first occasion on which a Bill 'was introduced for office regulation, and I would like hon. Members to bear that in mind. The Socialist party are trying to be a doctor who can cure every ill. They say they have an ointment which will cure boils, bunions, stomach ache, head ache—a remedy for every ill; and they appeal to the people to join the Socialist party and get that ointment.

This Bill is a great improvement on the Bill which was brought forward in 1934. Many of the ridiculous things which were in the previous Bill have been left out, but it would take more than amend- ment to make this Bill workable. I have the very greatest sympathy with the object which the Bill has in view, and I think there is no doubt that if things are as bad as hon. Members opposite claim they are, it is a case for the Government to take up, and not a case for a private Member's Bill. I know there are hard cases and certain anomalies which ought to be corrected, and I look to the Government to take the necessary steps. But the whole of this Bill would have to be re-drafted, and it is not a question of taking it up in Committee and making amendments in it, for it is impossible to amend it.

The cost of carrying out the work deemed necessary to put this Bill into operation would be prohibitive and would practically destroy all the small business men in the country. I know that one of the objects of the Socialist party is to destroy the small man. [HON MEMBERS: "No".] Oh, yes, the co-operative societies show that the Socialists are out to destroy the small shopkeeper. This Bill is aimed very largely at the small man. Some of the wording of the Bill is ridiculous and it would seem that where those who drafted it could not find the exact wording which they wanted they simply left it to the Ministry of Health., For example, Clause 1 (1, g) provides that an office must have suitable and sufficient means to maintain a reasonable temperature and a reasonable temperature shall be maintained. What is the meaning of the word "reasonable" in that connection? Hon. Members know that four people in a railway carriage can seldom agree as to what is a reasonable temperature.


May I point out to the hon. and gallant Member that the paragraph of which he complains is in the precise wording of the Shops Act, 1934, which was passed by a majority of those on his side of the House?


That does not necessarily make it all right, but I thank the hon. Member for his interruption. These words were put into the Shops Act and the result is that some local authorities insist upon a certain temperature being maintained in fish shops, which is good for human beings but is sending the fish out of the shops. We do not want to see the follies of previous legislation repeated in this Bill. As to the condition that an office shall be provided with suitable and sufficient means to maintain a reasonable temperature I presume that would apply to a gas or electric fire. I do not see the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) in his place but, under this Bill, if he took his gas workers out on strike, I should have to get the strike broken up in order to maintain the required temperature in my office. The seconder of the Motion has already pointed out that many municipal and Government offices would have to be torn down and rebuilt in order to meet the requirements of the Bill. He also said that those who were against the Bill were opposing it with scorn. That was before anybody on this side had opened his mouth to speak on the Bill. After a remark of that kind I can only say that I am prepared to oppose the Bill with the scorn which it deserves. The hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Lathan) did make a strong point when he spoke about increased employment, but at the same time it must be pointed out that the machine is displacing labour all over the country in offices as well as in factories. I do not propose to go right through the Bill but I must call attention to Clause 7 which is a most inquisitorial Clause. It provides: Every person who occupies an office shall, within three months after the passing of this Act or within one month after he begins to occupy an office, forward to the authority whose duty it is to enforce the provisions of this Act, a written notice containing the name of the office, the place where it is situate, the address to which he desires his letters Io be addressed, the nature of the work, and the name and address of the employer under which the business of the office is to be carried on. What business is it of a local authority to inquire what the nature of the work is? There is nothing here to tell us exactly what kind of information is required under this provision. The hon. Member for Elland has already pointed out that the definition of an office under the Bill would include a room in a private dwelling house used by a private secretary whether under contract of service or otherwise. Thus under Clause 8 anybody employing a private secretary would have to affix at every entrance to his house an abstract of the Act, a notice of the name and address of the local authority and every notice and document required by the Act to be affixed in an office. All these documents, for instance, would have to be affixed at Nos. 10 and 11 Downing Street, both at the front doors and presumably also at the French windows leading from the drawing room of the Chancellor of the Exchequer into his backgarden. They would have to be affixed at the entrance to the Cabinet Room in No. 10 Downing Street from No. 11. Furthermore, if this measure were enforced, I suppose an inspector would have to go round there to see whether it was being carried out or not. He probably would be mistaken for the Minister of Defence because nobody knows who that Minister is and he would have to take the temperature of the room with a thermometer, which would be kept hanging on the wall. I also find in the definition Clause that the expression "young person" means a person who "has ceased to be a child and is under the age of 18 years."

If I happen to employ my wife as my private secretary and she is under 18 what is to happen? Under Clause 6 it is provided that no young person shall be employed at night or on Sunday. Supposing my wife acts as my private secretary will these provisions apply to her. Am I to be prohibited by Act of Parliament from dictating to my wife on Sunday? Then, there is no definition of "night". Are we to take the definition under criminal law or the definition of the Minister of Transport? One finds the same kind of thing all the way through the Bill. Clause 13 provides that the Measure shall not apply to offices occupied by persons employed in the naval, military or air forces of the Crown or in a police force or in any royal palace. The promoters of the Bill it will be seen have on this occasion specifically excluded royal palaces probably because they found that royal palaces would have to be rebuilt in order to come within the purview of the Measure, but I would ask what is to be the position of civilian employés of Crown forces? There are many such civilian employés. I know what I am talking about in this respect because I command a Territorial brigade and as a commissioned officer serving under the Crown I am to be made responsible by this Clause for things which I could not possibly control. I do not think that is a proper method of procedure.

The aim of the Bill, no doubt, is to improve conditions, and in some cases I am prepared to consider that the conditions ought to be improved, and I hope that the Home Office will pay the closest attention to this matter. But I think there is a great deal of exaggeration in regard to it. The hon. Member for the Park Division said it was difficult to get reliable medical evidence on the health and well-being of clerical workers, but I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) that the general health condition of persons of this class over the age of 35 is considerably better than is found among other sections. At some ages it is slightly worse and those are what I regard as the dangerous ages, but that is a wide question and one which is far beyond the scope of a private Member's Bill. It is a subject which ought to be dealt with by the Government and, even if we reject this Bill, I hope it will have served the purpose of drawing the attention of the Government to the question. If so, the promoters of the Bill will have achieved a step forward but in view of the draftsmanship of the Bill which is such that it could hardly be amended in Committee, I must ask the House to reject it. We are not, however, satisfied with the present condition of affairs with which it seeks to deal. We hope that the Government will take steps to fill up the gaps between various Acts already in existence for the betterment of our people in this respect.

12.45 p.m.


The hon. and gallant Member for West Birkenhead (Lieut.-Colonel Sandeman Allen), who has just sat down, made a gallant effort to cover the Bill with ridicule, but I am rather of the opinion that he only succeeded in covering himself with ridicule. He raised one or two points which are really Committee points, and I think he should have taken the trouble, before making the reckless charges that he did make with regard to the phraseology of the Bill, to acquaint himself with the subject. His first criticism was with reference to paragraph (g) of Clause 1, which he said was ridiculous phraseology, and he asked how anyone could interpret what the word "reasonable" meant. If he had looked at the Shops Act, 1934, he would have found that the paragraph is taken word for word from the Act, which was legislation for which his own Government were responsible. I have no doubt that the Parliamentary draftsman or the Attorney-General will be very amused to learn that in the opinion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman this paragraph is ridiculous in its phraseology.


I pointed out that I thought the Shops Act was ridiculous on the same point, and I gave the example of a fish shop in Liverpool. If the hon. Member had done me the courtesy of listening to what I said, he would have heard that.


I listened very courteously to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and the word he used was "ridiculous." I understand he still takes that view, in spite of the fact that his name is attached to an Amendment which calls upon the House to reject this Bill because we ought to he content with the Factory Acts and Shops Acts. He wants to blow hot and cold at the same time, which is a very difficult thing to do. He then turned his attention to Clause 7 and made great play with the wording contained in it. Again the hon. and gallant Member is only disclosing his ignorance, because the Clause is taken word for word from Section 127 of the Factory and Workshop Act, 1901, for which the Tory party was responsible as the Government of the day. It, therefore, seems to me that everybody is stupid except the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

Then he turned his attention to the word "office," and he was not satisfied with the definition of the word. His argument would equally apply to the definition of the word "workshop" in the Factory and Workshop Act, in which, broadly speaking, that a workshop is defined as a place where people are employed in manual labour. Therefore, to take his own case of his wife under the age of 18, she would be in the same position under the Factory and Workshop Act if the hon. and gallant Gentleman established a carpenter's bench in his drawing room, because young persons under 18 are prohibited from night work under that Act. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants a little information on what is meant by the word "night," I would again refer him to the same Act as that to which he refers in his Amendment, which obviously he has never looked at, and he will there find that "night" is defined as from 9 o'clock at night to six o'clock in the morning.


I asked for information there; I did not make any play about it.


If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will read his speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT, I think he will find that he tried to make play with that word. Let me now turn to the expression "young person". That is also taken from the same Act. With regard to the Amendment, I listened very carefully to the speeches of the proposer and seconder, but they both seemed to keep as far away from it as they could, and I do not blame them for that, because it would be very difficult to justify opposition to the Bill on the lines there set out. The view taken by those who oppose the Bill—of course, they agree with the sentiments behind the Bill—is that the law under the Factory and Workshop and Shops Acts is sufficient.


No. The Amendment does not say that.


I will read the Amendment, and hon. Members can then make up their own minds on the question. It says: That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, so far as it is efficiently workable, merely re-enacts the existing law in different words, and which will lead to confusion in administration because it brings under its provisions offices which in many cases are regulated either by the Factory Acts or the Shops Acts.


The Amendment does not bear the interpretation the hon. Member is placing on it.


The interpretation is a matter of opinion, not one of fact, and I suggest that the Amendment really indicates that so far as many offices are concerned, they are regulated either under the Factory Acts or under the Shops Acts. If one looks at the Factory arid Workshop Acts, one will find definitions there both of factories and of workshops. No one has ever suggested that the Factory Acts apply to any other institutions than factories or workshops.

What are factories? They are divided into two categories, textile factories and non-textile factories, and factories, whether non-textile or textile, are factories where steam power is used. That is the broad test of a factory. No one suggests that offices are places where steam power is used, so we can rule out factories. Then we have workshops, and the definition of a workshop is a place where people are engaged in manual labour—not clerical, but manual labour. It has never been suggested up till now that an office is a workshop, so that I think I may safely say that the Factory and Workshop Acts do not apply to offices.

Then we may take the question of the Shops Acts and ask if they apply to offices. Again we are enabled to look at the definition of shops in those Acts, and we find that a shop is a place where a retail trade or business is carried on. I have never heard it suggested that an office is a place where a retail trade or business is carried on, so that that enables us to maintain that an office is not a shop. The hon. Member opposite disagrees with that, but I leave it to the House to make up their own minds on the point, having regard to the fact that the definition of shops is clear and that there must be a retail business carried on there. I think we are entitled, therefore, to say that neither the Factory Acts nor the Shops Acts apply in any respect to offices.

Then we come to the Public Health Acts, particularly the Act of 1875. The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Croydon, on the last occasion on which this subject was discussed, made great play with Section 91. In that Section there is a number of definitions of what constitutes a nuisance, and the hon. Member maintained that paragraph 6 of Section 91, which applies to any factory, workshop or workplace, covers an office. I am not prepared to dispute that argument. A workplace has never been defined, certainly not for the purpose of the Factory and Workshop Acts or the Shop Acts. The only help we are able to receive is from a decision in a case in the High Court in 1910, in which the learned judge laid it down that in his opinion workplace was a place where people are permanently employed as distinct, for example, from coming to clean your front window. I think that it can be argued from such obiter dicta of the learned judge that the courts would define workplace as including an office. That is not the point. There is a difference of opinion on the matter and there are many local authorities which take the view that workplace does not include office.

All we are asking in this Bill is that the law should be clarified. That is not an unusual thing to ask. The Government of the Under-Secretary to the Home Office did it a few years ago when dealing with trade unions. They said there was a difference of opinion whether a sympathetic strike on a certain scale was lawful or unlawful and that they would therefore declare the law. The Trade Disputes Act of 1927 declared the law according to what the Government conceived it to be. They did that because there was a genuine difference of opinion in all sections of the community how far trade unions were able to use the strike weapon. In the present case there is a genuine difference of opinion as to whether a workplace is an office within Section 91 of the Act of 1875. Therefore, the effect of the Bill would be to clarify that position. The House must remember that the arguments that are used against this Bill on the grounds that workplace includes office, and that there is a full right of inspection, would also have applied to the provisions contained in the Shops Act, 1934, because, if anything that is contained in Section 91 of the 1875 Act is sufficient to deal with conditions in any workplace and, therefore, in any office, they must equally apply to any shop, because any shop must be any workplace. There is no distinction between shop and office so far as Section 91 is concerned. Both are workplaces on the interpretation that the Government themselves placed on it, and if that be so there was no need to have these provisions in the 1934 Act.

It is not merely a question of dealing with a nuisance which is injurious to health. We are concerned also with the amenities of work, and the object of this Bill is to provide more amenities for those who are engaged in clerical duties. With regard to sanitary convenience, it is clear that the 1875 Act is not adequate It is true that the 1890 Act, which is adoptive, would authorise a local authority, once it adopted it, to compel sufficient and suitable sanitary accommodation in all workplaces. Many local authorities have not adopted that Act, however. We have to rely on Section 34 of the 1875 Act, and that merely applies where people of both sexes are employed on the same premises, and has no connection where only women are employed or only men are employed. In those cases there is no statutory obligation on employers to provide sufficient sanitary accommodation.

Therefore, we say that this Bill is intended to codify the law with regard to conditions in offices. Parliament has already done so in regard to factories, workshops and shops. It has not done so with regard to offices, except, to a certain limited extent, by allowing them to come in through the back door of factory, workshop and public health legislation. We say that in these days, when so many millions of men and women have to pass the whole of their working hours engaged in offices, the time has come in which to deal with this question as a separate issue requiring separate legislation which will bring up-to-date legislation embodying the conception of the community with regard to conditions which are existing in offices, We are not asking for anything more than has already been done for factories, workshops and shops. Therefore, it is with great confidence and in the hope that the House will carry this great remedial legislation another step, that I support the Bill.

1.2 p.m.


I rise with great diffidence to address the House for the first time, and I crave the indulgence of the House, for I can assure hon. Members I will not detain them for more than a few minutes. It is an excellent thing that the whole question concerning the accommodation of office workers has been brought before the House, and that we have a chance of ventilating our views on the subject. It is a serious attempt to call attention to the many defective offices which are found in the big towns of this country. The black-coated workers are not a very vocal body. They are not very vocal in their complaints, although it will be agreed that they form and represent a very solid body of our community and that they do have certain grievances which ought to be remedied. It is the section of the community which supports to a large extent the National Government. I have the honour to represent a constituency where many clerical workers live, and if it were not for their support and help, I dare say I should not be standing here.

Factory legislation was accepted by all shades of opinion as being necessary and beneficial to the workers, and I suggest that the Government might with very good effect make some inquiries as to the suitability of office accommodation, perhaps starting in London and the big towns. I do not want to see numerous inspectors and every room measured up, but a general survey of the situation might very well be made. Could not the Minister of Health, perhaps, give some instructions or advice to the local authorities to ensure that anyhow the sanitary arrangements of offices are adequate and that the ventilation and lighting are suitable. These seem to me to be the most important things to start with. A Private Members Bill is not a very suitable way to deal with these matters. Under this Bill we should have an army of inspectors, with rules and regulations and notices all over the buildings. That would not really do what we on this side of the House want; that is, first of all, to see that office workers have proper accommodation. Surely, if the sanitary inspectors and the local authorities were given further powers and were instructed to visit offices and report on them, the employers would very soon improve them and something might soon be done in the matter. I do not want to add to the petty interferences with small employers, but the general principle might be gone into, with advantage to the workers.

In those large and imposing buildings, those masterpieces of construction, which we see, especially in London, one might expect to find real comfort and amenities, but I should like to give one or two instances of accommodation in them which is not satisfactory. I have particulars here of lack of cloakroom accommodation and lavatories, the necessity of women having to share lavatories with men—that might be forbidden by the local authorities—of bad ventilation, and of bad lighting arrangements necessitating the constant use of artificial light even in summer. There are cases of girls having to work in basement rooms and in a strong room in a basement; in the latter numerous cases of fainting have occurred. There are also cases of overcrowding because accommodation which was adequate before mechanisation and the employment of women in large numbers, has now become inadequte.

I have particulars of a room measuring approximately 30 ft. by 18 ft. in which there are 13 large ledger-keeping machines where 15 girls and nine men are employed all day. These offices look very smart and grand from outside, but a little more comfort and space might be provided for the workers inside; especially in such a case as that in which they are kept working in a passage which is draughty and with people passing all the time and with machines in operation. Cases of inadequate lavatory accommodation are numerous. One large place until lately had no lavatory at all and the staff had to go outside. In another the lavatories were on the seventh floor and re-entry to the office was only possible by leave of men, although women were employed there. I feel that such matters might be inquired into by the local authorities and instructions given to the employers.

I know that the time of His Majesty's Government is very fully occupied just now with very important business, such as defence, education and various Bills designed to help our trade, but I suggest that the non-commissioned officers—if I may so call them—the black-coated workers in industry, who play so vital a part in the smooth working of our industry, trade and commerce, are entitled to the same consideration as regards their conditions of employment as any other section of the community, and I venture to hope that the Government, through the local authorities, will give instructions to have this question thoroughly looked into, and I feel quite sure that when the Minister of Health is asked about it he will do his best.

1.8 p.m.


I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Crowder) upon his very creditable intervention in our debate. His speech has been notable in this sense, that his remarks have been based upon some knowledge of conditions operating among office workers, and he has made a plea, which I shall emphasise, for some amendment of the law, or the consolidation of the law, in this matter. At the same time I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) on the very informing and interesting speech which he made M moving the Second Reading. Among the variety of interests and occupations which have fallen to my lot during my lifetime one of the most interesting has been my association with the organisation and negotiations on behalf of clerical workers, and since 1919 I have been closely associated with the hon. Member for Shipley in seeking to arouse and focus public attention upon these matters, which vitally concern the large and growing army of clerical workers. I have been seeking to secure the establishment of some code of law similar to our factory legislation, and similar to the law relating to shops and shop assistants, which would lay down some standard of conditions for clerical workers.

Similar measures have been introduced on previous occasions. The Bill of 1934 was severely criticised by hon. Members, and in view of that criticism this Measure has been drastically amended. The promoters have bowed to the will of Parliament and sought to introduce a Bill which would remove some measure of the hostility which was then manifested. In reading over that debate the other day I did not think that it reflected a great deal of credit on the House or upon the Home Office. I was sorry to see the line which was taken by the Home Office in 1934. I do not speak without knowledge of the Home Office and its administration, and there was a time when the very Bill which was under discussion in 1934 was likely to be introduced within the lifetime of a Labour Government. It was the second Order on a particular Friday, but it was not reached. However, a brief had been prepared by the experts and officials of the Home Office and handed to me, and that brief—I looked it up again only the other day—was entirely sympathetic. No mention was made then of the report of Sir George Newman in 1928, though there are many things in that report which justify this Bill being before the House this afternoon. No mention was made of the line taken by the then Under-Secretary, the right hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hacking), respecting probable health legislation. None of those aspects was brought to my notice when I was at the Home Office. Rather, my reply was to have been of a very sympathetic and encouraging character.


In which year was that?


In 1929 or 1930. In fact, the only real point of criticism which I recall was that in reference to Crown Offices which, if I remember rightly, was brought to my notice not by the Home Office but by the Ministry of Health. Of course we have to admit that there has been a great deal of improvement with modern buildings. The amenities they provide are a vast improvement upon those of the obsolete and out of date buildings now occupied as offices. But there is a large amount of overcrowding even in these first-class up-to-date offices. Not long ago when I was in an office I counted the number of people on one floor. Including men and women they numbered about 30. All the women were typists, with the usual mechanical trappings. The noise and clatter were most nerve-racking.

We have no power to deal with any of these things. Anybody can turn a room into an office. In an office I know of there was no lavatory accommodation and no facilities for washing, and the typists had to go across the road for the usual conveniences. We contend that there is no adequate supervision and inspection, and no standard laid down regarding overcrowding, sanitary accommodation, lighting, ventilation and so forth. We know that there is the right of entry, but when entry is made, it is usually as the result of a complaint made, by some individual. That is not a duty which should be imposed upon any worker who, by making the complaint, runs the risk of getting the sack or of being intimidated and victimised. We want a code which will ensure adequate inspection and supervision, and the laying down of standards. That has been done with regard to factory workers. The public mind was outraged at the intolerable conditions prevailing. We have had to do it also for shop workers, and we should like to see it done for the large and growing body of clerical workers. The tendency of modern industry has been—I will not say to drive, but to induce more and more people into the non-productive side of industrial life. There is an increasing number of people of the clerical and technical type. We desire more supervision in these matters.

We can brush aside, I think, rightly and without any comment, what I would term the comic intervention of the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Amendment. We are entitled to serious consideration. Hon. Members would be wise riot to use their private time and their Fridays for the display of buffoonery, but to keep that time for the consideration of their Private Bills and to apply their minds with intelligence to the matters that are brought before them. The hon. and gallant Member for West l3irkenhead (Lt.-Col. Sandeman Allen) said one or two things to which I would like to refer, and which are useful to me. He said that there was a case, that lie was not satisfied and that he looked o the Government to act. He admitted that there was a lack of uniformity in the administration of the law so far as local authorities are concerned. The hon. Member for Finchley also emphasised that point of view.

I am anxious to get something done. I am not inclined to throw across the Floor a lot of debating points. I was very pleased with the admirable and informing speech of my hon. Friend for Kingswinford (Mr. Henderson). He cleared up many points to the satisfaction of the House, and he did it with distinction. We have been trying for some time to get something done. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs will not take the path of the buffoon which was taken by an Under-Secretary on a previous occasion. I hope that he will display some reason, if he has a case against the Bill, and not only against the phraseology. That is simple. I have been here long enough to know that all kinds of Bills can be ridiculed and riddled, as far as their phraseology is concerned, but has the Under-Secretary a case against something being done to satisfy the requirements of this large and growing body of clerical workers? Will he tell us that factory law is sufficient to deal with offices? If he does so, let him give an assurance that when his right hon. Friend introduces the Factory Bill in the next Session of Parliament, there will be included in it the necessary provisions to safeguard clerical workers. If he gives us that assurance, I guarantee that this Bill will be withdrawn.


We are not accepting his word. He is not in the Cabinet.


He speaks on behalf of the Cabinet. He is in a similar position to that which I held myself, and he speaks with the authority of his right hon. Friend. If he cannot give me that assurance, and if he does not want to include clerical workers under factory legislation, I do not think he will say that the legislation on the Statute Book is satisfactory so far as offices are concerned. In regard to shops, we have built up a peculiar code for shop workers, and when I was at the Home Office I understood that it was not desirable to meddle with the shop workers category and to begin to include all kinds of other workers under shop legislation. I do not know whether that is the view of the Ministry now, but the hon. Gentleman will no doubt tell us.

If we cannot deal with these matters under those branches of existing legislation, does the hon. Gentleman say that they can be dealt with under the Public Health Act of 1875 and successive Acts? Evidence has been submitted which is without challenge or contradiction that the existing law is not sufficient. If it were sufficient, there would be no bad offices and there would be no complaints. If the Act of 1875 and subsequent legislation had been properly, wisely and judiciously administered we should have had no problem. I remember a speech made by the late Lord Balfour, who said that had the Housing of the Working Classes Act been administered we should not have been faced with slum property. We say that if the Public Health Acts had been properly and wisely administered, we might not have bad offices. As they are administered to-day, there are bad offices and bad conditions.

I am glad the Minister of Health is now present, because his Department is bound up in this matter. His own supporters tell us that the Public Health Act has something to do with it, but, as I have indicated, the results are very unsatisfactory. He is going to introduce at some time a Public Health Bill. The Committee set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) when he was Minister of Health, has reported, and a draft Bill has been circulated. At some time, I hope shortly, the right hon. gentleman will introduce it. Clause 280 provides for the right of entry into any premises, I agree by an authorised officer; and Clause 232, the interpretation Clause, provides for a proper definition of a workplace, which definition, as I understand it, covers an office. Can the Under-Secretary, in conjunction with the Minister of Health, give us some assurance on these matters? I think there is an overwhelming feeling in the House that something ought to be done. I do not think that the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment really represent the considered view of the House; I believe there is a growing anxiety with regard to the condition of many of these clerical workers. Anyone who has been in public life for any length of time, and has drifted into offices, knows that these conditions exist, and that they are difficult to tackle under the existing law.

I hope we shall not be met with a flat negative, or the buffoonery that there was in the last debate. I do not want the Under-Secretary to get up and tell us a long story supporting the somewhat ridiculous criticism that was then indulged in. I want him to tell us that he will take this Bill, that in Committee, with the assistance of the Home Office, it could be made into a workable Bill, and that something better than this Bill could be brought back to the House for further consideration. If the hon. Gentleman is not able to go as far as that, I want him to tell us that the Home Office, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, will seriously tackle this question within a reasonable time, and see whether there cannot be placed upon the Statute Book some legislation which will remove these evils, avoid the constant bickering and criticism as regards this large class of workers, and enhance the reputation of the House itself.

1.29 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel KERR

I hope that there will be no criticism of buffoonery in regard to what I shall have to say on this subject. I have a large office myself, and I know a good deal about offices, not only in London but in the country. I am in entire sympathy with the aims of the Bill. There is no doubt whatever that there are some deplorable offices all over the country, and I feel that this debate to-day will do a great deal of good in that direction for the black-coated workers, and, in particular, for the female section of those workers. I would like for a moment to touch on the question of the female workers. As hon. Members will know, before the War there were very few female workers in offices as compared with the number to-day. During the War, thousands of women had to be taken on in offices, and, of course, the offices, while suitable for men, were not suitable for both sexes; the necessary accommodation was not there. That difficulty had to be faced after the War, and it has been faced to a certain extent, but not nearly enough. Hon. Members will realise the difficulty of modernising old-fashioned buildings, which were all right for men up to a certain number, but which are quite inadequate in accommodation and amenities for both sexes, or for the increased staffs that have now come about all over the country.

My own office is more crowded than it was before the War, but I am not at all certain that the worst accommodation in my office is not my own room. I doubt whether hon. Members opposite would be very pleased if they had to work in my room. It is at the bottom of the well of a great building which goes up a couple of hundred feet or more, and I get no light and very little air that has not been used by the people on the top floor breathing it before it comes down to me. It is thoroughly loaded by the time it reaches me, and certainly I feel very often that my health is suffering from continuously sitting in that office. It would be extremely difficult to remedy that. I believe there is some funny little arrangement coming down this shaft which has some air in it, the idea being to help those of us who work at the bottom of the house, but so far as I can see it has very little effect. There are, therefore, difficulties in dealing with these matters. As I have said, these old buildings are gradually being wiped out, but the process is going to take a very long time.

I fear, with regard to this Bill, that, if it came into operation, it would be unworkable, for the reason that it attempts too much. I think the result would be to put a lot of people out of business and cause endless confusion, although, as I have said, I thoroughly agree with the aims of the Bill. Again, one hon. Member read certain Clauses of the Bill which he said were in other Bills. It seems to me that this Bill is built up to a very great extent of Clauses that are already in other Bills, and I feel that in that way it is unnecessary. I think, however, that this Debate will have done a great deal of good, because it will undoubtedly stiffen up the Ministry of Health in dealing with this question, with which, I believe, it has powers to deal already.

I should like to refer to one remark of the hon. Member who seconded the Bill. He stated—he will correct me if I am wrong—that in one of the head offices of the Big Five banks there was no rest-room and apparently only very inadequate accommodation for the female staff. I have taken the trouble to go into this question as regards the female staffs of these big banks, and I should like the hon. Member, if he would be so kind— I do not say now; I daresay he would not like to give the name publicly—to give me confidentially the name of that particular bank, because I should very much like to see whether he may not have been misinformed. From my own personal knowledge in these new big offices there is very adequate accommodation for the female staff, rest rooms and sick rooms where they can go if they are not feeling well. If the hon. Member would see me afterwards and tell me which bank it is I may be able to clear up the point.


I would gladly supply the hon. and gallant Gentleman with all the information at my disposal, and it may be possible for me to put him in contact with the source of my information.

Lieut.-Colonel KERR

In my small way I have accounts at three of these banks and this may be one of them. Certain questions have been raised in regard to lavatory accommodation in these banks. I have been into this question with one of them in particular which had been criticised on this point. In London there is no question that there is adequate and separate accommodation but in 23 branches outside London there is no separate lavatory accommodation as such but I find that in those 23 branches there are only 33 women employed. There is only one branch where there are three. In these branches the accommodation is generally in the manager's apartments and his wife or whoever keeps house for him puts that accommodation at the disposal of the one or two women who happen to be employed there.


In my office employing a staff of 22 the Manchester Corporation has compelled me to supply separate lavatory accommodation for only one female clerk.

Lieut.-Colonel KERR

I am very glad to hear that, because if such powers are in operation now, the Bill still seems to me to be a little unnecessary on the score that there is no power to deal with it. As far as banks are concerned, I think it will be found that wherever it is possible without very expensive building arrangements it has been done. Alternatively, adequate accommodation is provided in the manager's house. I think hon. Members opposite will realise that that is not unreasonable. We should all like to see everyone accommodated in every way to the very best advantage. I approve of the objects of the Bill but I think it is unnecessary because I believe the Ministry of Health has the power to do all that the Bill aims at. I feel sure that the representatives of the Home Office and the Ministry of Health will allow what has been said to sink deep into their hearts and will provide all that is wanted for the black coated workers of whom I employ a great many.

1.40 p.m.


The hon. Member who moved the Amendment made use of a quotation: Hope springs eternal in the human breast. I think a more apt quotation would have been: Hope deferred maketh the heart sick. We are pretty well sick by this time that after all the promises that have been made nothing has been done. I support this long-looked-for and much-needed Measure. Surely the health and happiness of the people ought to be considered before the interests of property. Generally speaking, conditions in offices both in London and the provinces leave much to be desired. I admit that large administrative offices observe reasonably good standards, but there are thousands of offices where the conditions can only be described as positively disgraceful. Central London teems with wretched little offices, ill-equipped, ill-ventilated, badly lit and devoid of proper sanitary accommodation. Offices attached to wholesale warehouses in London afford examples of bad accommodation. The occupants are frozen with cold in the winter and are victims of bronchial and chest troubles. Any sort of accommodation is thought good enough for the clerical worker. Some so-called offices are small rooms in what were once houses converted to accommodate two or three times more people than there ought to be. The lavatory accommodation is not only inadequate but primitive. In basement offices there is artificial light all day involving a big strain on the eyes.

I have a letter from one of our members describing the conditions under which he has to work. The approximate size of the room is 21 feet by 15 by 12, the roof sloping downwards at one end to 10 feet. It is built on what was formerly a back yard, and is now towered over by five-storey buildings at the back. The only window is a perpendicular one built out of a sloping skylight is of dull frosted glass and covers half the room, the other half being the floor of the room above. It is occupied by six people for the major part of the day, and two additional people from four to 6.30 p.m. Prior to the economy cuts it was occupied by 12 people. It has not been repainted for a long time, and the walls are hidden by shelves full of old papers and files which never get dusted and must be alive with germs. As regards heating, there used to be only one gas fire, but a small electric fire was brought in after two years of constant agitation. In the summer the occupants are boiled alive. In 1933 an electric fan was added, also after constant agitation. The letter says: As regards washing accommodation, a small sink in the darkest part of the cellar serves for 12 people, but this is useless after mid-day as there is no light near it. Lavatory accommodation is also in the cellar and also serves 12 people. There is only one W.C., which also serves as the only urinal. There was no light here, but as a result of agitation they ultimately decided to put in a light. The men's lavatory is covered with dust and cobwebs and all the apparatus, cisterns, etc., are rusty. It goes on to say: The above existing conditions, bad as they are, could perhaps be understood it the firm in question were a small one, but this firm occupies a whole four-storey, plus basement, building, the best rooms however being taken for showrooms, directors' rooms, etc., the office described being the general clerks' office. As a matter of fact, the office described presents such a miserable appearance that only the very week this report was made out, a Polish manufacturer on a business visit to the firm, and who happened to walk accidentally into the General Offices (where visitors ire strictly forbidden) remarked feelingly to the writer that he could not understand how Englishmen could work in such dog kennels,' especially as the English were always criticising the supposedly bad conditons existing in Polish industry. I will quote from the evidence given before the Select Committee dealing with shops assistants in 1931. I gave evidence before that Committee. There was a considerable amount if evidence, and the Home Office sent out people to corroborate it, and to ascertain the facts for themselves. This is what they say: Most of the worst offices we found in basements where the air was often stagnant and impure. That applied equally to those employed in offices as well as to shop assistants. They also go on to say: The basements, where much work is done and where the employés spend all their working hours, are, of course, always lighted artificially, and the lighting is not always satisfactory, cases of glare and shadow being noticed by the investigators. Further on they say: It was also reported that the accommodation provided is not in a satisfactory condition. Walls and ceilings are dirty and there is insufficient ventilation. In some cases the lavatories were said to be in a beastly state. When the employers were approached some of them admitted that the conveniences were not fit for use. Surely, when you have a report of that kind by Home Office inspectors, something ought to be done to remedy such a state of affairs. The health and happiness of these workers, a large proportion of whom are women, should certainly be considered. We have been told, but it has been contradicted here to-day, that public health inspectors have not the right to enter except upon the receipt of complaints. If they have the right of entry, can you imagine their walking into some of those large offices or into a bank unless some serious complaint had been made beforehand? We know that in the small offices clerks are afraid to complain lest it might mean loss of employment, and you have to bear this fact in mind: When a clerk loses his employment, what about the reference? I have seen a man's chances of life doomed by an employer withholding a reference over some petty affair, and when an employer refuses to write to a potential employer, his silence is considered to be something against the applicant for the job.


The inspectors under the Public Health Acts have the right of entry whether complaint is made or not, and the inspectors employed in this connection have the right whether complaint is made or not.


There is a doubt about t hat, and the reason for this Bill is to make certain that there shall be no doubt. There is no sound and sufficient reason why clerical workers should not receive the same protection as is provided for the manual workers under the Factory and Workshop Act. We are not asking for too much, and therefore I hope that hon. Members on the opposite side of the House will on this occasion decide that a good case has been made out for clerical employés, and will support us in our efforts to remedy these wrongs.

1.50 p.m.


In this time-honoured discussion, which has come up on an average every other year during the 16 years I have been in Parliament there are two obviously different questions to be considered! One is the need of improvement, and the other the method of arriving at such improvement. My sympathies are entirely with the promoters of the Bill, and I think that the majority of hon. Members who have spoken have shown that they are in sympathy with its objects. There is a question as to how far these things exist, but there is no question in the mind of anybody who knows the conditions of workshops, work places and offices in which people have to work in this country that the big places as a rule make good provision for clerical services, because they know, even if they are not particularly human and are not afraid of inspectors, that it pays to have good accommodation for their clerical workers.

One also knows that when use has to be made of overcrowded buildings, especially when there has been a need for economy, perhaps the last thing to be considered has been the sanitary arrangements for clerical staffs. I have had a long acquaintance with the subject, first as a medical officer of health for 30 years, and since then in this House, also as Chairman of special committees that have taken up this matter, as Vice-President of the Royal Sanitary Institute, as a member of deputations to Ministers. I have conducted correspondence with Ministers. I have a long correspondence here extending over several years. The matter came particularly to a head in the years when we had, perhaps, the greatest Minister of Health we have ever had, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, during the Conservative administration of 1925–1929. The hopes of us all ran high with regard to office regulation and to getting a move on.

I can re-enforce what has been said by hon. Members opposite about the difficulty of complaints. Medical officers of health know that the law relies upon complaints being brought forward, and it is ridiculous to think that the ordinary employé, the little girl doing typist's work in an office, will bring forward a complaint. It is absurd to think that she knows where or how to make a complaint, but if she did know, shivering on the brink of unemployment she would not run any risk by reporting to the sanitary authorities that the place in which she worked was inadequate. If the law is to depend upon complaints being made, you will never get any advance in things of this sort. You can overdo statistics. One of the best points of the speech of the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones), who introduced this Measure in such an extraordinarily good maiden speech, was that he showed a balance of judgment on the subject. The same of my hon. Friend and constitutuent who seconded the Bill.

You cannot rely too much on vital statistics. Vital statisticians themselves have shown that those who enter offices are often those who are less robust. In fact a considerable proportion of those who enter offices are in one way or other delicate. If they are not definitely affected with tubercle they are susceptible to it. Certainly, the conditions of working in offices are very inferior from the health point of view compared with those affecting agriculture. Those who work in offices are liable to increased infection by working in crowded rooms. They catch colds more readily and get the tubercle germ, and they are very much more liable to be run down in health. Therefore, there is all the more reason for improving the conditions. I do not mean to say that all their illness is due to their aggregation in offices, but looking at the matter from the ordinary health standpoint if you wish to improve the health of these people you can help very materially in that direction by improving office accommodation.

Let me give an illustration against myself. When I first entered this House I employed a young man as a. private secretary, as an experiment, not knowing whether my work as a Member of Parliament would justify the employment of a private secretary. I had, however, a great friendship for the young man and I engaged him. There was a room which happened to be vacant in my house which he occupied for secretarial duties. It was a good-sized room, but was lit only by a skylight. After working four or five years there, although the young man did not definitely say so, I recognised that it was terrible for him to he shut up in that room for seven or eight hours every day, with only a skylight over him and that skylight dropping rain on to his head until we had it put right. I managed to give him a really good room looking on to open country, and the improvement in his health, spirits and work was remarkable. Employers, quite unconsciously, do not recognise what can be done to improve matters. If we could get the sanitary inspectors and the medical officers working with the employers in a friendly way things could very often be put right by the provision of better accommodation, very much to the advantage of both sides. That is what we should aim at. I do not believe in the methods of force. I believe much more in the gradual instruction of people and influencing them to do the right thing.

There has been an immense advance in public health in recent years because of the improvement of the system under which sanitary inspectors and medical officers of health work, and latterly because of the appointment of health visitors. Things have also been improved by the more modern methods of the local authorities in helping people to realise the true position of things and what to do to remedy complaints. Much can be done by settling matters through persuasion. That being the case, we come to the question of the means for ensuring improvement. Very largely all over the country there is great need for improvement to he made, especially with the extension of industries and the change over in the methods of industry, which necessarily implies a much larger proportion of persons being engaged in office work. Better provision must be made in the future in regard to the rearrangement of houses and industry, although one looks forward with some misgiving at the present time in connection with the question of rearmament.

We must see to in that proper office accommodation is provided in connection with any works that may be put up, and necessary improvements must be made in existing establishments. How is it to be done? There is the old-time conflict between the Ministry of Health and the Home Office on this subject. Over and over again the Ministry of Health have said when it has been pointed out that things are not being done properly: "Let us have a test case." When I went into the matter in 1928 with the Ministry of Health I was told "Let us have a test case and see whether the existing law is sufficient." The Metropolitan Standing Joint Committee said that they would bring a test case, but the test case has not been brought and the matter has been allowed to slide. The medical officers of health for the Metropolis who have considered the matter do not think that they have the power of inspection yet it has been definitely laid down by the Minister of Health that so far as evidence has been put before him they have the power. But more is required, because many employers do not believe that that is the case. Until the matter has been settled by a test case many medical officers and sanitary inspectors feel that the law is doubtful on the subject. They cannot definitely quote the law on their side. I believe that it would be greatly to the advantage of the administration if the law definitely said that "workplace" does include offices, and that, there is power of inspection, without the medical officers having to wait for a suspicion of there being a nuisance. There is lack of general power of inspection.

Captain DOWER

In the Public Health Act the words used are "any premises." Surely, that includes offices?


"Any premises" where the medical officer of health has reason to suspect a nuisance. That is quite insufficient for the purpose. The medical officer must have power to inspect.


He has the power.


It is not sufficient for administration and if you are to rely upon that, it is pedantry of the worst order on the part of certain hon. Members who would stress the letter of the law. I would end up as I did in 1924 by an appeal to those who are in favour of the Bill. The one thing that I hate in the administration of the law is to have laws over-lapping because of special Acts passed for special cases of one kind or another. I remember on one occasion when. Lord Robert Cecil introduced a Bill for the notification of births. I said that it was a great pity to do that because there was already legislative provision for the registration of births, and it was not necessary to have notification on the top of that. That is the wrong way to deal with it. Similarly it is the wrong way to deal with this particular matter to have specific legislation for the purpose. It would be much better to incorporate provisions in existing statutes. I should like to see some such provision incorporated in the Bill which is at present before Parliament for ale amendment and consolidation of the Public Health Laws. It would come naturally in such a Measure, and it would be a much better way of dealing with the problem. I see that at the moment we have the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office in the House. It is the same game going on again.

Everything seems to point to the Bill being administered by the Ministry of Health, but the Parliamentary Secretary has left the House and has thrown the ball to the Under-Secretary of State. Is the Under-Secretary going to say that it is the work of his Department? I do not mind as long as something is done, but if one Department says that it is the affair of the other, and the other Department says that it is the business of somebody else, then it will be nobody's business at all. The Government should give us some good reasons why we should not adopt this Measure. If we do not, what is the alternative? Is the matter to be put under the inspectors of the Home Office, who are very admirable in their own particular line, or is the Under-Secretary going to say that the Ministry of Health will take it under their wing as being really a matter for medical officers of health? What I desire is that we should get a move on rather than be put off by protestations of sympathy.

2.9 p.m.


I hesitate to speak on this subject, because it seems to me that the mover and seconder of the Bill and other hon. Members who have spoken have made out a perfect case why the Bill should pass its Second Reading. It seems rather unnecessary to proceed further with the debate, but we realise from experience that while hon. Members opposite take up an attitude of sympathy, that does not necessarily mean that they will follow us into the Division Lobby. I have worked in an office for 30 years, and I feel that I should like to say one or two words on a question which is dear to my heart. The hon. Member for the Elland Division (Mr. Levy) said that the Tory party was the only party which had legislated on behalf of the workers.


No. What I said was that if you consulted Acts of Parliament you would find that the Tory party have brought in more Acts for the benefit of the working classes, including black-coated workers, than any other party.


The electors of this country, including the black-coated workers, have, rightly or wrongly, maintained the Tory party in power as the Government and, therefore, they have been the only people who could legislate for them, but in legislating for the workers they have also taken good care to legislate on behalf of their own class. Neither the black-coated workers nor the manual workers have ever got anything out of the Tory party unless it has been wrung out of them.


Utterly untrue.


The hon. Member is entitled to his opinion, and I am entitled to mine.

Captain DOWER

What about the Agricultural Workers Insurance Bill?


That is based on a scheme provided by the Agricultural Workers' Union.


What about the Act of 1801?


Every one of them has been wrung from a Tory party by the trade unions.


What trade unions were there in 1801?

Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

The hon. Member is perfectly entitled to express his opinion as long as he keeps to the Rules of the House, and I think it would be better if he were not interrupted.


I do not desire to generate any heat at all, but I still maintain that many of the things which have been given to the working classes by Tory Governments have been because of the pressure applied by the trade unions and Labour movement by way of propaganda, or some other way. The hon. Member for Elland in arguing that the Bill was unnecessary spoke of a clerk he had working in his own house, and implied that there was no reason to bother about clerks who were working elsewhere. He should know that many clerks are working under such miserable conditions and wages that they have to leave their homes 10 and 20 miles away by workmens train in order to get the cheaper rates of travel, and then have to wait for hours in the street.


That is a misrepresentation of what I said, and the hon. Member will realise it when he reads what I did say in the OFFICIAL REPORT.


I hope that I am not misquoting the hon. Member. He referred to a clerk working in his own house and gave us the impression that because of this everything in the garden was lovely. For every such case I maintain that there are 10,000 with exactly an opposite experience. The hon. and gallant Member for West Birkenhead (Lieut.-Colonel Sandman Allen) said that the Bill had been brought forward purely for propaganda purposes. I do not know what he means by that, but I challenge him to find any evidence among the clerks and workers in his constituency or on Merseyside to show that this Bill has not been asked for and pressed for by the clerical workers there. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading gave us a list of the organisations which are supporting the Bill. They all have branches in Birkenhead and Liverpool, and these branches are backing the Bill. I challenge the hon. and gallant Member to make inquiries of the Liverpool Clerks Association, which is not a trade union but a provident society sponsored by big employers in the city, as to whether they are not also supporting the Bill. Then the hon. and gallant Member referred to the various conditions appertaining in Army Offices and to the fact that he as a Territorial officer would have civilians under his charge when in camp. I do not think those points were very relevant. I was never a Territorial, but it was my experience as an old Volunteer that when we went to camp we came under the Army Act and that the Riot Act was read to us as well as all the other Acts.

I worked in all sorts and conditions of offices when I was in the Army. I worked in offices put up in what were disused guard-rooms; at other times in places where the farriers were supposed to work. I have worked in tents under Army conditions, both in Winter and Summer, and I say perfectly frankly and without equivocation that in the Army I never worked in any office that was half as bad as are many commercial offices in this country. One hon. Member interested me when he raised the question of the employment of women in offices, and their relationship to men in industry and commerce generally. I think I am correct in saying that this question of the entry of women into offices is raising a great social problem, and possibly some difficulties also. The increase in the number of women so employed is very striking. Just before the War there was a census taken, and it was found that roughly 14 per cent. of the office population consisted of women. It is correct to say that now well over 50 per cent. of the clerical employés in offices are females.

That percentage is rapidly increasing, for a number of reasons into which I need not go now. That makes this question of proper office accommodation much more urgent than it was.

I have a daughter who is approaching the age when she will go to work, whether to an office or not I do not know. I am certainly not desirous of her going to an office, although she may wish it. I feel apprehensive as to the future of that girl, apprehensive about the conditions under which she will work, whether under the two-shift system recently introduced or in an ordinary small business. Generally speaking I should be more inclined to arrange for her to go into a factory rather than into the ordinary small commercial office of which I have had some experience. I have had various experiences. When I first started work I was employed as a shop assistant, and by reason of an increase of business I was transferred to the clerical side where I had to take stock and keep stock-books. The place in which I worked was a narrow passage about 2 ft. 6 in. to 3 ft. wide and possibly 9 ft. long. It ran between the back door of the shop and the cellar steps. There was no possibility of having a desk or table of any kind and I had to work on shelves that had been provided for other purposes. There was a draught and more ventilation than we required. It was impossible to have a stove of any kind in the winter and there was no light at all except that provided by ordinary gas jets.

I shall not proceed any further with my own experiences, but I will mention two types of offices which I think need careful observation because they seem to he on the increase. The first is the type of office that you find situated in warehouses where grain and that kind of thing is stacked. There you find often that the buildings have been constructed without any provision for natural light through windows, or if there are windows they have been boarded up in order that the sacks may not press through them and fall out. The only place for light and ventilation is the ordinary hoist door, once you get beyond the ground floor. In a number of these places you find a greenhouse-like structure in the middle of the floor, where the clerk has to work in an atmosphere that is extremely dusty and in an artificial light. There are very vile sanitary conditions in most of these places. They are particularly vile when women are concerned. In nearly all the places I have visited the only lavatory acommodation has been that originally intended for the warehouse workers, situated down stone spiral steps, often badly worn, in the basement; and it is to these lavatories that both men and women have to go. That is one type of office which ought to be thoroughly looked at by the Ministry of Health or the Home Office.

Another type is of a different degree of disagreeability. It is in what may be called the more modern factory or workshop, consisting of a vast shed of some kind such as you see in the light engineering industries. There you get an office of the greenhouse type made up of a few boards and bits of glass, very often stuck up on stilts with a kind of verandah around it, in the middle of the works. There men and women are packed together very closely to carry out various duties connected with costing, work which requires intelligence and close attention to the job, while underneath them the machinery is buzzing away. I do not know whether these people are covered by the Shop Acts or the Factory Acts. In a good many cases of this kind you find the clerical staff in the works offices are engaged as labourers at an hourly rate of pay, exactly the same rates as the labourers, and the rates rise according to the terms of the national agreements that are reached between the manual workers and the firms. You have a very difficult job in deciding whether or not they are labourers within the meaning of the old Acts or whether they are workers who would come within the scope of this Bill. Whatever else may be said, it can be said quite frankly that if we were not fully entitled to bring forward this Bill to-day we are entitled to ask the representatives of the Government on the Front bench to give us some satisfaction as to suitable legislation in the future.

2.25 p.m.

Captain DOWER

I was sorry to hear it suggested in the Debate that we on this side of the House oppose the Bill because of special interests. That suggestion is absolutely and utterly unfounded. As the Debate proceeded the atmosphere became much more reasonable, and I think hon. Members on the other side do realise that we are undoubtedly very sympathetic to the objects of the Bill, that we do want to see the conditions of black-coated workers improved and that we would like to see closed down those offices which have no lighting, very little air, and not much space. The question cannot be left at that point, however, and there are one or two other circumstances which must be taken into consideration.

One point which has been argued round in the debate was that raised by the hon. Member for the Elland Division of Yorkshire (Mr. Levy), who said that the necessary powers already exist to a large extent. In that connection, I would like to refer to the debate which took place in 1934, when a similar Bill was brought forward. On that occasion the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) recognised that these powers exist, but he said that the real objection was that they are permissive powers and not compulsory powers, and when we suggested that it would be advisable to make them compulsory with a view to tackling the problem, he said: Members of an Opposition are always in a difficulty in producing a Bill, because they cannot call upon the officers of the Government Departments to draft their Measures for them. They have to do the best they can, and after the next General Election, when the lion. Gentleman's party sits in a minority here, he will find himself in exactly the same position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 3934; col. 779, Vol. 287.] I think hon. Members will agree that the answer was no answer at all, and it only goes to show what rash statements are sometimes made by Opposition Members.

I would like to put forward one other consideration to which, I think, insufficient attention has been paid during this Debate. I think we are all agreed that the measures contained in this Bill are desirable in their objects, but we have to ask ourselves whether this is the right moment to put them into operation. I know that every hon. Member will be inclined to say that the sooner they are put into operation the better, and I quite agree, for that is a natural feeling; but before coming to that conclusion we ought to consider the kind of office that is going to be affected by the Bill, and to consider what will be the effects on that office.

Whatever may have been suggested in the debate—and I do not deny the cases brought forward by hon. Members—it will not be the offices of rich companies that will be affected. There may, of course, be isolated cases, and I agree that if there existed the condition suggested by an hon. Member opposite in a bank, that bank ought to he closed down immediately. Nor will it be the old-fashioned business, where the employers take more pride in looking after the interests and welfare of their employés than they do in profits, and where the employés are really one of a family. I think that in nine cases out of ten the offices which will be affected will be small offices probably embarking on new business adventures, and where it is not a question of profits but a question of how much more loss they can afford to entail. If such small offices are really bad, they ought to be closed down, but I think hon. Members will agree that under this Bill, a great many offices which are fairly reasonable and not too bad to work in would have to be closed, with the result that a great many men and women would be thrown out of work. We have to bear in mind that in normal times we must be prepared to increase unemployment if in doing so we are raising the general standard of living of the black-coated worker, but at this particular moment, when unemployment is one of the gravest problems facing us, hon. Members will recognise that before taking such a course they must give very grave consideration to the matter.

I had been into several offices which would, undoubtedly, be condemned under this Bill. Those offices are not really unreasonably unhealthy to work in, and I have asked several clerks their opinion in that connection. In nearly every case they have said that they want the conditions to be improved and they want to work in a more congenial atmosphere, but they do not want that to be brought about at the risk of their losing their jobs. That is a point of view which must be taken into consideration. Those clerks also said that if they could be sure of finding suitable work outside, it would be a very good thing to take action to improve the conditions, but that until times were better they would rather not take the risk.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I think the Debate has served a very useful purpose. I hope that in the near future a great many of these evils will be rectified, but I feel that now is not the right time to introduce these far-reaching restrictive measures. I think that our best course is to bring pressure to bear upon the local authorities to use the powers which they already possess, and to use them more frequently, more efficiently, and more effectively. I shall be one of the most energetic of hon. Members in doing that. For the reasons I have given, I sincerely hope that the House will refuse a Second Reading to this Bill.

2.33 p.m.


I had no idea what a good Bill we had produced until I heard the speeches of hon. Members on the other side. Some hon. Members on the other side have told us that what we are proposing in the Bill ought to be done, some have told us that it ought to be done but not just now, and two of them have tried to make fun of the Bill. I was very much interested in the case of the Liverpool fishmonger, which was mentioned by one hon. Member. In that connection I would remark that I have worked in an office where the temperature had to be kept down in order that the butter in the warehouse could be preserved in favourable conditions. I want to say quite definitely that the temperature necessary for comfortable clerical work and the temperature necessary for preserving butter are so different that there is nothing unreasonable in the clerical worker wanting the place of his work removed so far from the butter that the temperature can be normal. My friend next door was in the same unfortunate position as myself except that he was a clerk in a place where they sold cheese and ventilation rather than temperature was the problem in his case.

There is no serious doubt either about the growing number of people who are employed in clerical occupations or about the abominable conditions which prevail over large areas of this country in offices. I would be the last to suggest that there are not a great many employers—and not always the most wealthy employers, either—who make provision for their clerical workers far in advance of anything which is visualised in the Bill. But that does not alter the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of clerks working in London and in large provincial towns under conditions which are a crying disgrace. There is every necessity for the removal of that evil. I still share the doubt which has been expressed as to how far a medical officer of health can now act and it is also shared by the authorities of nearly every provincial town where I have tried to persuade them to act in the case of very definite nuisances which I wanted to have remedied in places where clerks were employed. It is certainly not clear to the municipal authorities that existing legislation is more than permissive and it is not clear to them that they can act otherwise than on complaint.

This Bill, at least would do, in some measure for the non-manual worker on the clerical side, what has been done long ago for the manual worker and what has more recently been done to some extent for the shop assistants. I can see no reason why the protection which trade unionism has succeeded—either by persuasion or compulsion and I will not argue as between the two—in getting for manual workers should not be extended to others. We have recently taken a step forward in the case of one section of the non-manual workers, the shop assistant class, and I urge the House this morning to take this further step forward in the case of yet another section of the non-manual workers, namely, the clerical worker. I was very pleased to hear the Mover of the Motion in his very excellent speech express his readiness, if this Bill received a Second Reading and went upstairs to Committee, to consider any Amendments which hon. Members opposite wished to submit in order to prevent any of those terrible things which they visualised as happening under the Bill.

That offer, I feel sure, was made in perfect sincerity and is one which we would all endorse. This is a matter which has now got far beyond the stage of being dealt with under the Ministry of Health. Just as with the Factory Acts and the Shops Act, it is a matter which should come under the purview of the Home Secretary. This Bill would have that effect and I hope it will be given a Second Reading.

2.40 p.m.


I congratulate the Mover of the Motion on the admirable way in which he presented this Bill. I had the privilege of hearing the Debate on the previous Bill in the last Parliament and I say, frankly, that the present Bill is a considerable improvement. If I venture to urge certain criticisms of it I wish to make it plain that, like other hon. Members on this side, I have every desire to remedy any existing grievances or difficulties in regard to offices. Where I join issue with hon. Members opposite is on this point. I maintain that if the existing law were properly applied, it would be unnecessary to have a Measure of this character. I think I never heard a fairer statement than that of the Mover when he dealt with that point. It seems to me that the Government might take steps with the local authorities to ensure that the present law is properly applied, without cluttering up the Statute Book with further legislation.

Clause 1 of the Bill sets out a series of provisions which covers the main aspirations of the promoters of the Bill. The first of these is that every office shall be kept in a cleanly state. Under the Public Health Act, Section 91, it is laid down that any premises which are in such a state as to be a nuisance or injurious to health shall be dealt with summarily in the manner provided by that Act. The second provision in Clause 1 is that an office shall be kept free from effluvia arising from any drain, watercloset, earthcloset, privy, urinal, or other nuisance. That is also provided against in Section 40 of the Act of 1875 which provides that Every local authority shall provide that all drains, waterclosets, earthclosets, privies, ashpits and cesspools within their district be constructed and kept so as not to be a nuisance or injurious to health. On the question of over-crowding, there again, as it has been more or less admitted that the word "work-place" includes an office, it will be found that the Public Health Acts also deal with overcrowding. The hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) suggested that one of the necessities for the Measure was that there was not any clear indication of whether the word "workplace" did include an office, but in the debate two years ago, it was definitely stated by the then Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office that it was the view of the Ministry that the word "work-place " did include "office". If the Ministry is prepared to express that view, if necessary with some vigour, I think the possibility of some local authorities not accepting "work-place" as including "office" could be overcome without the necessity for further legislation. In Clause 1 which is the really important part of the Bill there are various other provisions including the following: (h) There shall be provided and maintained suitable and sufficient sanitary conveniences available for the use of all persons employed in or about the office. I think it will be found in that case also, that the Public Health Act of 1890 in Section 22 lays down that every building used as a workshop or manufactury or where persons are employed or intended to be employed in any number shall be provided with sufficient and suitable accommodation in the way of sanitary convenience. I admit that that was an adoptive Section but there is no reason why it should not be made a compulsory Section without a Bill of this sort. That would nearly cover paragraph (h). The remaining matters which arise under Clause 1 are various matters in regard to ventilation, under (d), lighting, under (e), temperature, under (c), and drinking water, under (f). In regard to those, I would call attention to one further point, and that is that the question of ventilation, which is not perhaps entirely covered under the Public Health Act, nevertheless has this about it, that there have been very few complaints in regard to ventilation in cases where complaints have been made in regard to offices in the course of the past few years. I venture to refer in this connection to the report of the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health in 1928, when he was dealing with the conditions of employment in offices. Reference was made to it by the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, but he did not quote from it, and it is very well worth considering. It says: Examination has been made of complaints submitted over a period of time in representative large ton ns. The volume of complaint is limited. The highest figure over a period of two years is 80, but in 17 out of 21 towns the 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.… Most 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 (lone if defects were brought to the notice of the public health department. In the view of the Ministry the term 'workplace' includes an office, the local sanitary authorities have therefore all the necessary powers of entry. There you are. If you could have all these matters which are being raised in this Bill brought to light and to the notice of the proper Departments, I maintain that you could deal with this matter under the existing law. My hon. Friends opposite have not indulged in. violent exaggeration to-day, I must say; they have put their case moderately. The hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) may smile, but I am sure she cannot dispute that there was exaggeration in the case put by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) in the discussion in 1934, when he drew startling pictures of many, many rat-infested cellars all over this country. I ask the Government, if they are not accepting this Bill, as I hope they will not, as being unnecessary, at the same time to be prepared to take all necessary steps under the existing law to deal with these matters, where there have been and still are grievances. If there are any gaps which the existing law does not entirely cover I hope the. Government, by general legislation, will fill those gaps in order that without the necessity of this Bill the complaints which have been raised will be swept away to the benefit of the people of this country.

2.50 p.m.


I should not have intervened in this debate except for the fact that so many thousands of women workers are concerned in this matter. The gently soothing voice of the last speaker, the hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes) does not tempt me to wild flights of exaggeration, nor do I think that is necessary, but it is difficult to be moderate with rats, and I have worked in an office where we had very great difficulty in coping with them. I do not wish to exaggerate in any way, but anybody who knows the conditions of offices at all knows the necessity for further action to be taken. The hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Crowder), who made such an excellent maiden speech, said he would not be here but for the large number of black-coated workers in his division. There are thousands of black-coated workers who have rendered themselves helpless individually because they have very little organisation among them, who are supporters of the Conservative party very largely, and who therefore have some claim on that party and to ask what they propose to do in this matter.

It does not meet the trouble to say that the law exists, because the bad conditions are there, and you cannot have it both ways. If the law is sufficient, then it is not being administered. Why is it not being administered, and who is it that is not administering it? It must be the large numbers of Conservatives who administer and control borough and town councils who are not doing their duty. This is not really a controversial matter, because on both sides of the House Members have admitted the evils which exist, especially the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle), who has a magnificent record of public work. Then what is the objection to having the law clarified and the matter put right?

I do not want to indulge in what is known as sob-stuff, but I want to ask hon. Members to consider the position of some of these girls. Take the case of a girl of 16, fresh from a secondary school, a girl who is well educated, largely at the country's expense, as well as at the expense of her parents. She goes into an office, fresh and delightful as she is, and even if only a tenth of the bad offices exist that we claim do exist, she max have to work in one. She finds herself in an underground basement, for instance. I went once to deal with an employer who had not merely one storey underground, but two storeys. The sickness rate among girls in my own union employed there was such that I had to investigate the matter. The employer explained how it happened. He said that his girl clerks were previously only on the first floor, and the documents were stored on the second floor, but the documents got so mildewed that it was necessary to remove them to the first floor, and the girls, he said, had consented to go to the second floor. That was an actual case which happened in London.

Hon. Members opposite have said that after all these cases are very few and that they are old offices, but I know of a case of one of the darkest office buildings within a mile of where we are sitting. It is a new office building recently erected, where hundreds of women have to work in offices that have no outlet to the open air whatever. The offices on the first row open on to the street, where the manager and director and heads of departments, all men, work. The windows of the higher offices open into fresh air. The routine clerks are put in the second row of offices, and their ventilation comes through windows that do not open directly on to the open air. After four or five years, girls lose their youth and freshness in offices of this kind. The sickness rate among these women is high, and even when they are at work they are never quite well, because they do not have the necessary ventilation and decent conditions.

Another question that has not been raised is that of the very long hours which girls work in offices at certain periods of the year. It is usually thought that office workers' hours are short. For a part of the year that is true, but in many offices at the end of the quarter the overtime that is worked is appalling. There is no check on it whatever. The effect on girls working in bad offices is that their health and strength become seriously debilitated. During the sudden rush periods they sometimes work 12 and 14 hours a day and sometimes through the night. The office trade is indeed an unregulated and sweated trade. Employers have taken advantage of the fact that many of these girls are not really dependent on their wages. It is an utterly vicious system for employers to take advantage of that fact and to cut down wages to such a level that girls cannot live on them. If we add to the low wages, which do not enable them to get sufficient food, the debilitating effect of lack of ventilation and of improper sanitary conveniences—about which a terrible tale could be told—it is no wonder that the sickness rate is so high among women office workers.

It is not only the employés for whom we are legislating in this Bill. Those of us who deal with city offices come across employers who say. "We would gladly remedy defects, but we are helpless. We are in the hands of the landlord, and he won't do any structural alterations." The employer may be as much in the grip of the unregulated conditions of offices as anybody else. We admit that this is not one of those overwhelming social problems with which the House sometimes has to deal. That is all the more reason why the House can treat it as a non-party question. We are told that if a business is a good business it can do well by its employés, but that if it is a new business, it should be given a chance at the expense of its employés. That is a vicious principle which no one should support. It is because I feel that this Bill, if we can get it through fairly rapidly, will add tremendously to the health and happiness of thousands of workers, particularly of women workers, who are otherwise so helpless, that I ask the House to give it a Second Reading, knowing that if any alterations are necessary they can be made in Committee. It really is an important Bill for many thousands of girls, and I make an appeal to the House to let us have it.

3 p.m.


I want, if possible, to clear the ground a little and to get this question in its proper perspective. Afterwards I shall deal with the attitude of the Government towards the Bill. I can say at once that we welcome the discussion to-day and, indeed, I can go so far as definitely to agree with the general objects of the promoters of the Bill. I would like to say a word on this Bill in relation to the Bills we have had before. I congratulate the promoters on having adopted a conciliatory attitude towards the objections that were taken hitherto and on having removed a number of the objections which have excited great criticism on this side of the House. I agree with the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading and the hon. Gentleman who seconded, on the increasing importance of office workers. It is true that the tendency of modern industrial organisation is to increase the executive and administrative workers at a faster rate than manual workers. The Mover was correct in saying that there were 1,315,000 clerks, draughtsmen and typists of both sexes, but what he did riot point out was the great rate of increase in that class of work. Between 1921 and 1931 the total number of the employed population increased by 10 per cent., while the number of clerical workers increased by 38 per cent. Therefore, it is clear that we are dealing with a question which is not only important, but is becoming increasingly important is time goes on.

The next question is the health of office workers and the mortality figures that have been mentioned by certain hon. Gentlemen opposite. Figures in regard to tuberculosis were brought forward which, without some comment from this side of the House, would create a serious impression. I do, not say that any of the figures produced by hon. Members opposite were inaccurate, but I would like to get them in a proper perspective. For example, the Mover gave a figure showing that there was a high rate of tuberculosis among office workers. That is true, but I should like to point out that there are other indoor workers who, unfortunately, have an even higher tuberculosis mortality. I am not saying this in order to minimise the seriousness of the figure relating to office workers, but to try to find out whether it is right to ascribe it to office conditions. We see that the percentage for tailors and cutters and textile warehousemen is a good deal higher than for office workers. I think the hon. Member will appreciate my point. His argument is that this rate is due to the conditions under which office workers are employed, and that it would be improved if more stringent conditions were imposed—for example the sort of ideal which is held on the other side is found in the Factory Acts. That is a very stringent provision and I would point out that the workers who come under those Acts have actually a higher rate than the office workers. That leads to the conclusion that there is some other factor at work producing the high tuberculosis rate than the conditions under which the workers are employed.


As far as the textile warehousemen are concerned, is it not a fact that they have to deal with the sizing that is in the cloth and that that may be a factor as regards tuberculosis?


It is possible that it might be, and I could not argue that point now, but that does not dispose of the other instances. The Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health is inclined to think that there are other factors altogether. He says, for example, that the sedentary occupations in which clerical workers are found are inclined to attract a higher proportion of those already phthisical, or tuberculous, than more strenuous physical occupations.


The hon. Gentleman should know that in many occupations in which there are a large number of clerical workers strict medical tests accompany admission to those occupations.


As in the case of His Majesty's Civil Service, where the figures 'are completely different from those given by the hon. Member. That goes to show that the factor of the number of tuberculous entrants into an occupation is a very important one indeed. I do not wish to stress this point, but I think the House would be misled if it attributed too great an importance to the mortality figures put forward by the hon. Member. The Government are interested not merely in these negative aspects but in the positive aspects as well, and, in fact, they have done certain things, or are in process of doing them, which will have a beneficial effect upon the health of office workers as well as others. The proposals for increasing opportunities for physical education and recreation, which will be available for the young people in offices as well as those in other occupations, are a rather important consideration. It is also well known to hon. Members that anxiety is one of the principal causes of illness, and the provisions by which those clerical workers who are not at present covered by the old age pensions scheme will be able to come in on a voluntary basis will be a valuable provision as far as these workers is concerned. If I may pass to a summing up of this matter in a general way, perhaps I might put the matter in the words of a Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health as a statement of the general position which I ask the House to accept. It is in the report for 1934: Examination has been made of complaints submitted over a period of time in representative large towns. The volume of complaints is limited. Most of the complaints are concerned with unsatisfactory insanitary accommodation, defective drainage or with such nuisances as offensive smells, accumulation of refuse, rats, etc. ft is exceptional to find any reference to such matters as ventilation and lighting. Et cannot be said from the evidence that the number and type of complaints brought to notice reveal a very large number of serious defects. I do not wish to push that too far. The hon. Members who have promoted the Bill have produced a number of specific complaints which have to be considered, and that brings me to the question of how this matter can be dealt with and to a statement of our position in regard to this Bill. I do not think I should proceed further without reminding the House that there has run like a thread through this Debate the question of the Public Health Acts, and the discussion of them has always been accompanied by a question mark. Nobody has been quite certain how far they would be effective in connection with this problem, or whether they are being properly administered, and the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Short) went so far as to appeal to me to make a statement in regard to the Public Health Acts and what the position is.

The Public Health Acts do, in fact, deal with the most important of the provisions with regard to sanitation, ventilation, overcrowding and so on, which are dealt with in the Bill, but I do not say that the present position in regard to those Acts is satisfactory. Doubts have been continuously raised, and in the Home Office we have been in consultation with the interests affected in this matter. On the last occasion on which we discussed it, two specific problems were brought to our attention one of which was the question of the definition of a work-place. It was pointed out that the official view of the Ministry of Health and of the Home Office was that workplace included an office, but large numbers of local authorities did not take that view and therefore were not operating under the Acts. Another important point was inspection. I accept to a very large extent the view which was put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite that it is not enough to have a power of inspection on complaint. If the onus of complaint is put on an individual or a number of individuals in an office or any other establishment, there is a definite risk—it is not necessary to put it any higher—of victimisation. Doubts were raised whether there was general power of inspection irrespective of complaint, and again the official view was that there was, but the local authorities had the same doubts.

A very important committee was sitting at that time, called the Local Government and Public Health Consolidation Committee, and its purpose was to simplify and consolidate the Public Health Acts. The Home Office approached the Ministry of Health, who put our views on those two points to the committee. We asked that consideration of those questions might be made with a view to clarifying the position. I am glad to say that the committee took a favourable view of our representations. The matter has proceeded a great deal further now, and the committee have produced a draft Bill, a copy of which I have here. It covers the whole of these questions and many others, and fully meets the representations which the Home Office made with regard to those doubts. It defines a work-place as any place in which persons are employed otherwise than in domestic service, and I think hon. Members will agree that that covers offices. In Clause 280, it makes a clear and definite provision in relation to powers of entry and inspection which cannot fail to remove all possible doubt as to the power of local authorities' inspectors to engage in systematic inspection of offices, and not be dependent upon casual complaints.


Does the Bill include Scotland?


I do not think it applies to Scotland.


Will it apply to London?


It will be open to the London County Council to amend their own Public Health Act in the same sense, and I have no doubt they will do so if the House accepts the draft Bill.


Is it not a fact that at this moment the. Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee are considering it?


I could not say without making inquiry. I want the House to take into account the fact that this Public Health (Consolidation) Bill, if it is passed by the House, will effect a very important change in regard to this matter, and I am glad to say that I have the authority of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health to say that the Bill will be introduced during the present Session, almost immediately. I do not for a moment wish to suggest to hon. Gentlemen opposite that every point in their Bill is dealt with in this draft Bill; that would not be the case; but I do say that the most important public health questions with regard to offices are dealt with i n the draft Bill.

I would make this general observation about the effect of inspectors operating under the provisions of the draft Bill. I think that hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree with me that the effect of an inspector going into offices, or into any other establishment, is a very powerful one. We find Dr. Willoughby, the Medical Officer of Health for the City of London, making this statement before the Select Committee on Shop Assistants, of which the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) was a member, which the Committee thought it worth while to quote in their Report: I am convinced that 85 per cent. of the difficulties could be overcome simply by giving powers of entry and inspection. You can transform a shop from the class which is referred to as bad into a first-class shop simply by inspection. I do not wish to push that argument too far, but I would point out to hon. Gentleman opposite that they have ground for a certain amount of satisfaction, even in regard to the points which are not specifically dealt with in the Bill, in that the whole question of offices will come under the observation of inspectors. I would say, further, that I doubt whether the House is in a position—whether it has enough information about the conditions in offices to-day with regard to those subsidiary subjects which are not dealt with in the draft Public Health Bill—to come to a definite decision at the present moment. After the inspectors have been carrying out systematic inspections under the local authorities for some time, there will be gradually accumulated a body of knowledge in regard to the real conditions in offices which will probably secure a rather general measure of agreement if abuses really come to light which are serious enough to demand further legislation.

The hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading gave a number of specific cases, and he made the general observation that any old place can be used as an office without let or hindrance. I can assure him that that will not be the case under the draft Bill. I remember particularly that, among the instances he gave was a specially moving one; he spoke about 50 girls working on three doors in an office which was vermin-infested, rat-ridden and smelly, which had only two lavatories, and which in general was overcrowded, filthy and insanitary. I think I can say, on the advice that I have received, that a case of that kind will definitely come within the provisions of the Consolidated Public Health Bill. I would ask the House to take the view that, as that new Bill is being introduced by the Government, the most urgent and important needs of the situation are being met, and I would ask them on the whole not to give this Bill a Second Reading.


Can my hon. Friend give us an assurance that, when the Government introduce their Bill, they will carefully examine this Bill and see whether they cannot include a number of further provisions which are regarded as reasonable?


I could not give that assurance to-day.

3.21 p.m.


The House is very much indebted to the hon. Gentleman for the serious way in which he has treated the matter. He has clarified the position very much. I think the Mover and Seconder, too, have done good service in ensuring that we got this clarification. I have interested myself in this subject in previous Parliaments, and I am sure in my own mind that we have already achieved very much in arriving at the stage that we have reached to-day. But it seems to me that there is one serious flaw in the hon. Gentleman's reply. He has told us that, in consolidating the Public Health Acts, we shall be assured of the right of entry and inspection. That is what we were told would happen on the Select Committee that inquired into the conditions of employment of shop assistants, but we decided, and the last Government agreed, that special treatment ought to be meted out to shop assistants. I do not think we can accept the suggestion that what we want can possibly be covered by the consolidation and amendment of the Public Health Acts. The issue surely is wider than that. I have often wondered, after listening to previous Debates on this subject, why the Home Office does not hold a special inquiry into this problem. We have been taunted that the trade unions have not brought evidence sufficient to warrant the statements that we have made, but trade unionism is not strong enough among clerical workers to do that. I suppose railway clerks could give us all the evidence that is required in relation to their offices, but I imagine they need hardly come to Parliament, because their union is strong enough to accomplish all they desire. That is not the case in Government offices. I have seen some Employment Exchanges which are not very creditable to the Ministry of Labour.

If I may throw out a suggestion on my own account, I should like the Home Office to consider very seriously, in view of the paucity of information about office life and office work, whether it is not possible to set up, say, a Select Committee of this House to do for offices and office workers what we accomplished in respect of shops and shop assistants some time ago. I am satisfied, on the little information I possess, that members of that Select Committee would get an eye-opener about conditions in offices in this country as we did about shop-life when we inquired into that problem.

I pass to another consideration of the speech of the hon. Gentleman. He cannot get away with the idea that this Government will settle part of this problem by providing office workers with physical training and education. That was one of his proposals. What is the use of allowing 20, 30 or 50 girls to be employed in an office where ventilation and sanitation are bad for seven or eight hours a day, and then taking them out into the open air under Government training to make them fit enough to go back to the very insanitary conditions in which they are being employed? That will not do. We were told, as one of the proposals to solve this problem, that the black-coated workers are to be brought into the contributory pensions scheme. That is rather a far-fetched suggestion. What on earth has that to do with this proposal? Everybody employed for wages as a clerk is already included in the contributory pensions scheme, except those who start employment at a rate of more than £250 per annum, and there are very few of those people in this kind of work.

We come back, therefore, to the real problem that we have to discuss. What the hon. Gentleman and the opponents of this Bill have failed to face is the fact that there are offices in this country at the moment where so much machinery is being installed by way of comptometers, and indeed some of the machines very nearly amount to printing machines, weighing in some cases several cwts. and I am almost certain that the Home Office itself is not aware of the many changes that have recently taken place in office work in this country. I went to a railway office one day, and I doubted very much whether I was actually in the engineering shop or in the office itself owing to the vast amount of heavy machinery that was installed.

As to the legal description of a work place and a. factory, I shall not be a bit surprised if those who manufacture machines for office purposes so develop those machines on such a colossal scale that some of the offices in this country may be far more akin to factories than some of the workshops which are now under the Factory and Workshops Acts. I, therefore, ask the hon. Gentleman to be good enough to take into account the suggestion that I have made, that we should have a proper inquiry so that we can get the information desired. His answer to-day will hardly satisfy us. I do not know whether he will be willing to look into the suggestion I have just made and give an answer before this debate closes. I understand the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) wants to speak, and I am under the impression, therefore, that the debate may conclude when lie sits down. I leave it at that.

I hope that I shall be pardoned if I deal with one or two of the criticisms which have been levelled against this Bill by hon. Members. The hon. and gallant Member for Birkenhead, West (Lieut.-Colonel Sandeman Allen) was very anxious to point out the position of the Co-operative movement. May I say as a, co-operator that if this Bill becomes law the Co-operative movement will have to apply its provisions like anybody else. Speaking for my trade union, I can say that we should certainly see to that being done.

Lieut.-Colonel SAND EMAN ALLEN

Then the hon. Member admits the necessity.


I do not think that it would cost the Co-operative movement as much to put these provisions into operation as it would private enterprise, because in the main the conditions in the Co-operative movement are better. The hon. and gallant Member for Penrith (Captain Dower) taunted me about something I said with regard to the coming of a new Government. He is young enough to see my prophecy come true. That will be the day when he and his friends will be on this side and we shall be on that side. But that is not included in the provisions of this Bill.

Let me say a, few words in reply to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for Montrose Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Kerr). This Bill would not affect the majority of offices. I am right in saying that office accommodation has improved in the last few years, but Governments do not legislate for the best but for the worst employers. This debate will do one thing, it will raise fears in the minds of those who own offices and, above all, it will direct the attention of architects to the position. The Ministry of Health could not do better than have a consultation with those who prepare plans for buildings, to ensure that they will in future make proper provision for office accommodation.

It is remarkable what some people will do in establishing offices. It is often regarded as an ordinary thing to start a business and not bother about conveniences in office accommodation. An employer will put his clerk anywhere. Reference has been made to the Manchester Corporation and the offices of my own trade union. They told us that we must have separate lavatory accommodation for the one female in a staff of 22 clerks. Those who know the law better than I do told me that the Manchester Corporation were not quite entitled to do that, and that, if I desired to do so I could challenge the Corporation. The important point is that the law as it, stands at present is inadequate to deal with the problem of office accommodation. The Minister says that the Government will cover the matter in the consolidation of the Public Health Acts, but when the Public Health Acts are consolidated or amended, will they go beyond providing that there shall be a right of entry only on the committal of a nuisance? We want this question of office accommodation to be dealt with by some enactment other than that which deals merely with the creation of a nuisance. The Bill raises office accommodation beyond "a place" which can be sometimes dealt with because it is a nuisance. That is the main purport of the Measure.

The hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) tried to make sport of the Bill, thinking that humorous contempt might destroy it. He need not try those tactics on the Bill. As soon as he utters the word "water" the whole House laughs with great hilarity, except myself, because I take him seriously. But the hon. Member has done great service to the community by seeing to it that whenever he gets an opportunity in this House he speaks of water supplies. He is right, and some day if he persists, he will win. Already he has done great service to the country by persisting in his effort for a better water supply in rural areas, and I would ask him to believe that this Bill and what it stands for will become the law of the land in spite of any scorn he may throw upon it. With regard to the hon. member's challenge to the hon. Member for Everton (Mr. Kirby), who said that Tory Governments did not grant these amenities of their own volition but because of the propaganda and pressure of the Labour party, may I put this particular case? I stood here in 1922 and moved a Motion in favour of widows' pensions. Every Tory, except the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) on the Benches opposite, voted against it; they thought the Motion was dead and buried. But in three or four years' time the Tory party themselves gave widows' pensions on a contributory basis. They know why.


And we know why.


As they know why, I need not tell them. Whatever criticisms may be levelled against organised labour in this country, it has always championed the human aspirations of the people, and convinced the Tory party that they cannot withstand the pressure of public opinion. That is why we have secured such a large measure of social services.

The hon. Member for Elland was anxious that we should bring the Royal Palaces within the Measure. It is an old method in opposing a Bill to argue that it should have gone much further. If we had included the Royal Palaces it would have damned it in the eyes of the hon. Member. Such arguments as those have no avail with us. We have been here too long to be influenced by them. But should the Bill get a Second Reading, I will make this sporting offer to the hon. Member, that we will include the Royal Palaces if he will guarantee his support—and we will put a water supply in every office. The hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) is very helpful on all occasions on such measures as this, but if he does not mind my saying so, for some unknown reason Toryism on occasions seems to colour even medical opinion. That is very strange. The hon. Member was very sympathetic, but he was not sympathetic enough. When he began his speech he derided the value of statistics. I have heard the hon. Gentleman use statistics with considerable force in this House. Statistics are all right if they support your point of view, and he will pardon us therefore if we use them when they suit our purpose.


I did not deride them. I said you must qualify them.


It depends who made them up. I have drafted tables of statistics on many occasions and I believed they were correct—I am not so sure that anyone else did. Let me ask the hon. Gentleman whether he will follow me in this respect: Parliament has laid it down that there shall be mines inspectors, shops inspectors, and factory inspectors in spite of the Public Health laws of the country. Parliament has laid it down that there shall be shop inspectors, employed by the very same local authorities as administer the Public Health Acts. The day will come when Parliament will also say that this peculiar, delicate operation of office work inspection shall be treated on top of all inspections for health purposes, as Parliament has done in respect of mines and factories and shops., Some day there will be a staff of office inspectors to deal with the problems that are raised in this Bill.

3.43 p.m.


I listened with interest, as I always do, to the speech of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies). We are all agreed that dirty and unhealthy offices ought not to exist. But that is not an argument for voting for this Bill. Apparently the hon. Member thinks that in all cases there should be provided separate lavatory accommodation for the two sexes. I take it that that is his case.


Yes, indeed.


Then it is rather a pity that the hon. Member did not read the Bill, because the Bill does not make that provision. The Public Health Act does not require in all these cases that there should be such accommodation. Separate accommodation is rightly prescribed in those cases where it is necessary, but where the office consists, as many offices do, of converted flats, say in Victoria Street, with six or seven people working in it, I ask, why should they not all use the same lavatory, as did persons of both sexes who lived in the flat before its conversion into offices? Hon. Members of this House who have such offices would not dream for one moment, when there is such small accommodation, of providing separate and distinct lavatory accommodation. Would anyone suggest that in a small flat where there is a secretary employed an entirely new lavatory must be provided? The thing is perfectly absurd, and everyone knows it who takes the trouble to think about it.

We have had from the Under-Secretary of the Home Office an interpretation of the law which I do not think was as complete as it might have been. The hon. Member threw undue doubts on the existing law, and that was also done by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle). The real trouble in this matter has been the woeful neglect of medical officers of health, who have not carried out their duties and have failed to observe Acts of Parliament. Inspectors are asked for. The Public Health Act of 1875, of which Disraeli was the author, was not brought forward as a result of pressure from the Labour party, for the Labour party did not exist then. That Act states: It shall be the duty of every local authority to cause to be made from time to time inspection of their district, with a view to ascertaining what nuisances exist calling for abatement under the powers of this Act. Since 1875 there has existed the power to inspect any office, and that is quite definite. [An HON. MEMBER: "In your opinion."] It is not in my opinion, it is in the Act of Parliament, and if hon. Members will consult the Act they will see that this is so.


Does the hon. Gentleman really mean to say that he knows the law better than all the town clerks in England and Wales?


I do not say that I know the law better than they do, but I am not so timorous as some of them are. They have failed to do their duty, one reason being that they are afraid of this or that interest. The hon. Member who seconded the Bill said that there is no right of entry, and I submit that that statement is quite inaccurate. Under Section 102 of the Public Health Act of 1875— The local authority, or any of their officers, shall be admited in to any premises for the purpose of examining as to the existence of any nuisance thereon… between the hours of nine in the forenoon and six in the afternoon. The right of entry is complete, and there is not only right of inspection, but a duty of inspection, and when nuisances are discovered, under Section 91 of the same Act the local authorities can deal with any premises in such a state as to be a nuisance or injurious to health. This does not give rise to the debatable question of a work-place, since a workplace comes under Sub-section (6) of Clause 91, which relates to the specific question of ventilation. It is, therefore, true to say that every single thing for which hon. Gentlemen opposite have pleaded in the course of the debate can be done under the existing law, and if it is not done it is a failure of duty on the part of municipal officers and town councils. On those grounds, I say it is absurd to clutter up the Statute Book with an unnecessary Act of Parliament.

The reasoned Amendment draws attention to the fact that so far as this Bill is workable it is the existing law. The Bill will only introduce confusions, because it will give rise to overlapping between the Shop Act and Factory Acts. The hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) twitted those responsible for the Amendment on the ground that the Factory Acts did not apply to offices. I can only imagine that he has never been in a factory, otherwise he would not make such a statement. Every factory contains an enormous number of offices. If one goes into any engineering works, one will find that in every shop there is an office for the foreman and occasionally one for the subsidiary timekeepers. There may be an office subsidiary to the drawing office. In every department of an engineering works there is an office. If the hon. Member who made those remarks, and who I believe has something to do with the law, will refer to the Factory Act of 1901, he will find that the provisions apply to any room of a factory. Every office in every factory is covered by the provisions of the Act.

The Amendment also refers to the Shops Act. In every shop of any size there are offices, and a very substantial number of people working in shops are clerical workers as defined by this Bill. In the first Schedule of the Shops Act there is a scheme of intervals for meals. It is a carefully worked out, intelligible and intelligent scheme. But it is different from the proposal in the Bill. Therefore, you would have one class of persons working in a shop and having to obey the Office Hours Act, or whatever it would be called, and others having to obey the Shop Hours Act and probably a number would be under an obligation to obey both. I think I know what the promoters of the Bill meant by the provision with regard to young persons not being employed continuously for more than four hours without an interval of at least one hour for a meal, but this provision would not carry out their intentions. We all know that as a rule the office boy as the most recently arrived employé, is told to go out to his lunch at a time which suits the convenience of his elders. He often goes out at 12 and returns at 1 o'clock and has to keep shop and answer the telephone while the others go out to lunch. Probably he does not finish until 5.30 in the evening. That is the case in hundreds of thousands of offices where there are small staffs. Under the Bill it would be necessary for that office boy to have an hour off in the middle of the afternoon. Thus we see that the careless people who draft Bills for the Labour party very seldom give effect to what they mean. They write a lot of words and think they have solved the problem—


We have had examples upstairs of the hon. Member's drafting.


I am trying to tidy up a Bill which others have drafted. Anybody reading Clause 3 of the Bill would think that it prohibited working in underground rooms but in fact it does not. The rooms described in the main are not underground rooms and even they are not being prohibited as will be seen by referring to Sub-section (3) That Clause is redundant as far as existing underground rooms are concerned and means nothing. Nobody has yet referred to the one part of the Bill which introduces an important new matter. That is the provision in Clause 1 with regard to overcrowding. It provides that an office shall be deemed to be overcrowded if the number of persons employed in any room is such that less than 400 cubic feet of space is allowed for every person. The Factory Acts standard is 250 feet for people engaged in active physical work where more space and air are needed than in the case of sedentary work. The figure of 400 feet only applies to periods of overtime and as it is seldom that the whole staff works overtime it does not mean anything in practice. I wonder whether the promoters of the Bill have taken the trouble to measure the rooms in which they themselves work in this building. We are now engaged in clerical work—or at least three people here are—and this Chamber is their office. Under the provisions of the Bill this room is already considerably overcrowded—


Only three clerks.


The hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) who had the misfortune previously to propose a Bill before he had read it, does not realise that we are engaged in clerical work in this room at this moment. The interesting thing is that there is not a single room in this building, including rooms occupied by Ministers downstairs, that would not have to be closed if this Bill were passed, because when a Minister and his secretary are there and one other Member worrying him about a constituent of his, the room would be overcrowded. The only rooms that would be exempt are those occupied by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and, I think, the rather large room upstairs used by the Minister of Health. They are the only three rooms in this building which are used and use of which would not become illegal if this Bill were passed and put into operation. Take Committee room No. 14 upstairs, the largest Committee room. That room is certainly overcrowded on every occasion when the Committee stage of a Bill is being taken in it.

The real, practical objection to the Bill is this, that if you passed it, you would close half the thoroughly healthy and convenient offices in London. I hope the authors of the Bill will go back to Transport House with a foot rule and measure up, I hope they will go back to all their trade union offices and measure up.


We know all about that.


The trouble is that the hon. Member does not know all about it, and that is why he got into such a mess the last time.


This is a very good speech for a new House of Commons.


Yes, I agree that it is a good speech. I hope hon. Members will go into the Vote Office and get the second interim report on local government and public health, which contains a draft Public Health Bill. It is in Command Papers Nos. 5059 and 5060. On the Committee which has drawn up that report there are serving a number of hon. Members of this House, including the hon. and gallant Member for South East Leeds (Major Milner). We have heard from the Under-Secretary of State that this Committee has been specially asked to consider this problem of office accommodation. They have considered it presumably, and their draft Bill does not

alter the basis of the law in the faintest degree, but merely redrafts it in order to remove doubts which exist in the minds of public health authorities.


The Bill excludes London and Scotland.


Yes, because it is the practice to have separate Public Health Bills for those areas, but the fact is that if the law is altered in one part of the country, laws are subsequently passed to apply there also, so that that interjection amounts to nothing at all. I hope the Bill will be rejected.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 93; Noes, 134.

Division No. 97.] AYES. [4.0 p.m.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Green, W. H. (Deptford) Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Adamson, W. M. Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Potts, J.
Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh) Groves, T. E. Pritt, D. N.
Ammon, C. G. Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Quibellt, J. D.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Hardie, G. D. Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Harris, Sir P. A. Rowson, G.
Banfield, J. W. Hicks, E. G. Sanders, W. S.
Barnes, A. J. Hopkin, D. Sanderson, Sir F. B.
Batey, J. Jagger, J. Seely, Sir H. M.
Bellenger, F. Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Short, A.
Bevan, A. John, W. Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)
Broad, F. A. Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. Smith. Ben (Rotherhithe)
Brown, C. (Mansfield) Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Smith, E. (Stoke)
Charleton, H. C. Kelly, W. T. Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)
Chater, D. Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T. Smith, T. (Normanton)
Cluse, W. S. Kirby, B. V. Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Cocks, F. S. Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G. Thorne, W.
Cove. W. G. Lawson, J. J. Thurtle, E.
Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd) Leslie, J. R. Tinker, J. J.
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) McEntee, V. La T. Viant, S. P.
Day, H. MacNeill, Weir, L. Walker, J.
Dobbie, W. Mathers, G. Wilkinson, Ellen
Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) Messer, F. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Ede, J. C. Mills, Sir F. (Layton, E.) Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.) Montague, F. Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Ha'kn'y, S.) Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Evans, D. O. (Cardigan) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr, R. T, H. Mutt, G. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Foot. D. M. Naylor, T. E.
Frankel, D. Oliver, G. H. TELLERS FOR THE AYES —
Gardner, B. W. Paling, W. Mr. Creech Jones and Mr. Lathan.
Garro-Jones, G. M. Parker, H. J. H.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Brocklebank, C. E. R. De Chair, S. S.
Albery, I. J. Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) De la Bère, R.
Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W. Bullock, Capt. M. Dower, Capt. A. V. G.
Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S. Butt, Sir A. Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop)
Assheton, R. Cartland, J. R. H. Dugdale, Major T. L.
Astor. Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Castlereagh, Viscount Duggan. H. J.
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Duncan, J. A. L.
Balfour, G. (Hampstead) Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham) Edmondson, Major Sir J.
Balfour Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet) Channon, H. Elliston, G. S.
Bainlel, Lord Churchill, Fit. Hon. Winston S. Emrys-Evans, P. V.
Baxter. A. Beverley Cobb, Sir C. S. Errington, E.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Colfox, Major W. P. Everard, W. L.
Bennett. Capt. Sir E. N. Colville, Lt.-Col. D. J. Fildes, Sir H.
Blair, Sir R. Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Fremantle, Sir F. E.
Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart Craddock, Sir R. H. Gluckstein, L. H.
Bower, Comdr. R. T. Croft, Brig,-Gen. Sir H. Page Gower, Sir R. V.
Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W. Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C. Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)
Boyce, H. Leslie Crowder, J. F. E. Gridley, Sir A. B.
Bra[...]s, Sir W. Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. C. Grimston, R. V.
Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Drake) Makins, Brig.-Gen. E. Shakespeare. G. H.
Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor) Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)
Guinness, T. L. E. B. Markham, S. F. Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)
Gunston, Capt. D. W. Maxwell, S. A. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.
Hannah, I. C. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.
Hartington, Marquess of Mellor, Slr J. S. P. (Tamworth) Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Holmes, J. S. Morrison. W. S. (Cirencester) Somerville. A. A. (Windsor)
Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J. Munro, P. Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.
Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir R. S. Palmer. G. E. H. Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)
Howitt, Dr. A. B. Patrick, C. M. Storey, S.
Hulbert, N. J. Penny, Sir G. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Keeling, E. H. Percy, Rt. Hon. Lord E. Strickland, Captain W. F.
Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose) Petherick, M. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Kerr, H. W. (Oldham) Pownall, Sir A. Assheton Tasker, Sir R. I.
Kimball, L. Procter, Major H. A. Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Lambert, Rt. Hon. G. Raikes, H. V. A. M. Touche, G. C.
Liewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J. Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin) Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.
Lloyd, G. W. Reid, Sir D. D. (Down) Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.
Loder, Captain Hon. J. de V. Reid, W. Allan (Derby) Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Lumley, Capt. L. R. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton) Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Ropner, Colonel L. Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
MacAndrew, Lt.-Col. Sir C. G. Russell, A. West (Tynemouth) Windsor-Clive. Lieut.-Colonel G.
McCorquodale, M. S. Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen) Wise, A. R.
Mac Donald, Sir M urdoch (Inverness) Salmon, Sir I.
Macdonald. Capt. P. (Isle of Wight) Samuel, Sir A. M. (Farnham) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J. Samuel, M. R A. (Putney) Mr. Levy and Lieut.-Colonel
Maitland, A. Sandys. E. D. Sandemar Allen

Question put, "That those words be there added."

The House divided: Ayes, 109; Noes, 78.

Division No. 98.] AYES. [4.8 p.m.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Everard, W. L. Palmer. G. E. H.
Albery, I. J. Fildes, Sir H. Patrick, C. M.
Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W. Fremantle, Sir F. E. Penny, Sir G.
Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S. Gluckstein, L. H. Percy, Rt. Hon. Lord E.
Assheton, R. Gower, Sir R. V. Petherick, M.
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Greene. W. P. C. (Worcester) Pownall, Sir A. Assheton
Balfour, G. (Hampstead) Gridley, Sir A. B. Procter, Major H. A.
Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet) Grimston, R. V. Raikes, H. V. A. M.
Balniel, Lord Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor) Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)
Baxter, A. Beverley Guinness, T. L. E. B. Reid, Sir D. D. (Down)
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Gunston, Capt. D. W. Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Blair, Sir R. Hacking, Rt. Hon. D. H. Ropner, Colonel L.
Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart Hannah, I C. Salmon, Sir I.
Bower, Comdr. R. T. Hartington, Marquess of Samuel, Sir A. M. (Farnham)
Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W. Holmes. J. S. Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney)
Boyce, H. Leslie Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J. Sandys, E. D.
Brass, Sir W. Hulbert, N. J. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Keeling, E. H. Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose) Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Bullock, Capt. M. Lambert, Rt. Hon. G. Somerville, A, A. (Windsor)
Cartland, J. R. H. Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J. Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.
Castlereagh, Viscount Lloyd, G. W. Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)
Cazalet. Capt. V. A. (Chippenham) Loder, Captain Hon. J. de V. Storey, S.
Channon, H. Lumley, Capt. L. R. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Churchill. Rt. Hon. Winston S. Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Colfox, Major W. P. MacAndrew, Lt.-Col. Sir C. C. Tasker, Sir R. I.
Colville, Lt.-Col. D. J. McCorquodale, M. S. Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Mac Donald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Touche, G. C.
Craddock, Sir R. H. Macnamara. Capt. J. R. J. Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.
Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page Maitland, A. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C. Makins, Brig.-Gen. E. Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
De. Chair, S. S. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
De la Bère, R. Markham, S. F. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Duggan. H. J. Maxwell, S. A. Wise, A. R.
Duncan, J. A. L. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.
Edmondson, Major Sir J. Morrison, W. S. (Cirencester) TELLERS FOR THE AYES. —
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Munro, P. Mr. Levy and Lieut.-Colonel
Sandeman Allen.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Charleton, H. C. Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)
Adamson. W. M. Chater, D. Ede, J. C.
Ammon. C. G. Cluse, W. S. Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Cocks, F. S. Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)
Banfield, J. W. Cove, W. G. Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)
Barnes, A. J. Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd) Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.
Bevan, A. Day, H. Foot, D. M.
Broad, F. A. Debbie, W. Frankel, D.
Gardner, B. W. MacNeill, Weir, L. Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)
Green, W. H. (Deptford) Mathers, G. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Messer, F. Smith, E. (Stoke)
Groves, T. E. Montague, F. Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)
Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Ha'kn'y, S.) Smith, T. (Normanton)
Hardie, G. D. Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Harris, Sir P. A. Muff, G. Thorne, W,
Hicks, E. G. Naylor, T. E. Thurtle, E.
Hopkin, D. Oliver, G. H. Tinker, J. J.
Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Paling, W. Viant, S. P.
John, W. Parker, H. J. H. Walker, J.
Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Kelly, W. T. Potts, J. Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T. Quibell, J. D. Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)
Kirby, B. V. Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens) Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Lawson, J. J. Rowson, G. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Leslie, J. R. Sanders, W. S. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
McEntee, V. La T. Seely, Sir H. M.
MacLaren, A. Short A. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Mr. Creech Jones and Mr. Lathan.

Question proposed, That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, so far as it is efficiently workable, merely re-enacts the existing law in different words, and which will lead to confusion in administration because it brings under its provisions offices which in many cases are regulated either by the Factory Acts or the Shops Acts.



It being after Four of the Clock the Debate stood adjourned.