§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
I hope the House will forgive me for introducing for Debate so late in the day the subject of factory administration relating to those millions of people employed in the tens of thousands of factories of our country. We are all interested in the progress of the war, what is happening in Norway and other fields of battle, and incidentally in the quarrels that seem to emerge within the Tory party from time to time. One thing is certain, however, that this House of Commons cannot afford to forget the welfare of the industrial population of our country. I propose, therefore, to say a few words on certain issues connected with the Factory Department of the Home Office. The Government have set up a body to inquire into the health and welfare of our factory population, and I can do no better than commence the few remarks that I have to make by referring to the very excellent report of the Industrial Health Research Board of the Medical Research Council. This report commences by saying:During the war of 1914–18 the increase in the output of munitions became of primary importance. To this end hours of labour for men were increased, 70 to 90 hours a week being common and over 90 hours a week not infrequent. The assumption was that if one unit of work could be done in one hour then six could be done in six, 12 in 12, and so on. A simple calculation would give the output per week, per month and per year. The actual results were found to belie this assumption, for output did not increase proportionately to time and effort expended.If people forget everything else that I say, I should like through this House to appeal to employers of labour to remember that long hours of labour and speeding up in factories do not necessarily increase production. Indeed, whatever views may be held upon the war effort one thing is certain; whatever our men may do in Narvik, Trondheim and elsewhere no national effort can be conducted successfully unless proper regard is, had for the welfare of those who are employed in the factories and workshops at home. Therefore, we are dealing this afternoon with what I will call one of the main problems of the home front. 1454 Unfortunately, we are always in a quandary that we have not before us the annual report of the factory inspectorate of the previous year. It is a report that is always delayed—I can quite understand it—and what we must do to-day, therefore, is to deal with the information that is available.
One of the first points I want to put to the hon. Gentleman in charge of this Debate is this: We are very anxious to know whether the factory inspectorate is not only doing its work—as it always does—but whether, with the increased number of persons employed in factories, the inspectorate is adequate in number. That is very important because I am assured from experience of this problem that unless we have a live inspectorate the legislation that we put on the Statute Book to safeguard the interests of the workers in itself will be of little avail. It is common knowledge to every Member of Parliament that merely to pass a piece of legislation is of no use in itself; unless there is an organisation or power to enforce the law it is of no avail whatsoever. If I had time and if it were pertinent to this Debate, I could give the case of the Shops Acts. The provisions of the Shops Acts are implemented by local inspectorates; and if it were the appropriate occasion, I would have something to say about the law providing a maximum number of hours per week for young persons in shops. I am not quite satisfied that the law in that respect is being implemented in every shop throughout the country.
Let me quote once again from the very excellent report to which I have already referred. This is what it says:One of the lessons learned in the last war was that excessive hours of work do not ultimately pay, even when considered solely on the basis of output and apart from the effects on the health of the workers.I would say in passing that, as hon. Gentlemen know, I am a secretary of a small trade union approved society. It is amazing how few people take note of the importance of what I call vital statistics. Let me explain. The sickness experience of the people of our country for the first quarter of 1940 was 20 per cent. higher than any figure recorded in history. I know that the severe winter weather probably accounts for most of that, but I am not so sure that speeding up in industry does not account for it in part. 1455 For instance, in the distributive trades, it is quite common for 10 persons to be employed in a shop. One or two are drafted into the Army or Navy, leaving the remainder to do the same amount of work as the 10 used to perform; and this practice is not uncommon in clerical occupations as well.
I would like to find out, therefore, whether there is not something else which may have affected the health of our population during the first quarter of 1940. We have the blackout to begin with. I am very pleased that the Home Office has issued a very excellent pamphlet on this problem covering the effects of the blackout on factory workers. Indeed, the blackout has provided one or two very humorous illustrations of what can happen. Some factory workers came tome some time ago and put it thus: The owner blacked out all windows so that no light from the factory could be seen by enemy aircraft. But, strange to say, by blacking out the windows to prevent the enemy seeing the light, they blocked the ventilation of the factory at the same time. Not only did they black out the factory windows during the night but they blacked out the sunlight during the day at the same time. The large employer of course is always better on the average than the small one. It is the little bakeries and small places where tailoring work is done which do not very often conform to the requirements of the Factory Acts. I trust, therefore, that in addition to issuing this excellent pamphlet the inspectorate will see that these small employers carry out the suggestions contained in it.
There is another point which I do not remember having raised before. We speak much more eloquently, by the way, when we repeat ourselves. If we say it often enough, it may penetrate into the mind of the Minister in charge. I should like to know what happens in factories in this matter. Our education code provides that no child although 14 years of age shall be allowed to leave until the end of the school term. This is what happens, to my personal knowledge, particularly in Scotland in the distributive trades. I cannot tell whether it occurs in factories. A child is often allowed on compassionate grounds to leave school and start work before the end of the school term as stipulated by the local authority. Remember- 1456 ing the demands especially from some unscrupulous employers for young persons to be employed, especially in agriculture, I wonder whether that sort of thing applies to factories and whether the age of every child is scrutinised by the certifying factory surgeon. I was astonished the other day to find that the Westmorland Education Committee had decided that they were willing to wink at the absence from school of children of all ages provided they were working on farms. It will hardly be worth while winning a war if we allow that sort of thing to happen.
Here is another illustration of what can happen during war—I hardly think it could happen in peace-time. A number of women living at Blackpool working at a great munition factory near Chorley. The Home Office has issued a document giving a complete list of orders issued to employers allowing women and young persons to work overtime and allowing them to work two and three shifts and at nights as well. These women in Blackpool had to get up at four o'clock in the morning, and although they worked well within legal limits they could not ordinarily return home until ten o'clock at night. Their hours of labour, of course, did not account for all that, but transport facilities were not available to meet their requirements. All that has now been attended to. But has the Home Office any liaison at all with the transport Ministry to see that that sort of thing shall not happen again?
Is the Home Office pressing not only for the establishment of safety committees in factories but for the appointment of welfare advisers? Pressure ought to be brought upon employers to meet the sort of case I raised a moment or two ago. Women are flocking into industry more than ever because men have been conscripted. Luxury trades are naturally declining in importance, and women employed in them are now drifting into the heavier industries. I should imagine that the factory inspectorate will have all that in mind when thinking out problems about industrial accidents.
It is very interesting just now to note the conditions under which people live in Germany. I have come across a translation of an article in German showing the number of industrial accidents in Germany. It is interesting to find out what happens under Fascism to factory employés. While we in this country only 1457 record accidents occurring inside factories, in Germany they include those arising between the worker's home and work; consequently the comparison is not fair. Incidentally, the probability of being injured in an industrial accident is 57 per cent. higher for an inexperienced worker than for a skilled worker, and authority tells me that that is true throughout the world. To show the deterioration in Germany, the number of industrial accidents, including those on the way to and from work, rose from 491,000 to 1,338,000—that is, by 172 per cent.—from 1932 to 1938, although the number of employed persons insured against industrial accidents increased by only 73 per cent. This point is important by way of comparison with our own country. It tells us also that 8,000 workers were fatally injured in industry in 1937 and 1938 in Germany. As far as I know, this is not an anti-Nazi article; it simply gives the facts of the situation as the writer knew them at the time. One of the reasons for the increase in the number of accidents is stated to be due to fatigue and speeding-up. We know, of course, that in all the totalitarian States there is always a shock brigade. I want therefore to have a proper perspective of this problem in this country. I return again to this admirable report of the Medical Research Council where it makes it clear that you do not increase production by increasing the number of hours of work or speeding up the worker in any way. What you do is to increase the rate of sickness and in some cases reduce the production at the same time.
I should like now to ask the hon. Gentleman what has happened to the Orders issued since the publication of this interim report on that subject. It would be very interesting information, I am sure. The total number of factories covered by orders then issued was 2,914. I should like, if possible, to find out the number of workers covered by those orders. It does not convey anything at all when we are told that 2,914 factories were covered unless we know how many persons were employed. I would ask whether the hon. Gentleman is satisfied that the reduced hours of labour laid down in the Factory Act, 1937, are actually being implemented. I have come to the conclusion, after some experience, that, however keen the factory inspector, or any other 1458 official, may be, there is no saving the working people from long hours of labour merely by law. If they would have the benefits of the law—although the inspector does his work excellently—trade unionism is ultimately the deciding factor. People should be told that.
As I have said, we make no apology for bringing the House of Commons back to the home front. I hope that what has been said here to-day will result in at least two things. One is that we shall not, if we can help it, allow the unscrupulous employer to take advantage of the national emergency to exploit his workpeople for his personal aggrandisement. The next thing, and the most important, is this. When the Government are extending their operations in the manufacture of munitions and the implements of war, they might do what I feel sure they realise they ought to do—that is, to have regard to the health and welfare of the people employed in those factories.
§ 1.38 p.m.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Fulham, West)
It is understandable that this House is empty this afternoon. This Debate is somewhat of an anti-climax after the last two days. If I had to choose the Member whom I should like to see on the Front Bench opposite, I should choose, in view of an answer that was given at Question Time to-day, the hon. and gallant Member who represented the Ministry of Supply. To my absolute amazement, the hon. and gallant Member told the House that he had no knowledge of this report which is being debated to-day, the report of the Industrial Health Research Board, a sub-committee of the Medical Research Council—which, after all, is financed by the Government. There was a Question on the Order Paper, about the working conditions of women in factories doing work for the Ministry of Supply. I asked whether the recommendations of this report were recognised by the Ministry of Supply, and the hon. and gallant Member evidently had not heard of the report. I feel sure, of course, that that does not apply to the representatives of the Home Office. If the Under-Secretary has not heard of it before, he will have heard of it by the time this Debate is over.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)
I heard of it long ago.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Yes. This report was drawn up as a result of the experience of the last war. The recommendations in it are not frivolous: they are of great importance; and, in the light of what is happening in this war, they should be applied immediately. As a matter of fact, the acrimonious discussions here during the last two days have been due to the feeling of the House that the Government have not learnt by experience. I ask the Home Office to learn by experience so far as the conditions of the workers are concerned. If the troops are to be supplied with adequate clothing, equipment, guns, and all the other things needed to prosecute the war, it is surely absolutely essential that the industrial forces on the home front should be kept as fit as the troops, so that they may keep up the output. Apart from the humanitarian aspect, the Government should view the whole thing from the aspect that it will be in the interests of the country, in the interests of the Government themselves, for them to regard this report very seriously.
It is important to remember that by increasing hours, you do not necessarily increase output in the same proportion. I might illustrate that from the Debates which take place in this House. As the hours go on, the quality of the Debates certainly does not improve. As the atmosphere becomes more vitiated, Members become more irritable, and their brains get tired. I am informed that in the small hours of the morning speeches have been made which are quite incoherent, and Members have indulged in the most amazing mixed metaphors. We are like other workers, although I am glad to say we do a much lighter form of work than most of them do. As the hours go on, brains get tired, and, as we saw last night, the tempers even of the most experienced get a little frayed. The result of the operation of such factors can be seen in this report.
The recommendations are of an obvious character. First, avoid long hours. I want to hear what is being done about that. We still have nearly 1,000,000 unemployed, and I believe we have a huge pool of workers which has not yet been touched—I refer to the large number of women. Secondly, it is recommended that the workers' Sundays and holidays should not be interfered with. Thirdly, it is extremely important that lighting should be the best possible, and that 1460 factories should be heated properly. I have not examined every paragraph of the report, but I am surprised that it does not also deal with the question of night work. I regard the lot of the night worker as a very unhappy one. His health rapidly deteriorates. We have heard this very often from my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield), when he has spoken on the subject of night baking. The night worker finds that he cannot adjust his sleeping hours, and also there is a social factor of tremendous importance. His whole family life is disrupted. I feel so strongly on the matter that I still want to be told why workers in most industries, I think, have to work at night. I have known men who have been on night work for periods of 10 years. Can that be avoided?
Another point is the incidence of accidents. In spite of many factories introducing foolproof machines, there is still a large number of accidents. In the factories where there is artificial lighting accidents increased by 26 per cent., and in factories where the hours have been increased from 10 to 12 per day there are two and a-half times more accidents. What appeals to me chiefly in this report is that they say that these accidents are in a large measure due to sickness and fatigue. The conclusion at which these eminent scientists who drew up this report arrived is that they say that the basic problem is one of health, health of mind and body, since the healthier and the more contented the individual the more energy he had available.
I want to apply myself particularly to that aspect of the report, and to ask the Under-Secretary why in these enlightened days we examine only boys and girls under 16 before they go into the factory. Why does not the State assume any responsibility for the health of boys and girls over 16, and or men and women? Is it because the National Health Insurance Act provides for that? I know a good deal about the working of the National Health Insurance Act, and I maintain that that argument cannot hold during the war. An enormous number of women who are being recruited for war work have never been insured under the National Health Insurance Act, and, therefore, thousands of people are being introduced into our factories who have never had a medical examination at all 1461 The argument, therefore, that a worker over 16 can be examined by a State doctor does not hold. It is a ridiculous anomaly of this Act for a married woman to be left outside. If a man's wife dies and he decides to employ a housekeeper, the State remains responsible for the health of the housekeeper and guarantees that she shall have health insurance benefit and certain remuneration if she falls ill, but the State does not recognise a married woman in this way.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
The hon. Lady is discussing something which would involve legislation, and it is out of order on the Adjournment.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Could not I quote this as an illustration of the injustice of the health provisions in order to urge the Home Secretary that the examination which already takes place by doctors who are employed by the Home Office should also be extended to other categories?
§ Dr. Summerskill
May I ask the Under-Secretary whether he will ask the Home Secretary to consider this matter, as I believe it is not sufficiently realised that hundreds of thousands of people are going to be recruited for employment in war factories who have had no medical examination? I am not pressing for medical examination because I am a doctor, but I am quoting from a report which says that, if the accident rate is to be decreased, it is absolutely essential that the workers should be healthy. I feel that this is one of the most important steps which the Home Office should consider.
I want to say a few words about factory inspectors. I cannot say that I know of a large number of people who work in factories who have complained of bad conditions, but from time to time I do see men and women who tell me that they are working under conditions which are certainly not conducive to good health. I am sometimes told that a factory is too hot or too cold, or that there are fumes, and that there are places which should be called, if one were honest, slum factories. I know that factory inspectors are recruited from men and women, many of whom have university qualifications, but I want to know whether these inspec- 1462 tions are carried out in a thorough manner. On the Order Paper to-day there was a Question in which the attention of the Minister was drawn to the remarks of a judge who said, with respect to a fatal accident which had taken place in a factory, that although the factory inspector had called on many occasions, he had not observed that certain machinery was not properly guarded. I believe that that is an instance of a certain laxity in this administration.
Is there a sufficient number of factory inspectors, and do they pay their visits unexpectedly—that is a very important point—or is the owner of the factory warned that a visit is pending? If you are to assess the real conditions under which a man or woman works, the inspector should walk into the factory unannounced. Surely some regulation should be made so that factory inspectors could go into a factory unasked. I think that the Under-Secretary will agree that the health visitor who inspects the conditions under which a foster child is kept does not warn the foster-mother, but walks into the house and says, "Here I am, let me see the kind of conditions under which this child lives." That, surely, should be the method adopted by the factory inspectors. I also feel that the time has come when the job of the factory inspector should be not only to inspect the machinery and the building, but also to examine the human machine. I agree that the ordinary factory inspector could not do that; it should be done by a doctor who should make a medical examination of the human machine. The answer in the past has always been, "But look at the large amount of money that the State is expending upon National Health Insurance." That may be, but the National Health Insurance Scheme is not a preventive scheme; it is only a curative scheme. Workers go to the doctor only when there are actual symptoms of illness apparent. If one looks at the figures in the report, it will be found that the wastage of labour is enormous and that on the average the worker who stays away during the year on account of sickness stays away a fortnight.
May I call attention to the rather alarming aspect that the second cause of sickness among workers is gastritis? No worker goes to a doctor and says, "I have a slight pain," but 1463 when the worker becomes extremely ill he has to see a doctor, and as a result he has to have two or three weeks off when he might have been at work. If the Home Secretary were wise, he would save all these hours of labour for the State, which could be translated into goods and equipment for the Army. There should be that inspection of the human machine. If that were carried out, it would be found that all those workers suffering from this complaint would be spotted immediately, and treated, and there would be no need for enforced periods of illness and convalescence. I want to remind the Under-Secretary that during war this particular complaint increases because the predisposing cause is worry and anxiety. I believe my suggestion is practicable and that if carried out, it would mean that the number of working days wasted was considerably reduced. May I also impress on the Under-Secretary that in future not only should there be factory inspection from the angle of inspecting buildings and machines, but also of the human factor, which is tremendously important if we are to keep up our full strength and produce all the equipment which, I believe, the Army needs so badly?
§ 1.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Ridley (Clay Cross)
The Debate which is taking place to-day, compared with that of yesterday, is a marvellous testimony to the flexibility of British Parliamentary institutions, and happily this is not the first occasion on which this has happened. I am sure the Under-Secretary will remember the time of the Debate on the unemployment of young persons in this House, last July, when the atmosphere was not so charged with drama as yesterday but certainly was at a time of considerable international tension. I think it is a fine thing that some few Members of us can spare an hour or two, after the dramatic Debates of the last two days, in order to discuss a problem which is, after all, of considerable importance.
I wish to say a word or two about the interim report on the operation of the Factories Act, 1937, published in March of this year. I have read that report with very great care and would like to take this opportunity of saying that it is, as so many other documents of its kind are, 1464 a first-class Civil Service document, written with great clarity and considerable conciseness. Some of us have read it with some appreciation of what is being attempted. There is, apparently, a real desire on the part of the Home Office to prevent the provisions of the 1937 Act from being flagrantly violated, and I hope that the Home Office, in that endeavour, will be vigilant enough to be completely successful in achieving its purpose.
May I make one or two general observations? First of all, a reading of the document, and especially a reading of the historical preface, cannot help but impress the reader with the fact that some improvements have been made in the matter of the employment of women and young persons within the last 25 years. Although they have been improvements which have been timid and hesitant, they have been such that no Member of the House could do other than warmly welcome them. These improvements are to be continued by the legislation which has grown out of public demand and the constantly growing power and influence of the trade-union movement. I share the view of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) that the adult worker, man as well as woman, should be expected to defend himself or herself, so far as is humanly possible in the field of industry, by the use of the trade-union movement, supplemented, where imperative, by legislation.
We are discussing this afternoon in the main, however, a body of young persons incapable of that kind of self-defence and therefore imposing on the House heavier burdens of responsibility to see that they are not unfairly and unfortunately treated in the field of industry. I remember that when I read the first draft of the Factories Bill, which eventually became the 1937 Act, I was astounded, not at what the Bill prohibited in terms of juvenile employment, but what it proposed to permit and ultimately did permit. I cannot refrain this afternoon from expressing my abhorrence at the sheer intolerability, in 1940, whether there is a war or not, of industrial employment at the age of 14 years especially under the extended conditions permitted by the special regulations.
I and others commonly hate this class structure of society, with its imposition of educational limitations at 14 years of 1465 age, the undue physical strain at that age and its further imposition, in consequence, of lifelong poverty. Although the House may welcome the improvements made in this matter, in terms of legislation, if it is examined objectively, it is, after all, a diabolical balance between what the health of young people of 14 years of age will stand and how they can best be treated in order to extract the maximum amount of physical energy, such as how many hours they can be allowed to stand, whether they shall have music to accompany their jobs, if so, how much, and what shall be their breaks. You get intolerable class dictinction when a boy of 14 is forced by the poverty of his parents to enter industry when he is entirely unsuited for it, and finds himself at the age of 20 a private in the Army, and remains in the non-commissioned ranks for the rest of his time, because he has been denied educational advantgaes, while another boy can go to a secondary school and to a university until he is 20 or 21 and then leave for a career that offers no probability of lifelong poverty.
When I consider some of the types of employment on which youngsters of 14 are now being engaged, I am bound to say that I feel provoked to language that would break the bounds of Parliamentary decorum. At the bottom of page 11 of the report it says:There are, however, some cases where the refusal of a concession for young persons under 16 years of age would result in serious dislocation and loss of output, especially where the work of the young persons is very closely linked with that of older persons with whom they work, either as members of a team or assistants.It goes on to speak of the various types of employment. It speaks ofrivet heating for riveters, or rivet catching and holding-up, or 'pulling' or assisting drop-hammer smiths, or acting as moulders assistants in foundries.Anybody who has ever seen inside a factory knows what work of that character is like, the terrible dirt and almost unbearable atmosphere. Think of youngsters of 14 years of age, not by any choice of their own but by the sheer economic compulsion of poverty, being forced into that kind of employment, even under the slightly restricted conditions of Section 71 of the Act of 1937 of a 44-hour week, which may be extended to 48 hours. On page 4 of the report it is recorded historically that in the last war factory 1466 legislation permitted boys of 14 to be employed at night, but on page 10 it is said, that "for the time being" permission for night employment at that age has not been conceded under the special regulations. I hope that the four words "for the time being" do not indicate that for any reason or fear in the mind of the Home Office they will permit night employment for young persons between 14 and 16. Night employment is bad enough for those between 16 and 18, but it would be really intolerable for it to be permitted for those between 14 and 16.
On page 8 reference is made to relaxation in the matter of hours under the extended hours provision. I want to emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for Westhoughton, that the figures as to the number of factories are absolutely meaningless unless they are accompanied by the all-important figure of the number of young persons affected. In one part of the report it is said that relaxation in the number of hours has been made only in a few industries, in cotton and woollen textiles. I think it is altogether too diminutive a fashion in which to dismiss the matter by saying that there was an extension from 44 hours to 48 in a few industries. They may be few in number, but the all-important fact is that they are industries in which a very considerable proportion of the employés are young persons. I should like the Under-Secretary to tell us, if he can, how many young persons have been affected by extensions from 44 hours to 48. As to night employment, it is permitted for young women over 18, and on page 9 of the report it is said:Applications for authority to employ women at night have been relatively few and confined almost entirely to factories producing armaments or engaged in processes incidental thereto; altogether 57 Orders have been made. The system authorised is usually one of the following—(a) a system of three eight-hour shifts in the 24 hours with an interval of at least half an hour for meals and rest in each turn; (b) a system of day and night shifts allowing a weekly total of working hours of about 54 for the day shift and about 50 for the night shift. Under this system intervals for meals and rest amounting to at least one hour are required to be allowed during each turn.I have had experience of night work, and I think it is a thing which should be avoided if it is at all possible. I have never yet been able to make up my mind as to whether alternative night work is to be preferred to consistent night work. 1467 Both are very bad. Alternative night work does give opportunity for domestic comfort and enjoyment, but a three-shift system means that week after week a man has to change his habits and accustom himself to different hours for food. If a man is on a night shift from 10 o'clock till six o'clock in the morning, he gets home just as the milk carts are rattling down the cobbled street, when other members of the household have awakened and all sorts of things are happening within the four walls of what is very often a small house. The opportunity for getting sleep on the part of that night worker is very limited and restricted. I beg the Under-Secretary to see that the conditions for night employment are restricted in an almost microscopic fashion, and that the Home Office will require abundant proof of its necessity before orders of this kind are extended. I do not want to fan into flame the embers of last July on juvenile employment and the 44-hour week, but I beg the Under-Secretary to remember that those embers are alive, and that my hon. Friends will not be slow to take whatever opportunity presents itself to press upon the Home Office the necessity for such legislation as will save our young persons from the intolerabilities of the present employment whether they are of 44 or 48 hours a week, whether they are in the special industries to which I have referred or in the field of industry as a whole.
I must say one word about the most extraordinary reply which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply gave to an hon. Member this afternoon. It really is astonishing that a document of this kind, with its humane approach to this problem, has not been seen by Ministerial Departments covering a very wide field of productive employment in which many hundreds of young persons are employed and who are unaware not only of the terms of the document but that the document itself is in existence. Arising out of that amazing statement, I hope that the Under-secretary will make it the duty of the Home Office to draw the attention of Departments engaged in Government production to the existence of this document and its terms, and that they will also realise the tremendous desirability of seeing that these regulations are imposed 1468 on employers wherever they can be. I should like the Under-Secretary to tell us exactly what the Government are doing in regard to the recommendations in the report.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Mr. David Adams (Consett)
The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) for having initiated this important Debate, since a discussion of certain defects of the partial neglect of our factory legislation cannot but be of value to the country. I wish to raise one or two relatively smaller matters regarding the effect of over-work in certain factories and shipyards on the Tyneside. It is generally agreed that the situation there in that respect is distasteful both to employers and employés. As a result of the admitted shortage of labour, it is necessary for intolerable hours of overtime to be worked. In certain shipyards where the three-shift system is not in operation, overtime is worked from 8.30 p.m., and every week-end, until the men become too exhausted to go to the factories and workshops. This overtime is being worked in certain of our larger industries on the Tyneside. There is an urgent demand for relief from this situation, as it is causing staleness, exhaustion and a coniderable amount of sickness, which eventually result in short time by many workers.
The situation has not been met by local action. The local trade union committees have taken upon themselves the task of advertising, at their own expense, for their particular classes of labour. Appeals have been made in other quarters and to other trade union committees for labour which, as a result of the depression, was transferred elsewhere. The result has been virtually nil. Some additional organisation, which has not yet been set up, is required to deal with the position. In some cases municipal employés have responded to the appeals that have been made by stating that to return to their old employment would mean a decline in their wages and possibly a loss of superannuation. Surely, this is a case in which the Home Office should undertake some inquiry for the purpose of seeing whether it is not possible to make arrangements to ensure that skilled shipyard workers of various sorts employed elsewhere should return to their employment. In that way, the very onerous situation 1469 on the Tyneside could be met. I have been in communication with employers and employés, and they have declared that this is one of the most urgent problems to be dealt with. It seems to be a case of neglect by the Ministry of Labour or the Home Office, or by both, for clearly the matter has not had the official attention which it ought to receive. In County Durham, the great mining county of the country, certain employés are bitterly complaining that there appears to be work, but that they cannot reach it. In certain parts of the county there is great unemployment but, at the same time and in the same districts, considerable overtime is being worked in the mines. Surely, that is a situation which can be dealt with by one of the Ministries concerned. It is creating a great deal of serious discontent. I have received communications on the matter from many quarters and I have passed them on to the Durham Miners' Association for attention, but it is a matter which ought to have attention from all the Ministries, and I am sure that it could be rectified without further delay.
The information which has been supplied to the House this afternoon concerning the employment of women and children will be of great value to the Home Office. On the Tyneside we have the unenviable notoriety of having a tuberculosis rate which is probably the highest in the country. Although, since the last war, there has been a substantial decline in the incidence of this disease, nevertheless the North-East Coast remains well above the average for the rest of the country. This matter ought to receive the constant attention of the Ministry of Health. When Questions are put to the Minister about this, his response is that action is being taken in the provision of additional hospitals, and so on; but it is to means of prevention that attention ought more particularly to be directed. The high rate of the disease is alleged to be due to the low nutritional standards on the North-East Coast and also to overtime worked by women and girls in the relatively few factories there. It is, however, interesting to notice with regard to this disease that the figures show that 50 per cent. of the cases of tuberculosis in children under one year of age result from infection. Therefore, if adults are infected, it is not possible, even under relatively healthy conditions, to prevent 1470 the disease from spreading to babies and young children. It is a serious fact that during the last three years there has been an average of no fewer than 50,000 new cases of tuberculosis in the country.
Probably our municipal authorities are dealing with this matter as well as they can, but it requires a much greater effort from the central authority, particularly in the matter of nutrition, which would not necessitate additional legislation. There has been a request to local authorities to increase, at their own charge, the amount of cheap milk available to various sections of the community, but there is a revolt against the municipal authorities having to bear the additional cost of many thousands of pounds for the purpose of raising the standard of life among the industrial workers. If the Government are serious, as unquestionably they are, in their efforts to preserve intact the home front, from the point of view of the standards of the workers, in order that our munitions production and export trade may be kept at the highest level, that aspect of expenditure by the central authorities must be carefully examined. I am sorry that more Members could not be present at this Debate. The smallness of the attendance may seem to indicate a lack of interest in the subject, but I should point out that, unfortunately, the Debate had to be arranged at very short notice, and many hon. Members found it impossible to be present in the House this afternoon. This subject is of such vital importance and the revelations which have been made regarding it are so disquieting, that I hope an opportunity will be found, if possible on the initiative of the Government, for a further Debate upon it.
§ 2.26 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)
I think it must be the calm after the storm, rather than the calm before the storm, which the House is experiencing this afternoon. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) said that the welfare of our industrial population was one of the first essentials in time of war and with that statement I fully agree. Our industrial effort may be decisive one way or the other. The war has brought its problems to the industrial division of the Home Office and to the factory inspectorate, as to other Government Departments. I am glad, therefore, that the House should have this opportunity of showing its in- 1471 terest in this part of Home Office administration and that I should have the opportunity of giving some account to the House of what we have done since the outbreak of war. Like the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) I regret that the Debate has had to be held at such short notice and although the hon. Member for Westhoughton has as usual been good enough to inform me in advance of some of the questions which he intended to raise, I am unable, because of the shortness of notice, to give the full answers to all his questions and all of the statistical information for which hon. Members opposite have asked.
I begin by stating briefly what is the field of Home Office responsibility in this matter. The speeches of the hon. Member for Consett and of the hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) rather indicated that in their view we bore a heavier responsibility over a wider field than is actually the case. The field of Home Office responsibility may be described briefly as having regard to welfare in the factories, and the hours of work of women and young persons. Reference has been made to the admirable report of the Industrial Health Research Board and I was surprised to hear from hon. Members opposite that my colleague at the Ministry of Supply appeared to be unaware of the existence of this document. I cannot of course answer for my hon. and gallant Friend; it may be that he did not fully understand the Supplementary Question which was put to him. But I can assure hon. Members opposite that this document is well known in the Ministry of Supply.
As far as industrial welfare is concerned, there are many aspects for which the Home Office has a specific responsibility, because of the duty which is on the Department to enforce the provision of the Factories Acts. Those Acts are designed not only to protect the workers, men and women, against special risks of industrial accidents or industrial disease, but also to secure proper working conditions in the factories. They contain special provisions relating to cleanliness, heating, ventilation, lighting, washing facilities, accommodation for workers, protective clothing and first aid. Beyond the statutory responsibilities of the Home Office, it has become established practice in recent years for the Home Office and 1472 the factory inspectorate to supplement the enforcement of the actual statutory obligations by issuing pamphlets giving advice to employers, and by delivering lectures with a view to securing a wider adoption of safety, health and welfare arrangements than the minimum standards required by law.
As regards operations or processes which may involve specific danger to health, it is the constant duty of the Factories Department to assist in devising measures to counteract such dangers. New risks from time to time arise as a result of the introduction of new machines or new processes and it is the duty of the Factories Department to mobilise specialist knowledge for the purpose of devising protective measures. As a recent example—one among many—I may quote the development of what are known as radio-active processes. Special safeguards for work of this kind have been devised with the assistance of the medical and engineering officers in the Factories Department. In this field of welfare work special difficulties to which the hon. Member referred were encountered on the outbreak of the war, particularly as regards the ventilation and lighting in factories. The hon. Member referred in very generous terms to the pamphlet prepared in the Home Office on the subject of ventilation in factories under black-out conditions. That pamphlet has been widely distributed and we are convinced that it has produced good results. As regards lighting, a special study is being made of the subject by the Factory Lighting Committee which includes outside experts as well as representatives of employers and workpeople under the chairmanship of an ex-Chief Inspector of Factories, Sir Duncan Wilson. This committee had issued one report before the outbreak of war and has been asked since the war, to accelerate its activities. Meantime, special instructions have been given to factory inspectors to assist them in giving further advice to factory occupiers and in carrying on a vigorous campaign to improve lighting.
In reviewing some of the other welfare activities of the factory inspectors, I can assure the hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham that the activities of the factory inspectorate are very much wider than her speech seemed to indicate. They cover an enormous field of welfare activity, both imposed on factory occu- 1473 piers by Statute, and also encouraged beyond the minimum statutory obligations. She addressed herself, in particular, to the question of medical arrangements and the medical examinations of persons entering factories. I agree with her that there is no statutory power at present to enforce medical examination for entrants into factories and industries over the age of 16 years. The question is one which would involve legislation, and therefore I should be out of Order in dealing with it to-day. However, I think I may claim that a good deal has been done recently as regards the employment of whole-time doctors in the larger factories, and, in particular, in the factories which have been established by the Ministry of Supply. Furthermore, since the war there has been a considerable addition to part-time medical supervision in factories of moderate size.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
When the Minister speaks of doctors fully employed in certain factories, does that mean that they are employed by the owners of the factories?
§ Mr. Peake
Yes, that is very often the case, especially where particularly dangerous processes are involved.
The hon. Member for Westhoughton mentioned the question of the welfare of workers outside factories. In this regard we have no statutory responsibility, but we do take a great interest in such questions as the housing of the workers, and the transport of the workers to and from their work. Where special extensions of hours are being asked for it is always the practice of the Home Office to ask for information on these points. The hon. Member mentioned the case of the factory near Chorley, in Lancashire, and Questions have been put in the House in regard to the inadequate transport facilities from Blackpool, I think, and elsewhere. This is a matter which the Home Office took up with the other Government Departments concerned—the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Transport—and I have assured myself that a very substantial improvement of transport has recently come into operation.
I turn for the moment to the question of hours of work, which is dealt with in the report made by the Home Office to this House some time ago in respect of the first five months of the war, and also in the 1474 pamphlet issued by the Industrial Health Research Board. I would draw the attention of hon. Members to the fact that the pamphlet of the Industrial Health Research Board, although it emphasises and endorses the general policy set out in the report of the Home Office which came out at an earlier date, at the same time covers a wider field. It covers the hours of work of men as well as those of women and children.
I would like to say that the experience of the Home Office fully supports the observations in regard to hours of work which are made in this document, and which have been quoted this afternoon by the hon. Member for Westhoughton. It is difficult to condense into a few sentences the gist of the report which we made to Parliament a few months ago, but I think that the general policy embodied in the report is contained in the last sentences of it, in which it is stated:It is, however, the policy of the Government, while authorising where necessary hours which would not be permissible in peace time, not to authorise hours which are found in the light of experience and scientific investigation to be detrimental to health or to efficient production.On the outbreak of war the Home Office had some exceedingly difficult questions to deal with in regard to hours of work. On the one hand, there was the urgent necessity of producing certain classes of goods in greatly increased quantities for our national war effort, while, on the other hand, there were the interests of the workpeople to be considered. There were difficulties of securing additional labour at short notice and the difficulties of travelling and so forth in the blackout. I think that the reception given to this report by the House shows that on the whole we have held the balance fairly between the interests of the workers and the demands of the Supply Departments and of Government contractors of all kinds for greater latitude in order to speed up output.
The hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley) asked a number of questions and made a number of comments on that report. As far as I could follow him, he objected very strongly to the adoption of a three-shift system. Generally speaking, our policy at the Home Office since the war started has been to encourage employers to adopt a shift system rather 1475 than to permit long hours of overtime for women and young persons. We believe on the whole that it is better to have two, or possibly three, shifts of workers, than to have one shift working very much extended hours. As between a two-shift system, that is, a night shift and a day shift, and a three-shift system, on the whole the preference of the workers has been for the two-shift system. Hon. Members will see that the adoption of a three-shift system with changes of shifts every eight hours involved, in the winter months, two-thirds of all the workers employed travelling during hours of darkness. With the two-shift system half of the workers change over their work during daylight hours, even in the depth of winter. As the days have grown longer, both shifts on a two-shift system have been able to get to and from their work during the hours of daylight.
The third feature in the policy that we have pursued as regards hours of work since the war is this. There has been general agreement among the parties whom we have consulted in regard to this matter that we must safeguard to the fullest possible extent the hours of the very young workers. If the hon. Member will refer to the report, he will see that we have done our best to prevent additional hours being worked by very young persons. For instance, in no case have we permitted employment by night of girls under 18 or of boys under 16. With regard to the employment of young persons under 16, it is satisfactory to see on the top of page 12 of the report that whereas we have granted up to 5th February 439 orders enabling the hours for young persons under 16 to exceed the 44 hours fixed by Statute, in 312 cases those orders were not renewed. The number of orders in operation at the end of the period was much smaller than the total number of orders granted.
§ Mr. Ridley
We can get no idea of the magnitude of the orders unless we have the figures of the number of workers.
§ Mr. Peake
The question of the numbers involved is one of great difficulty because the number of persons employed at any one moment at a factory varies. We know at the Home Office at any one moment how many orders we have granted in respect of extension of hours, but the number of workpeople is 1476 constantly fluctuating and figures which would not be misleading could only be got by a special census in a particular week involving inquiries at all the factories concerned. For example, an order to authorise additional overtime may be made for three months, but it would not necessarily be the case that all workpeople covered by the order would in fact be employed for the extra overtime. Some might be so employed for only a few weeks. Again, in the case of an order authorising shift working, the staff of the factory would usually be expanding and it would not be possible without specific inquiry at the factory to say how many women were employed in the shift at any particular time. The circumstances are so fluctuating, the orders are made for short periods, the orders lapse from time to time, and the amount of use that is made of the orders by employers varies so much, that it is difficult to get any figures giving even a general picture of the number of young persons or women covered by the orders. There are something like 240,000 factory premises covered by the Factory Acts and the number of factories involved by the orders are very small in relation to the total number of premises. I agree that the number of factories gives no accurate indication of the number of workers covered by the order.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
We have been pressing this point on the Home Office for some time, and it would assist us if we could get the number of workers involved when an order is applied for.
§ Mr. Peake
I will look into that question and see whether it is possible to get some statistics which will give a picture of the extent of this question as regards the number of workers affected.
May I pass to the specific questions put to me by the hon. Member for Westhoughton? He asked when the annual report of the Chief Inspector would be available. It is usually issued in July, and I do not see how it will be possible this year under war conditions to produce it any earlier than usual; but I hope it will be possible to produce it at the ordinary time. He and the hon. Lady also asked whether the factory inspectorate is being kept up to strength. It has, in fact, been increased since the outbreak of war, for the obvious reason that additional supervision is necessary. Hon. 1477 Members will realise that it is difficult in these times to train additional staff at more than a certain pace. If we take on large numbers of untrained staff who have to be taught their jobs, it is much more difficult for the skilled and specialised people who have been trained to carry out their work properly. The hon. Member then asked whether unscrupulous employers were engaging young persons in industry before the school-leaving age. That is a matter primarily for the education authorities. They are responsible for keeping the children at school up to the school age. We have no evidence in the Home Office that that practice is not being followed. In view of the importance of this question and the greater demand for child labour which there would be during the war, we issued in February a circular to local authorities in which we said:The Secretary of State thinks it desirable to remind local education authorities for elementary education of the provisions of Part II of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, relating to the employment of school children. While it is necessary that in the present emergency labour shall be available for all work of national importance, it is equally essential to maintain a high standard of physical and mental fitness among growing boys and girls and to ensure that no proposals should be entertained for their employment in such a way as would be likely adversely to affect their education or their health.The circular concluded:The Secretary of State believes that there is a growing opinion among education authorities that children who are regularly employed out of school hours are not likely to get the fullest benefit from their education, and for this reason he is sure that … they will guard carefully against the risk of excessive employment both in country districts and in towns.That shows we are alive at the Home Office to the importance of this question of the employment of young children and although under the Education Acts and the Young Persons Act of 1933 it is for the local authorities to take the matter up, we have drawn the importance of this matter to their attention.
I have touched on welfare supervision and also replied to the hon. Gentleman's point with regard to the transport of workers at Chorley. The hon. Member asked also whether I could give some additional figures in regard to accidents since the war. The full statistics are still being compiled for the annual report, but the figures we have show that on the outbreak of war there was a sharp increase in 1478 the rate of fatal accidents. There is not the slightest doubt that that was in great part, perhaps almost entirely, due to black-out conditions, with, for example, men going on to roofs and putting up black-out devices of all kinds. The fatal accident rate has since then steadied down to very little above the normal. I can send the hon. Member some actual statistics, but I will not waste the time of the House by quoting them in detail now. He also asked to what extent we had continued granting Orders for extensions of hours under the Factory Acts and under the Defence Regulations since our report was presented to Parliament, which covered our action up to 27th January last. As he said up to 27th January the number of Orders granted was 2,914. On 6th April that figure had increased by something like 600 to 3,503, but hon. Members will observe that whereas in the first five months of war we granted nearly 3,000 Orders, which is at the rate of something like 600 a month, in the next 2½ months we granted only an additional 600 Orders. The number of Orders granted has slowed down considerably in recent months, and in point of fact the number of factories which on 6th April were covered by Orders which were still alive, that is, which had not been terminated by effluxion of time, was 2,616. As regards prosecutions and the enforcement of the Factory Acts, here again the figures are in process of analysis, but so far as we can say at the present time the number of prosecutions corresponds very closely to the number in recent years.
I think I have now answered most of the detailed questions raised in the Debate. In conclusion. I would say that we welcome the interest of the House of Commons in this subject. We at the Home Office believe that publicity is the solvent of many potential causes of industrial friction and unrest. We are not complacent or self-satisfied, but I think I can claim that the Factory Department has done its best to cope quickly with problems as they arise and to make its contribution to the attainment of our maximum industrial effort. That can only be achieved, as hon. Members opposite are all agreed, if we safeguard to the full the health and welfare of our industrial population. We have received, and are glad to acknowledge, the co-operation of Service Departments and of the organisations of both employers and workpeople. We 1479 welcome all constructive criticism from whatever quarter it may come, in discharging the responsibilities which are placed upon us.
§ Mr. David Adams
Will the hon. Gentleman look into the question of the additional labour required in Tyneside factories and shipyards?