HC Deb 04 November 1943 vol 393 cc868-70
The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)

As the House is aware, I have been giving careful consideration to the question of the proper organisation and supply of domestic staff in time of war to institutions caring for the sick, the aged and infirm and young children including the school meals service and similar organisations. On examination I found that there was a lack in a great part of this field of any recognised rates of pay or conditions without which effective action on a large scale is extremely difficult. I, therefore, appointed at the end of July a Committee Under the chairmanship of Sir Hector Hetherington, to advise me as to the rates of pay and other conditions of employment which should be recognised for any special measures which I might take in this connection. The Report of this Committee has been received and is available to hon. Members in the Vote Office. I propose to accept its recommendations on the clear understanding that the charges or deductions for meals should be a matter for arrangement between the employing body and the employees or their representatives, subject to the provision that the charges or deductions for full and adequate meals should in no case exceed those specified in the Report and that working clothing, where required, would be regarded as a charge on the employing body. For the first time I shall have a firm basis on which to work, and where these conditions are fulfilled I shall deal with recruitment to this work in exactly the same way as to any other form of important national service whether in industry or the Services, according to the priority allotted to it and including the use as necessary of my powers under Defence Regulations.

I do not propose to rest content with promulgating rates and conditions for adoption by individual institutions. It is my aim that this service should be placed in the general estimation on a footing with any other industry and that it should offer suitable training, prospects of advancement and proper welfare arrangements. I am, therefore, appointing a small Standing Committee to advise me as to the further steps which should be taken from time to time in these and kindred matters, and, so far as welfare is concerned, I intend to ask the Factory and Welfare Advisory Board, which already advises me on all matters affecting the welfare of industrial workers, to extend their scope and their membership so as to include welfare for domestic workers in institutions, I am also arranging that the welfare staff of my Department, both at headquarters and in the regions, shall include the welfare of these workers within their scope. Special courses of training for hospital cooks are already available, and I shall seek the advice of the Advisory Committee as to the directions in which these can be extended.

The further problem with which I am at present concerned relates to the private household which is suffering undue hardship owing to sickness, childbirth or other emergency. Plans for dealing with such cases are under consideration in my Department and I shall hope to benefit in their working out by the advice of the Committee to which I referred above.

Mr. Messer

May I ask the Minister two questions? The first is whether he is still excluding clerical and administrative staffs, a matter which is a source of very great difficulty. Secondly, in regard to welfare, does this mean that his Department now will be able to authorise the setting up of canteens in hospitals and all institutions where that provision has not been granted by the Ministry of Health up to date?

Mr. Bevin

As far as the question of clerical staff is concerned, where it is a local authority hospital I deal with it under the local authority arrangements. I will take into consideration the question of the necessary clerical staff in the other branches together with that of the domestic staff. As far as canteens and other feeding arrangements are concerned, my welfare department will go into that, and I am sure that I shall have the co-operation of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health in seeing that the proper facilities are provided.

Mr. Woodburn

Can the Minister say whether the list he has given includes the domestic staff of mental hospitals?

Mrs. Hardie

May I ask the Minister whether he proposes to regularise domestic service? He speaks of taking girls into private houses for domestic work. Is that his intention? He will have to be very careful about it, if he is going to take girls away from homes where they are already helping their mothers, in addition to doing work outside. There will be great feeling if those girls are taken from their own homes and directed to work in somebody else's private house.

Mr. Bevin

No, I did not say that. What I said was that I hoped to benefit by the experience arising out of institutions, to develop a proper domestic service organisation; and on that, I propose to seek the advice of the Committee which I am setting up.

Mr. Gallacher

In view of the very strict examination which attendants in tuberculosis institutes have to go through, will the right hon. Gentleman give special attention to this branch, as there is a great scarcity; and will he also consult the President of the Board of Trade with a view to getting an allocation of projectors for these institutions? Is the Minister not aware that there is a very big demand in some of these institutions for entertainments?

Mr. Bevin

On the entertainment side, I could probably avail myself of the services of my hon. Friend. The question of projectors is another matter. What I have to do is to see that the services are provided, in order that these places may be properly manned.

Major Petherick

As we could not hear all that the Minister said, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the proposal which he has brought forward will be put into practice at once in view of the very grave difficulties which many of these hospitals have been experiencing for a long time?

Mr. Bevin

Yes, they are to proceed immediately.

Dr. Summerskill

In view of the fact that now, for the first time, domestic work has been given proper recognition, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to investigate the economic status of the housewife?

Mr. Bevin

I think the housewife is the best judge of the economic status of the husband.