HC Deb 16 June 1937 vol 325 cc408-21

4.57 p.m.

Mr. Burke

I beg to move, in page 13, line 17, to leave out "to which this Section applies."

In moving this Amendment I hope that I may also be allowed to deal at the same time with the subsequent Amendment, to leave out Sub-section (2).

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Captain Bourne)

Yes, certainly. The omission of the Subsection is consequential.

Mr. Burke

I hope the Minister will agree to this Amendment, which has been put down specifically in the interests of young persons. The Clause gives the Minister power to prescribe certain machines to which the Clause shall apply. It is our contention that modern factories are of such a character that the whole of the place is dangerous, and that you cannot prescribe only certain machines in a factory which is highly mechanised and is full of all kinds of dangerous apparatus. There is a constant influx of new machinery, and even though the Home Secretary uses his power to prescribe machines which are already known to be dangerous, by constant improvement other kinds of machinery may be rendered dangerous, and the change may not be discovered until some accident has happened.

Over and over again we had to refer, in the Standing Committee, to the device of giving the Minister power. In the matter we are now considering the law itself might be made so strong in the interests of young persons as not to require the driving force of a Home Office order or regulation. The present Home Secretary may be keen enough in these matters, but Home Secretaries, like other Ministers, if they do not die, sometimes fade away and change, and we might have another Home Secretary who would not be so keen about regulations and prescriptions. Home Secretaries' prescriptions are like doctors' prescriptions; they come too late as a rule, when the damage has been done. We prefer to rely upon prevention rather than upon cure. It is better to put a fence around a cliff than to provide an ambulance down in the valley.

What machines are to be prescribed? In the main, they would be those which have been involved in accidents. There is no disputing the fact that accidents in factories and workshops have been steadily increasing. They are very high in number and have been getting higher; but more important than the increase in the number of accidents is the fact, which was pointed out in the Standing Committee, that the rate of accidents among young persons is very much higher than it is among adults. Among boys it is, I believe, 38 per cent. above the rate for older persons. It is as high as 65 per cent. in the case of girls. Every one knows, in these days, when people are regarded as old at 40, that there is a tendency for more and more young persons, particularly young girls, to go into factories to look after machines. If the Amendment were accepted, it would mean that safety-first instructions would be part of the terms of employment of a young person. I believe that it is a perfectly sound idea. The time to prevent accidents is when the workers are young and in the impressionable period of their lives, by giving them instruction in matters about which they are usually quite oblivious when they go into a factory.

Many young persons have a good deal of machine sense, much more than was the case a few years ago, but very few young people have a sense of the dangers that lie around them in the modern factory, especially from the large amount of electrical apparatus which is there. When a machine goes wrong, there is a tendency for the young person to try to put it right and he may run into danger. One of the surest ways of keeping the accident rate down, among both young and old, is to insist upon safety-first instruction as part of the terms of employment for young persons.

Hon. Members opposite may think that we are asking for a great deal in putting this Amendment forward, but I want them to bear in mind that we cannot estimate the importance, not only to the young persons and their families, but to the community, of the loss of a hand or a finger. It is a terrible tragedy, and if such tragedies can be prevented by reasonable instruction which will not cost anything, I think we ought to carry this Amendment. What I am asking for is already being done in the best places. We want to bring the indifferent or callous employer up to the level of the best. The Amendment would give us a new generation of industrial workers who, by training and by habit, would avoid many of the dangers which have wrecked many good lives in the past.

5.5 p.m.

Mr. Tinker

I beg to second the Amendment.

My hon. Friend has outlined its purpose fully. The Clause lays down that protection should be given to young persons in relation to certain kinds of machinery. There are machines which are classed as dangerous by the inspectors. What we now have in mind is that young persons should have a course of instruction before they tend those machines. There is danger in all machines, and that being so, what is the line of demarcation? We suggest that young persons who use machinery should be given instruction, and I do not think any one could raise objection to that suggestion. All doubt would be removed about young persons having knowledge of the machine they were working. None of us would like to think that young persons were injured because of the absence of such instruction. If we do not carry our point this afternoon, and a young person is allowed to work at some such machinery and an accident takes place, hon. Members may be very regretful that they did not take the course that we are now suggesting, in order to protect that young person.

5.8 p.m.

Mr. Lloyd

I well understand the point of view of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, but I am going to ask the House to consider the matter from the standpoint of the interests of the young persons themselves. I hope to convince the House that this is not a wise proposal. The Clause to which it is moved was a new Clause moved in Committee by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Birkenhead (Colonel Sandeman Allen) and accepted by the Home Office. We are determined to make full use of its powers because we want them to be really effective, and for that purpose we think it is better that the Clause should remain as it is, giving the Home Secretary power to specify machines. Then, in the course of administration, we can apply the words used in the new Clause, with regard to full instruction, sufficient training and adequate supervision. Those words will then mean something and not be a mere routine, or something which has to be done because it is imposed by an Act of Parliament, and to be gone through by everybody in the factory more or less as a matter of form. We do not want the matter put upon that basis. We want it upon the basis of the Clause as it now is, the Home Secretary specifying machines as dangerous to young persons, so that serious steps have to be taken about it.

I would ask the House to consider the position in a factory. Undoubtedly a considerable number of the machines will not be dangerous to young persons. I understand that in the use of sewing machines you have only to tell the young persons to keep their fingers from under the needle. I am informed that knitters in the hosiery trade are even safer than sewing machines. A factory owner will have to depute one of the men to give sufficient training or adequate supervision. Do not let us strain the patience of our workpeople too much by telling them to do something which is not really necessary in particular cases, because that will not do any good. If we give this power to the Home Secretary we can then administer and interpret the law as meaning something. My right hon. Friend fully intends to make full use of this power because we regard it as important. After the Bill is passed the Home Office will be issuing lists of machines which my right hon. Friend thinks come within the terms of the Clause.

5.11 p.m.

Mr. Oliver

If I were considering this matter for the first time I should probably be impressed by the language used. Reference is made to sufficient training and to adequate supervision. Theoretically, those would appear to be very adequate safeguards. Unless machines require skill, or must be used in order to obtain skill, I prefer the Amendment as against the Clause. I understand that a young male person is someone under the age of 18. Among what class of persons do accidents happen in factories to-day? Appalling accidents happen to men of mature experience, not because they have not been adequately trained or from lack of adequate supervision, but because of certain factors inside the human being, to which a youth is more likely to be subject than an adult. However well he may be trained, a young person is more likely than an older person to meet with an accident from a dangerous machine because, by virtue of being young, he has not the same power of concentration upon the work for the whole of the time.

I have seen, more particularly in my later years, most appalling accidents to young persons, and I am sure that the machines they were working could not have been safer, so far as human devices could make them safe. Despite this fact, the accidents happened. A dangerous machine is an instrument which ought not to be available to a young person to work. If a machine is so dangerous that it must be specially scheduled by the Home Office, it is too dangerous for a young person to come into contact with. With regard to supervision, there can be no adequate supervision where dangerous machinery is concerned. The young persons must operate the machines themselves, and they cannot have the constant supervision of someone looking over their shoulders and telling them how to do this or that operation. However good the supervision may be, it must permit the young person to act on his own initiative. I cannot visualise such adequate supervision that, if a machine is dangerous, the supervision would save him from injury in all circumstances.

If a machine is so dangerous that it must be scheduled for special supervision by the Home Office, it is of such a character that no young person ought to be permitted to work it. If there were a scarcity of labour, there might be some justification for this provision in certain circumstances, but I am sure there is no necessity to-day for young persons to be exposed to the dangers which arise from machines of this character. There are plenty of men available for this type of work. The only other justification that I can see is the one I have already mentioned, namely, the necessity for the use of a dangerous machine in the acquisition of skill in craftsmanship. Then it would be an incident of the young person's training; but usually that is not the case. Work on machines of the character contemplated in a Clause like this is invariably a blind-alley occupation, requiring little skill and not representing any step towards the skill that is required for a craftsman in the future. I hope that the House will insist on the deletion of this Sub-section. Theoretically it may be good, but in practice I feel sure it is too big a danger to be allowed to remain in the Bill.

5.17 p.m.

Sir John Haslam

We have listened to a very interesting discourse from a fellow-townsman of mine, who has strayed away from his native place. It would have been a very helpful speech if it had been relevant. I am one who is very anxious to avoid accidents of all descriptions, and I would not grudge any expense or any measure if I thought it was going to help towards safety. But, after studying the Clause, I think it is much better that the Home Office should draw the attention of the employer, the heads of the factory and the employés to a dangerous machine than that there should be a general Act of Parliament stating that all machinery must not be touched by young persons unless certain conditions have been fulfilled. We all know that it is necessary to put up labels where there is high tension electricity and so on, and therefore people avoid the danger. When our attention has been drawn to any danger, we try to avoid it. But there is danger all around us, and, if our attention is never drawn to it, we simply ignore it, The Home Office are experts on these matters, and they should have the power to draw the attention of everyone concerned to the fact that in a certain factory there are machines which are more dangerous than others. In the case of some machines it would be silly and futile to draw attention to the fact that they are dangerous, because people who know the machines would laugh at the instruction and think it was a waste of time. When, however, a special instruction comes from the Home Office to everyone concerned pointing out that a particular machine in a particular room on a particular floor is dangerous and ought to be avoided, or approached only with great care, I am sure it would be far more effective than a general instruction such as is proposed] by those who support the Amendment.

5.20 p.m.

Miss Wilkinson

It seems to me that the hon. Member for Bolton (Sir J. Haslam) has not appreciated the object of the Amendment. The question simply is whether young people should be trained in the case of special machines, or whether they should be given training and supervision whatever machines they are going to use. The request we are making seems to me to be a very modest one. It is limited to young persons. We say that, as far as young persons are concerned, all machinery should be considered to be potentially dangerous, and that at least a certain minimum of training and supervision should be provided. The Under-Secretary said that some machines are not in the least dangerous, and spoke of a sewing machine. I have no doubt that he had in mind the ordinary domestic sewing machine which is worked by turning a handle, but the sewing machines used in modern industry, such as high-power clothing machines, can be extremely dangerous, and one has only to look at the records of the insurance companies to see how many accidents occur to young girls who are put to work at these machines without adequate training.

It may be said that obviously a young girl would not be put to work on a power machine without training, but, unfortunately, the difficulty often is that the older people get so accustomed to these machines that they see no danger in them, and naturally tend to lose vigilance when they are dealing with young persons. In a case within my own knowledge a young girl was told by her forewoman to go and help with a machine. She said she did not know anything about it. The forewoman was tired and worried, and replied impatiently, "Go and find out." The girl, afraid of losing her job, went to try to find out. She did not know how to start the thing, she started it with her fingers in the wrong place, and the result was that some of her fingers were cut off, and she had to be paid pretty heavy compensation. The forewoman, who was distressed at the accident, said, when I interviewed her, that she would never have believed it possible for anyone to put their fingers in that place.

It is that kind of thing for which we are legislating. Where young people who have just left school are employed on any machine in a factory full of machinery they should not be left to "go and find out." To give the Minister power to specify where machines are considered to be dangerous really makes the position rather difficult. Where machines are dangerous, and are recognised as dangerous, it is hardly necessary to have an Act of Parliament saying that young persons must not be put to work on a dangerous machine without being told what the dangers are. In such a case the older people would recognise the danger and would tell the young people of it. It is just in those cases where the forewoman does not see anything dangerous that these children need supervision. It would be much better to say that young persons should not be allowed to deal with any machine until they have been told how to manage it. The acceptance of the Amendment would really only affect power machinery, and I do not think it would add anything to anybody's costs.

5.26 p.m.

Mr. Lloyd

I rise only to say a word in reply to the points made by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson). In taking up the example I gave, and giving some further examples of her own, the hon. Lady has given me a good opportunity to illustrate our position. What I had in mind was the ordinary domestic sewing machine, which, as I think the hon. Lady will agree, is not on the whole a very dangerous implement, and is not, therefore one for which it is necessary to lay down these formidable require- ments in regard to its use by young persons. But the hon. Lady pointed out that other kinds of sewing machines—power-driven sewing machines—were formidable and dangerous machines. If they are, the Clause as it stands will enable my right hon. Friend to distinguish betwen these two types of sewing machines on the lines of common sense. He will not have to deal with the harmless sewing machine, but he can, and, if the machine is as formidable as the hon. Lady says, he probably will, deal by regulation with the dangerous one. I would emphasise once again that in the interests of the young persons themselves we regard the powers in the Bill as it stands as being in their most effective form, without the Amendment, and my right hon. Friend specifically authorises me to say that he does intend to use these powers fully. It is not merely a question of specifying some particular machine that is very dangerous; we intend to issue lists of machines where danger is reasonably likely to occur to young persons; and it may be more a question of excluding machines which we feel are not dangerous rather than the other way round. I think we shall be able to make more effective use of the Clause if it is left as it now stands.

5.28 p.m.

Mr. Rhys Davies

This is a new provision, and we who were Members of the Standing Committee were agreeably surprised when it was proposed. It is very welcome to us on this side, for without it a great deal would have been missed in the training of young persons in the use of dangerous machinery. The Mover and Seconder of the Amendment have done good service in calling attention to the necessity for training young persons in the use of dangerous machinery, but, if they will not mind my making the suggestion, I think they may be satisfied with the assurance of the Under-Secretary that the Home Office will go into this problem very carefully. The growth of machinery in all manner of factories has literally been colossal, and engineering science has made it almost impossible to follow some of this new machinery. I trust that the Home Office will watch this matter very carefully, and that my hon. Friends, having received that assurance, will find it possible to withdraw their Amendment.

5.29 p.m.

Mr. Mander

We on these benches warmly welcome this new provision, and regard it as a valuable addition to the Bill. As to the way in which it is going to be worked, I think it would be useful as a guide if the representatives of the Government would be good enough to say whether they would regard as dangerous the machinery which is used for the purposes of stamping and drop forging, and in which my constituency is particularly interested. A large number of young girls and youths are employed in connection with this work at Willenhall, and my constituents would certainly feel very strongly that they ought to be brought within the provisions of this Clause. I am inclined to think that the Amendment would be the wiser way to deal with it, but it would be useful to have some guidance as to the way the Home Office intend to interpret it.

5.31 p.m.

Mr. David Adams

It seems to me that all the arguments advanced by the Under-Secretary with regard to machines that might be described as dangerous must apply equally to machines of all kinds, because if a machine is discovered not to possess anything of a dangerous character, no time would be expended by the foreman or by the previous worker at the machine in instructing a new entrant who is going to handle it. The productive capacity of virtually all machines has increased by some 200 to 300 per cent. during the last 10 years. The machine that I worked as an apprentice, having two tools, is to-day replaced by one which has 10 tools, an ingenious machine which is very dangerous unless adequate instruction is given. But, no matter how simple a machine may be, I think the obligation should be laid upon someone to tell a newcomer that there are certain precautions that ought to be taken.

5.35 p.m.

Mr. Porritt

It seems to me that a child entering a factory containing many different types of machines might easily become injured by attending to one which he thought he would be able to look after by himself. A notice would not be a sufficient safeguard and it might be advisable to have some distinctive mark, such as a metal disc, put on to each individual machine to indicate that an inexperienced newcomer would not be able to look after it by himself.

5.36 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher

The Under-Secretary said that certain machines were so simple that it would be foolish to suggest that special precautions should be taken or training given. I remember that when I was an apprentice a playmate of mine got a job cutting wood with a circular saw, and lost his fingers, and a number of my fellow apprentices have lost joints while looking after machines which were not dangerous. It used to be said that, if you went to an engineers' branch meeting and a vote was taken and you saw hands going up, wherever you looked you saw vacant spaces in the hands. Is a drilling machine dangerous? I will guarantee that 99 lads out of 100 will feel with their finger to see if the drill has come through. I have done it myself. If it has come through, off goes the first joint of the finger. It does not matter how simple a machine is, it is necessary to take the greatest care to give instructions to the lads as to what it is permissible to do and what must be systematically avoided. If a lad loses a finger or two, it is a big handicap for the rest of his life. The effect of carrying the Amendment will not prevent the Home Secretary drawing attention to particularly dangerous machines. While the most serious accidents arise from dangerous machines, the greatest number arise from machines which would never be scheduled as dangerous.

5.40 p.m.

Wing-Commander Wright

I should like to say a few words from the point of view of an owner of a factory to which a Clause of this kind would apply. It is obvious that instruction must be given to all young people starting work, whatever the type of machine may be, but in many factories there are a great number of machines on which young people can be put to work after a very cursory instruction, though, no matter how much instruction has been given, there will always be accidents arising from carelessness with perfectly simple machines. What the Clause is aiming at, and what I should like to support, is a real effort to see that proper instruction and supervision are provided in the case of machines which are really dangerous. Having had a close association with workpeople, and understanding their mentality, I realise that they become accustomed to working with machines all round them; they look upon it as quite an ordinary state of affairs and do not regard the machines as dangerous at all. If you are going to make a general rule like this, applying to all processes whether they require special instruction or not, the only result that you will achieve will be to make everyone careless. You will not raise the standard of instruction for the simple machines to the standard required for instruction on dangerous machines. You will, on the other hand, bring down the standard of the instruction given on the dangerous machines to the level of the simple machines. For that reason I think the Amendment should be strongly opposed. The Clause is a most excellent one, which has all my sympathy as an employer of labour.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Kelly

After what has been said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Erdington (Wing-Commander Wright) one is more concerned to see that the Amendment is passed, though I realise that it will probably be withdrawn. The hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested that if you train or teach people how to operate a machine you create greater difficulty for the employer; and that in respect of the simple machine you should give a very cursory instruction and should only prescribe the dangerous machines. Surely anyone who has any care for his machinery and its protection should give training to anyone who is to operate it. Sufficient training should be given to any boy or girl put to a particular machine. I have tried to understand the position of the Government. The effect of the Amendment is that no young person should be put to a machine unless he has been instructed, and that that condition should operate for all machines. Young persons should be warned of the dangers, if there are dangers. The Government say "No, we must wait until our Home Office inspectors have gone through the whole gamut of machines and catalogues to see which we should prescribe as dangerous.' I should like to know how they are to operate this particular Sub-section. Are they now going to examine all the machines in operation in industry, and each new machine, and decide whether they are dangerous and whether young people should be allowed to operate them? I think that it would be an advantage to accept the Amendment, which would ensure that young persons would have sufficient training to enable them to operate machines, and that there would be adequate supervision by a person with thorough knowledge and experience.

I have seen what the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) has described. I have suffered from such conditions, and especially with regard to drilling machines. I do not want to see other people having to learn by experience. It was a pretty expensive school for those of us who have had to learn, and we are asking that the employer should do his duty to those who are in his service, that young people should have sufficient training before being permitted to operate machines, and that they should be warned of the dangers. The Home Office says that it is going to warn them of the dangers only after they have inspected all the machines and have prescribed some of them. If a youngster meets with an accident on a machine which is not prescribed, the employer will get away with it by stating, "It was not my fault. The Home Office was not up to date and did not prescribe the machine." Although a child may meet with a serious injury, this is the position in which we shall be placed under this Bill.

5.49 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Samuel Hoare)

I think that I can remove some of the anxieties of hon. Members opposite if I say a word or two about this Clause. I attach very great importance to it. It is one of the most important Clauses in the Bill. It is breaking new ground that urgently needs to be broken. Even in the few days I have been at the Home Office, I have been greatly impressed with the formidable number of accidents to young persons, and I realise at once that one of my principal duties at the Home Office will be to take every possible step to get those numbers greatly reduced. When I first saw this Clause I asked myself the same kinds of questions that have been put to the House this afternoon by the two hon. Members who brought forward the Amendment, but I have quite definitely come to the conclusion, having exactly the same objective in mind as they have, namely, the determination to get the number of accidents to young persons somehow or other reduced, that the most effective way to deal with them is to do so on the lines of the Clause and not on the lines of the Amendment.

I feel sure, from what I have heard from my advisers, that the only object of putting every kind of machine into this Clause would be to lower the general standard that we wish to apply to this system of training. Let the House remember once again that we are not only dealing with great power factories, but with hundreds of thousands of small factories and workshops, and if we brought into operation a general provision such as is suggested in the Amendment, quite obviously it would not apply to some of these small workshops to which I have just made allusion. The only result of it would be to lower the general standard in the way in which this provision is applied in the power factories, where we wish to see it applied. All of us having exactly the same objective, and having had, as we have this afternoon, a very interesting discussion, in which we have been able to show that we are all equally anxious to reduce the number of these accidents, my advice to the House is that we should not accept the Amendment on the ground that we should get a higher standard in the Clause as it stands.

Mr. Burke

In view of the explanation of the Home Secretary and his expressed determination to see that the Clause becomes really operative, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.