HC Deb 19 June 1950 vol 476 cc1021-32

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Popplewell.]

11.6 p.m.

Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)

In the short time that we have available, I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service wishes to make a fairly full reply. I understand also that there are one or two other hon. Members who hope to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, so that I shall have to put my points very briefly indeed.

Iron founding is basic to a great many parts of the engineering industry, but in spite of that it has remarkable disadvantages from the point of view of its working conditions. The workers are continually concerned with the presence of molten metal, there is a good deal of transportation of it, there is much lifting of heavy weights, there are fumes in the atmosphere, and dust which carries a good deal of silica, thus leading to the risk of silicosis; and the general surroundings of the worker have in the past been characterised by a great deal of sheer dismalness.

Because of these features in the industry the Garrett Committee, which was set up in 1945, produced a Report in 1947 which was of very great importance to the industry. The industry in general looks upon the implementation as far as possible of the recommendations in the Report as a matter of great importance and urgency. These recommendations affect the health of the workers, the attractiveness of the work itself, the attractiveness of the conditions in which they work, and of course also the productive efficiency of the foundries.

Since the Report was issued three years ago, it has become clear that there are certain difficulties in carrying out all the recommendations. There are old customs and prejudices on both sides which always make it difficult to introduce new ideas. I would like to make it clear that the union mainly concerned is doing all it can to break down any apathy or prejudice on the part of the employees which may slow up improvements. There is. sometimes difficulty in achieving cooperation between the two sides of the industry.

Certain managements, for instance, need to be reminded, just as much as some of the employees, that there must be co-operation in putting into effect many of the recommendations. There has been a certain amount of difficulty over capital expenditure, but I think that under the priority given to expenditure of this sort it has largely been removed; and of course, there is the difficulty that a number of the recommendations, depend on a degree of knowledge which can only be achieved by research which does not exist at the moment. In spite of difficulties, there has been considerable progress. A Standing Joint Committee is continually at work and we are all interested in its dealing effectively with the topics brought to its attention.

In the district which I have the honour to represent, it is clear that many of the employers have taken many of the recommendations very much to heart, and in recent years considerable improvements have been made. I know that in the districts represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stirlingshire, West (Mr. Balfour) and in that represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Mathers), who are all interested in this matter, the same can be said—that their is obviously a good deal of improvement in the bigger firms.

In addition, the Department of the Chief Inspector of Factories arranged that all factories should be visited, and I want to pay more than a conventional tribute to that Department, because the whole conception of their treatment of the subject has been broad and imaginative, starting from the idea of Sir Wilfred Garrett himself of examining the industry in this way and continuing with the remarkable visitation of all the foundries—2,000 of them or thereabouts—in 1948. I trust that the follow-through of that Report still further will be carried out with the same degree of imagination.

But in spite of the improvements that have been made, the colleague of my hon. Friend in the Ministry of Supply, addressing the foundry unions, was able to say that conditions in a great many smaller foundries had not merely disappointed but shocked him, and there remain a great many things which must be tackled before the foundry world can feel that its problems have been adequately dealt with. I cannot this evening do more than select a few of the problems that require tackling, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary realises that the subject is much wider than we can do justice to in this half-hour.

I would like to ask him about the position with regard to accidents in iron foundries. The accident rate has been very high. In the Chief Inspector's Report for 1947, iron founding had the highest accident rate of all the industries listed. There was some improvement in 1948, but even so the rate was very high, and the Deputy Chief Inspector, addressing the foundry workers' conference a year ago, put it in an emphatic and alarming way when he said that one in ten of all foundry workers in the course of a year suffered from an accident during his employment. One is inclined to ask—what about the ordinary precautions? Is there proper stacking of equipment not in use. provision of proper gangways, provision of protective clothing such as goggles and boots? Are all these being adequately brought into effect?

One is inclined to ask also to what extent is the high accident rate general? Are a large number of accidents concentrated in the foundries which have been slow in carrying out the recommendations of the Garrett Report, and are there some very good and almost accident-free foundries at the other end, or is the rate general throughout all foundries? I would like to draw attention to a remarkable passage in the Report of the Productivity Team that dealt with steel founding, published last July or August. They point out that in a number of American foundries which were visited the index figure for accidents had been brought down in the course of five years from 45 to 27, which is a remarkable decrease. I am not suggesting to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that we can achieve that in our own foundries at once, but I do suggest that that sort of report calls for some comment. It is worth thinking over and seeing to what extent we can apply its findings.

I should like to ask one or two things about research. The elimination of obnoxious fumes, dust and silica from the atmosphere depends largely upon adequate research being done. I should like my hon. Friend to give an indication of the extent of research that is understood to be needed. Can he tell us what research is at present taking place, and whether his Department find it possible to ensure that all the research which is required is being carried out? One particular piece of research which, I observed, was being carried out in Loughborough Technical College had to be dropped because, I understand, there was not sufficient financial provision to carry it on. Is the whole of the research which is necessary to suffer in that way, or is there any greater assurance that it will be carried out?

In the Report for 1948 of the Chief Inspector of Factories, there is a quite lengthy description of the results of the full inspection which was made of all foundries, but I wonder whether my hon. Friend could give more specific details than are given in the Report. This publication, although it is very useful, is full of phrases like "most foundries do so and so, or "comparatively few do this, that or the next thing." Very few specific facts are given.

One would like to know the actual number of foundries, or, more important perhaps, the actual number of workers, affected by each of these things. The Report may be useful to a person who knows the industry continually from the inside, as do the inspectors, but—and I am not making a purely critical point—I myself found it quite difficult, from these passages in the Report, to form a clear picture, whereas if more precise data were given, it would be possible for one to form a fuller picture of the true position. Is there any sign that we are getting down to a hard core of foundries in which there is not likely to be improvement? Are all foundry employers who are likely to make improvements along the lines that have been recommended, already making progress in this direction? Are those that remain, or many of them, likely to be completely unwilling to start to do so?

Finally—and I am closing my speech abruptly because I do not want to take up further time—I should like to ask about new foundries. Have all the new foundries which have been established since the publication of the Report followed its recommendations, or have some ignored them; and are the new foundries all in buildings which are suitable for foundries? I know that in the past my right hon. Friend the Minister has suffered from the difficulty that he has not been able to give as much information as he would like to give in answer to Questions because of the sheer shortage of time. That is one reason why I am addressing these questions to my hon. Friend tonight, in the hope that he can give rather more information.

11.19 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. M. MacPherson) is to be congratulated on his choice of subject tonight, because this is a matter which is considered of the very greatest importance throughout Scotland and England. We hear too little about it in the ordinary Debates in the House.

It is now nearly three years since the Garrett Report was published. It was received by all sides of industry everywhere with acclaim, and people expected progress to be made. It was not doubted that progress would be to a certain extent slow because of the restriction of capital expenditure and shortage of materials, and so on; but I think anyone who has looked at the problem must agree that progress has been provokingly slow and very uneven. Some employers have taken the recommendations to heart and have gone ahead and transformed their foundries, but in many cases I am afraid the conditions which prompted the inquiry itself still prevail. There are far too many of these foundries which, to say the least, are by no means a credit to British industry and are certainly a menace to health and life. The 1948 Report of His Majesty's Chief Inspector of Factories showed there were nearly 13,000 preventible accidents, causing loss of time, in one year. Today has not been an exception. Nearly 40 accidents have occurred in foundries this very day, and last month two people were killed.

This is one of our basic industries, one which certainly has been pulling its weight. Despite all difficulties, figures of production are very high. I think we should show due regard to the desires and needs of the people working in this industry by going into the recommendations of this Committee which reported so long ago. People are beginning to feel that this Report, praised and now forgotten, is being left to decorate the shelves of the Ministry of Labour.

I want to know exactly how the Minister is going to tackle this subject. My feeling about the matter is that he has the power to tackle this serious question. It is not just a question of accidents, but of actual health. X-ray examinations carried out recently in a steel foundry in Scotland showed that, of 59 dressers X-rayed, 10 were suffering from silicosis. In the iron foundry the figure is not so high, but it is still far too high. The tuberculosis incidence is 40 per cent. higher than the United Kingdom average. These things are entirely due to bad conditions, and something should be done. I know that factory inspectors have been paying more attention to foundries since the publication of the Report, but more yet must be done.

The Minister already has power under the 1937 Act to deal with matters like the condition of floors. One would have thought it a simple matter to use a vacuum plant for cleaning, but we find that most foundries do not use one. Is there any reason why they should not have it? The orderly arrangement and storage of materials and the provision of gangways are other points. Most accidents are caused by the acceptance of muddle in foundries as inevitable.

It is not good enough that we should accept these things in British industry. An hon. Member who is not a member of my party told me today of the vast difference made in one of his factories by the installation of modern strip lighting. If it has made such a difference in his factory, let us have that kind of progress elsewhere. There is also the question of ventilation. The Minister has power by regulation to deal with all the matters covered by the Report.

Turning for a moment to research, a certain amount of research is being carried out, but not nearly enough, and there is not sufficient co-ordination of that research. On that research will depend our ability to raise the standards in this industry, particularly in the vital matter of the elimination of dust and the control of noxious fumes. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us exactly how urgent he considers the whole thing and what attempts his Department are making to deal with it.

11.25 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Frederick Lee)

I agree that in raising this important issue my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) has done us a great service. For my part, I am happy to have the opportunity of joining in such a Debate, because I think I can claim to have been born, as it were, in an atmosphere of sand and moleskins in that my own father has been an iron moulder all his life, and although he has now retired he is looking forward to celebrating his 60th year with the union which caters for the iron moulders.

I know that this is not a question into which one can venture with an academic mind: it is a great human problem of men working in a heavy industry, often in poor conditions. Those of us who have worked in and around foundries know that for a long time the iron foundry trade has been considered as the "Cinderella" of the engineering industry and the conditions which have obtained in foundries would not have been tolerated in the turning or fitting shops in the same establishment.

For this reason it was right and proper that the Garrett Committee should investigate the conditions and produce the Report they did in 1947.

In the short time at my disposal I should like to answer a number of questions which have been put to me. In the engineering industry as a whole the shortage of apprentices in foundries has for a long time been causing considerable anxiety. Unfortunately we cannot get accurate figures to show whether there is a big improvement in the entry of boys into the foundry industry. During the last few days I have been trying to get reliable statistical data from various sources but I am assured there are no agreed figures published. The Council of the Iron Foundry Association said that where good amenities were provided recruitment was becoming easier and the position appears to be improving to that extent. Moreover more firms are showing a willingness to work the Association's approved training scheme. Good and average foundries are attracting apprentices, but in many instances the particular factor against recruitment is not whether the foundry itself is good, but the fact that in many districts alternative employment of a clean nature is available for the reduced number of school-leavers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk pointed out that in the course of half-an-hour it is not possible to get as much data as one would wish. I can assure him that there will be a full account of the steps being taken to implement the Garrett Report in the annual report of the Chief Inspector of Factories for 1949. He will give specific information on the progress made in particular directions, and whether the industry is or is not tackling the various recommendations.

Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)

When will that be published?

Mr. Lee

It will be published in the course of the next few months. My hon. Friend also asked me about the accident rate in foundries, and I can give him the latest information. Factory inspectors are pressing firms to set up safety organisations and joint safety committees, and figures during the post-war period tend to indicate that this is having a good effect. In 1946, fatal accidents numbered 31, and non-fatal 13,225; in 1947, there were 27 fatal and 12,911 non-fatal accidents; in 1948, 29 fatal and 12,482 nonfatal accidents; and in 1949, a pleasing reduction to 20 fatal and 11,003 non-fatal accidents. That is a reduction from the 1948 figure. These figures relate to metal founding generally and not merely to iron foundries, although the latter of course preponderate. During that period the number of employees has not changed materially, and the progressive reduction of accidents, particularly in the 1949 figure as compared with 1948, is most encouraging. Nearly 50 per cent. of the accidents in foundries are due to either the handling of goods and materials or contact with splashing from molten metal. For example, in 1949, 34.8 per cent. of accidents were due to handling and 13.7 per cent. to molten metal. The figures for this industry have fallen progressively during the last four years.

Let me now give the House another indication of the effect of improved working conditions and amenities combined with the wider adoption of safety precautions in the industry as a whole. I think we can see it in the number of sepsis cases in the past three years, which were as follows: 1947, 1,223; 1948, 1,208; 1949, 887. It appears, then, that because of improved safety conditions, and the generally new attitude towards these very vital questions which now obtains in the iron foundry industry, we are getting more satisfactory figures than before, although it would be quite wrong for us to believe that we have reached anything like the low level we want to see in the very near future. Increased mechanisation, which is certainly going ahead in the larger and medium-sized foundries, will undoubtedly help to reduce the number of accidents due to handling of materials and the transport of molten metal.

I have been asked a number of questions, some of which I will endeavour to answer in the limited time available. There are approximately 2,000 iron foundries in the country, employing some 145,790 persons on 7th January this year. Of these 2,000 foundries, approximately 10 per cent. might be classified as "poor," although since the survey was made in 1948 many have improved their conditions. Factory inspectors have inspected every one of these foundries; they started in 1947 and continued in 1948, and since that initial inspection there have been check inspections and very good progress has been made in very many of them. Some 90 per cent. of the foundries can be classified as "good" or "average," or as improving conditions as rapidly as supplies permit.

Mention has been made of the bad condition of the smaller foundries, and here indeed we have a very great difficulty. We are trying, along with the Ministry of Supply, to make available materials—steel, and so on—in order to re-house old dilapidated foundries, but many are so sited in built-up areas that it is not possible to modernise the existing foundries themselves. Their particular job may be to provide castings for a firm in the immediate vicinity, and it is therefore important to try to site them in such a way that they can perform that very necessary function and yet give the increased amenities and facilities which we desire.

My hon. Friend also mentioned our position in contra-distinction to that in America. Although the figures he quoted are excellent, I would remind him that accident rates in America were for many years far higher than in this country, and it was therefore possible to effect a larger ratio of reduction. Several of the Productivity Team have said that while the general standard of safeguarding plant is lower in the United States, personnel are more safety conscious than in this country.

Research has been referred to, and much has been done in research into the provision of better amenities for foundry workers. The provision of baths, showers, and so on, is by no means uncommon now. In fact, a few days ago I was in a foundry in Scotland, which was by no means what one would call a modern foundry, and I was pleased to see that they had installed baths, showers and rooms where the workers could dry off their clothing. That sort of thing is going ahead very well indeed. It is not possible for the Ministry to be able to finance research by the industry itself. That, of course, is a question which only the industry itself can tackle.

I am extremely sorry that because of the time factor I cannot go into more detail. In conclusion, I would just say this. In Stirling and Falkirk there are 35 foundries comprising small, medium and large ones, grouped as follows: Small-sized foundries employing up to 49 persons, six; medium-sized foundries employing 50 to 249 persons, 15; large-sized foundries employing 250 to 1,200 persons, 14. We are satisfied that good progress is, in fact, being made in improving conditions.

I do not want to give the impression that the Ministry is in any way complacent about the tremendous job of work which still has to be done in the foundries. We recognise that much of the effort which it is desired the country should get in order to achieve increased production may well depend upon the efforts of the foundry workers. We know how well they have deserved of the country, and we want to do everything in our power to assist them, and we will continue to do everything we can to make sure the Report is implemented at the earliest possible moment.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twenty-Four Minutes to Twelve o'Clock.