HC Deb 15 June 1937 vol 325 cc307-13

9.23 p.m.

Mr. Rhys Davies

I beg to move, in page 1, line 17, after "week," to insert: and at a time (if any) when work is not going on in the workroom. If hon. Members will be good enough to look at paragraph (b) of this Clause, they will see that it reads: The floor of every workroom shall be cleaned at least once in every week by washing or, if it is effective and suitable, by sweeping or other method. In the Standing Committee we tabled an Amendment to the effect that the cleaning of the floor should be done when no work is proceeding in the workroom, for it stands to reason that there is a good deal of dust when cleaning is done. In the subsequent discussion we found out that where there were three shifts in operation, there would be no time when no work would be proceeding in the factory. Consequently, we have inserted in the Amendment the words "(if any)," and I trust that with the inclusion of these words the Amendment will be acceptable to the right hon. Gentleman. He has just accepted a new Clause which was much more important than this Amendment, and I trust he will accept our Amendment in the same spirit. It seems to me that there is a good deal of dust and fumes in the factories of this country, especially in some of the textile factories in Lancashire, with which I am familiar, and I think the cleaning of the floors ought to be done, wherever possible, when work has stopped in the factory.

9.25 p.m.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman said that we ought to make a concession because we have accepted another Amendment beforehand, but I think that when he looks at the Order Paper and sees the number of concessions which we have made to his point of view he will not expect us to accept all of his Amendments, particularly when we have good arguments against them. I think that his point is that he does not want an unsuitable method of cleaning to be used which causes inconvenience to the work-people. Naturally he wishes to prevent that. So do we, and we were careful to insert words in this Clause to give us power to intervene if that did take place. Hon. Members will see if they refer to the Clause the words "effective and suitable." The purpose of those words was to give the factory inspectors power to intervene if an unsuitable method of cleaning was used. Therefore we feel that we have in the Bill power to deal with the point raised by the hon. Gentleman.

But, on the other hand, his Amendment raises some rather difficult questions. I appreciate that he has improved it. As it was drafted in Standing Committee it would have been impossible, taking into account continuing processes. There are methods of cleaning, such as vacuum cleaners and electrical scrubbers and wipers, which really do not cause inconvenience to the workers. We ought to consider not merely the general mass of employés. May I say one word for the charwomen and cleaners? Many powerful unions are represented by their officials in this House. I am not aware that there is a union of charwomen—[HON. MEMBERS "Yes, there is."]—or that they have a representative in this House. Therefore it is important that the Home Office should speak up for the charwomen. If the Amendment were accepted it would mean that even if a few workers were kept on overtime rather late into the evening, the charwomen and cleaners could not start work, even though it might really be all right and the workers who were kept late might not mind a bit. How the hon. Member's name would ring throughout the workrooms of the United Kingdom if charwomen were being prevented by his Amendment from getting on with their work.

9.29 p.m.

Mr. Kelly

One surprising thing about the hon. Gentleman's answer is his reference to charwomen. I am not aware that charwomen are engaged in the factories, in the cleaning of the shop, the sweeping of the floors and the cleaning of the walls, and it may be of advantage to the hon. Member to know that the charwomen have a trade union and are represented at least in some of the public bodies of this country, are very strongly organised and have conditions which are a vast improvement on what obtained a short time ago. But this Clause does not deal with charwomen. It deals with the cleaning of the floor of a workroom and it is rarely that one finds charwomen engaged for that purpose. Often it is men who perform this task. Is the hon. Member prepared to support the contention that in an asbestos factory, for instance, and in factories where they are engaged on dusty work, the dust being injurious to the workers, the cleaning up should be done while people are at work in these factories?

I realise that in these places they have methods of clearing much of the dust away, but even with all this clearing up, by means of fans and so on, a great deal is still left on the floor and on the walls, and under this Clause the cleaning will be engaged on while men, women and young people are working in the factory, dust being raised which may affect the health of these people. I hope that the hon. Member will press this Amendment. The good employer does not need legislation in order to make him carry out this provision. Good employers would never dream of having their factories swept and the dust raised from the floor, because of the effect on the health of their workpeople, and it is a surprising thing that the Government are opposing this Amendment. They must have been advised or instructed by the worst employers in this country, some of whom, I see, have been making speeches during the last few days asking for the defeat of this Measure.

9.32 p.m.

Mr. Higgs

I appreciate the object for which this Amendment has been proposed, but I am afraid that perhaps the hon. Member has overlooked the fact that the floors of some factories have often to be swept during the process and swept more than once a day. If this Amendment is carried it will be illegal to sweep the floors during the period that operations are taking place. How is it to be enforced? To enforce it properly it will be necessary to have factory inspectors continuously in factories where there are unscrupulous employers. This Amendment would be more detrimental to the cleanliness of the factories than the Bill as it is.

9.33 p.m.

Mr. Riley

I am going to support the Amendment. I appreciate the point which has just been put by the hon. Member opposite, that in some kinds of work it is necessary often to sweep more than once a day, and for that reason I think that if some words could be devised whereby it is provided that either at the discretion of the inspector or by some regulations which provided generally that sweeping should only take place after work had ceased, that might meet the difficulty. Anyone with practical knowledge knows very well that, from a health point of view, it is not desirable to have large workshops where a large amount of debris accumulates on the floors swept when the workpeople are at their work. Obviously that is injurious to their health. But everybody with practical knowledge knows also that from a business point of view it does not pay the employer to have work interfered with by the sweeping and washing of floors while people are working. Something should be done, either in these words or in some other words, to provide that, wherever possible, sweeping and washing of premises should not take place while the workers are engaged there. I am sure the Under-Secretary does not allow his office to be swept out while he is at work there. I do not imagine that Ministers allow their rooms to be disturbed by people washing floors and dusting while they are at work. I do not suppose that in City offices, charwomen would be tolerated while directors and others are at their desks. Therefore I suggest that there is a point in this Amendment and I ask the hon. Gentleman to review the matter and see whether he cannot find words which would embody a practical remedy.

9.36 p.m.

Mr. Holdsworth

May I remind the hon. Member who has just spoken that nothing could be worse, from the point of view of his own constituents, than the passing of this Amendment? I happen to be in the trade which is represented by the hon. Member. In that trade it is necessary to sweep the floors of the premises every hour of the day. That is done in the workers' interests and also, I say candidly, in the employers' interests. If the articles which are dealt with in that trade are dirtied by dust they go into a lower category and fetch a smaller price. It is a common practice in that trade to put down quantities of Jeyes' Fluid before sweeping is done. That keeps the place clean and is good from the worker's point of view. I think this Amendment is most absurd and would achieve something which I am sure hon. Members do not wish to achieve. To have a place cleaned out periodically during the day is surely better than allowing an accumulation of dust and dirt. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) spoke about the injury done to people by the sweeping up of the dust, but the workers are not going to suffer any more in that way than they suffer by breathing the same dust all day long. I hope: the Government will resist the Amendment. I do not think that employers want to resist any reasonable proposals, and I do not think the House is doing any good in trying to fasten something on to the employers which is impossible of achievement. The Home Secretary has been very reasonable in meeting Amendments, but I hope he will not fasten on employers an impossible condition which would be no good whatever from the workers' point of view.

9.39 p.m.

Mr. Garro Jones

I do not think the hon. Friend who moved the Amendment is tied to this form of words. The statement of the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) that the employers of this country never resisted reasonable proposals, was a remarkable statement, coming from him.

Mr. Holdsworth

I never said anything of the kind.

Mr. Garro Jones

Perhaps the hon. Member would be good enough to inform the House what he did say.

Mr. Holdsworth


Mr. Garro Jones

The whole history of the party to which the hon. Member belongs consisted over a long period of years, of forcing through ameliorative measures against the opposition of employers. Our objective in this matter is hygienic. There are, no doubt, factories which require to be kept constantly in a state of cleanliness and we are as well acquainted with that position as the hon. Member for South Bradford.

Mr. Holdsworth

I do not think so.

Mr. Garro Jones

Unless sweeping is done hygienically, it is more menacing to the health of the workers than neglect to do any sweeping at all. I read a book on bacteriology recently which described experiments made in factories in securing counts of bacteria to a given air space in certain buildings before sweeping had been done and after it had been done. In one case, a sample of air taken on a staircase before sweeping showed a count of 20,000 bacteria per cubic foot. After sweeping the count for the same quantity of air was found to be multiplied 20 times. It cannot be said, therefore, that there is no practical or constructive point in the Amendment, and I hope the Home Secretary will consult on this matter with the Minister of Health. I think that experts of the Ministry of Health will tell him that it is better that factories, houses and other buildings should not be swept at all, than that they should be swept without adequate precautions for laying the dust. Although I am not entitled to speak for my hon. Friend the Mover of the Amendment I think if the Home Secretary gave an assurance that he would look into that aspect of the matter, my hon. Friend would be satisfied for the time being.

9.42 p.m.

Mr. Mander

I cannot help feeling that the Amendment is too rigid. There are cases in which sweeping must take place while work is in progress. Undoubtedly there are many cases where it need not take place during working hours and I think some words of this kind are required to deal with such cases. Would my hon. Friend be prepared to add to his Amendment some such words as "wherever practicable" in order to introduce the necessary elasticity. We know that there are good and bad employers and that bad employers have to be dealt with by the law and while I agree that the proposed words are too rigid, I think some words of this kind would be a useful provision in the Bill.

9.43 p.m.

Mr. Rhys Davies

By permission of the House may I say that we have had a useful discussion on this Amendment, and if I am assured that the Home Office will bear in mind the points which we have raised I shall be satisfied to withdraw the Amendment. I have been greatly influenced by the hon. Gentleman's suggestion of the thousands of charwomen who would be opposed to me if this Amendment were carried. I imagine there are few of them in my Parliamentary division, but there are a lot of textile mills there. However, in view of the possibility of the formidable opposition of the charwomen of the country I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.