§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.4 a.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to implement the recommendations of the Gowers Committee on conditions of work among nonindustrial workers. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who was then Home Secretary, set up that Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Ernest Arthur Gowers in 1946, and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Miss Bacon) was for a part of the time a member of that important Committee. After three years of exhaustive inquiry and consultation, Sir Ernest Gowers's Committee reported its findings. The Bill seeks to make statutory provisions relating to the health, welfare and safety of employed persons at places of employment other than those regulated by the Factories Acts or the Mines and Quarries Act of last year.
To refresh the memory of the House, I think I should open this much discussed Report and quote the terms of reference of the Committee:On the 1st January, 1946. we were appointed"—says the members of the Committee in their Report—
It is an astonishing fact that there is this vacuum in British legislation. It has existed throughout the history of our industrial relations.
- "(i) To enquire into the provisions of the Shops Acts relating to closing hours (general or local) and to report as soon as possible whether any alterations are desirable.
- (ii) To enquire into and make recommendations as to extending, strengthening or modifying:—
- (a) The statutory provisions relating to the health, welfare and safety of employed
686 persons at places of employment other than those regulated under the Factories or Mines and Quarries Acts, and
- (b) The statutory regulation of the hours of employment of young persons.
- (iii) To enquire into and make recommendations as to the machinery for enforcing statutory provisions within the scope of (i) and (ii) above."
With the help of the trade union movement, and by the help also of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have been kind enough to sponsor the Bill with me, I have been able to make an effort at the drafting of a Bill that will meet these requirements of the Gowers Committee. Today the House can remedy this deficiency in British labour legislation. I shall proceed to demonstrate the crying need for this legislation, and I shall proceed to demonstrate that there can be no longer any excuses either on the basis of the economic factor or on the basis of the time factor.
In March, 1949, the Gowers Committee in its Report, published as Cmd. 7664, six years ago, set down its recommendations, and all the time since the T.U.C. and the unions concerned have been urging Governments to introduce legislation to protect the health, welfare and safety of people in non-industrial categories of employment. The trade unions have maintained their pressure for many long years. The Government have made promise after promise. Today the Government, instead of making promises, have the opportunity to act.
I note that the Home Secretary is unable to be here. In fairness to him, I should like the House to know that he has apologised for his absence. He has some vital engagement in another part of Britain. I do not want to make any cheap propaganda out of the absence from this important debate of the Home Secretary. Nevertheless, through the peculiarities of British labour legislation, it is that Department which has to deal with the Gowers Committee's Report.
At first it was said that we must wait until the economic outlook improved, and we were told "Ah, but the Government cannot find the Parliamentary 687 time." I have been in the House of Commons for ten years. This is the time, while the clock is ticking at this very moment. By the luck of the draw in the Ballot we have found time, and so the excuse of the time factor disappears. I sincerely hope that the Government are going to accept the Bill today.
I think it was Emerson in his essay on veracity who said:There is no choice of words for him who clearly sees the truth. That provides him with the best word.Whatever briefs are read from the Dispatch Box, the truth is, as Emerson said, that there is no choice of words by means of which the Government can escape their responsibilities in relation to the findings of the Gowers Committee's Report. I am convinced that the Government see the truth of our case and are fully aware of the need.
Just over a year ago my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. William Paling) introduced his Safety in Employment Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) then accused the Conservative Government of being tardy in their industrial legislation. Springing to the Dispatch Box and answering with agility and ability, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service said, shocked and chagrined, "We are not tardy," and he demonstrated that by uttering about the Gowers Report—that was over a year ago; another year has gone—these words:… we are considering very closely proposals for legislation to give effect to the Gowers Committee recommendations on safety, health and welfare, in such places as shops, offices, catering establishments, indoor entertainment, railways, agriculture and forestry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1954; Vol. 524, c. 759.]There is an important list of industries.
The hon. Gentleman said:We are considering very closely …I do not know whether the microscopes have become cloudy or what has happened about the closeness of the examination, but 13 months have gone by and nothing has yet been produced. Once again, there was nothing in the Queen's Speech about it. Therefore, our people are left without the protection demanded, 688 and day by day in this type of non-industrial employment the accidents mount.
I took the trouble to delve into back volumes of HANSARD. Surrounded by mountains of HANSARD, I decided that I would find how many Question had been asked by my right hon. and hon. Friends on this vital question and how many Motions we had put on the Order Paper. Let hon. Members listen to this significant array. There have been scores of Questions over the nine long years since the Committee began its deliberations. In 1951–52 there were eight Notices of Motion to which hundreds of my hon. Friends put their signatures. In 1952–53 there were 14 Notices of Motion. In 1954–55, up to the week before last, there were nine Notices of Motion. Nearly every hon. Member on this side of the House has at one time or another attached his name to such Motions. Yet the Government still hesitate, despite the fact that employers, employees, the trade union movement and the Government know that the time has come when action should take the place of words. Today is the moment to act.
Let no excuses be made today on the ground that it is too big a Measure for a Private Member's Bill. It is at least a much better Bill than any that has been produced by the Government, because the Government have produced nothing. The Government say, "We should like to tell the hon. Member for Leek that we are busy. We have been in close consultation. We are about to produce something. Stay your hand, please hon. Member." In a very sweet and sugary fashion, these appeals are made from time to time. We have been in power too, and my party sometimes tries its tricks on back benchers.
§ Mr. Davies
I hear a Whip say "No, no," but it is done occasionally on little things. For instance, last night I had to give the Government a wigging on agriculture. I had to maintain my rights as a private Member because somebody wanted me to withdraw my Amendment so that the House could discuss international broadcasting.
§ Mr. Davies
No, not a Whip. We know the growing pains that a responsible Government suffers from time to time. Let us have no more excuses, because the problem is one of pain and suffering, economic and other types of loss for men, women and children, and economic disadvantage to the progress of the country.
If the Government so desire, they can allow the Bill to go to a Standing Committee. The Government may say that they can produce a better Bill. One must be fair and say that the Government would have at their elbows the complete resources of Parliamentary draftsmanship. My right hon. and hon. Friends who support me would be delighted if the Bill went to Committee, and if the Government could improve it we should again be delighted, because I can assure hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that we do not wish to make cheap party propaganda out of this. It is a serious issue which is the responsibility of the House of Commons rather than a party machine.
I appeal to the Ministers on the Front Bench to consider this. Whatever they may have been told by Departmental heads, let them always remember that we are dealing with human beings and not graphs. What good is it to the wife of an agricultural worker to know that after her husband has lost his life in an agricultural accident he has become a dot on the graph of accidents at the Ministry of Agriculture? The tendency of the economists and statisticians to interpret human suffering in pounds, shillings and pence, with slide rules, the integral and the differential calculus, is growing in our society and is losing its direction both spiritually and ethically. I beg the Government to allow this Bill to have its Second Reading because millions of people in this country want it.
The Bill has 22 Clauses and three Schedules, and it has been drawn up on the basis of the recommendations of the Gowers Committee. It is in five parts, and Part I deals with health, welfare and safety in shops, offices, catering establishments, local road passenger transport undertakings and dental mechanics' workrooms. The last are often forgotten, but I have here many letters from dental mechanics working in underground rooms in some of the big dental surgeries in London. They are preparing dentures in 690 places where a rag and bone man would not even store his wares, with damp running down the walls and dogs having puppies and cats kittens next to the bench—I will not read the letter, but that is here in writing—perhaps the very bench where dentures are made for hon. or right hon. Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. Davies
I am a kindly human being and would not wish that on my hon. Friends or hon. Gentlemen opposite. This is a vital part of the Bill. Clause 1 makes regulations for health, safety and welfare in this category. It also notes that something should be done about coal distribution depots.
Part II deals with an important part of our entertainment industry—theatres, cinemas and music-halls. People often bewail the fact that the dear old British theatre is closing down. I would not be a bit surprised if some theatres are closing because of the conditions under which the artistes and staff have to work in backrooms; but I will not bore the House by going into details. Too many hon. Members make speeches without reading Bills, and if any hon. Member makes a speech on theatres, cinemas and music-halls today, I hope he will read the Clauses before he makes pontifical remarks denouncing them.
Part III deals with railways, and I hope that it will be covered by hon. and right hon. Friends of mine on this side of the House, because it is a vital part of the Bill. Strange as it may seem, there are hundreds and thousands of people working on the railways who are unprotected, and I hold no brief for any industry, nationalised or otherwise, which does not protect its workers. Clauses 5 and 6 implement suggestions in the Gowers Report for health, safety and welfare on railways and in locomotive running sheds.
Part IV deals with conditions in agriculture and forestry, and this is as important as any part of the Bill, if not the most important. There is no one in the House who has had more experience of this type of work and of agitating for legislation than my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk. North (Mr. Gooch). My hon. Friend has been working for 691 more than 30 years for the statutory protection of these workers. He was a great president of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, and in a speech of 30 minutes today the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries could give my hon. Friend the reward of 30 years' effort.
The general provisions in Part V deal with dangerous machinery, plant, equipment, appliance, operation or process as well as the cleaning of machinery, registration of premises, and other details which are self-evident to any hon. Member who will run his eye down the careful analysis of the Clauses which my hon. Friends and myself have made for those who may have had a busy week and have been unable to read the Bill.
What is the need for this Bill? The country knows that there is a need, the Government know it, all industry knows it. Recently a report was published on occupational health in a survey of the Govan Ward of Glasgow, which has a population of 72 to the acre, whilst the total population of the ward is 35,152. The medical officer of health and the divisional medical officer produced this valuable survey. It will illustrate my Bill and so avoid the necessity to give details of shops all over the country, since it is typical of the conditions in shops, offices, cinemas and theatres throughout Britain. Some 465 shops in the area were examined in which there are 1,256 persons working, 520 of them males, and 736 females, and between one-third and one-half are under the age of 18. Because they are in non-industrial employment, they have no statutory protection from exploitation as regards hours of labour or safety.
I see that there are hon. Members present who are members of great trade unions dealing with this section of non-industrial employment. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that if they catch your eye the House will have the pleasure and benefit of hearing examples from their rich experience of what I can only touch on in this opening speech.
I have said that between one-third and one-half of these workers were under the age of 18. Is this House of Commons to wait another 30 years before anything is done for the richest material 692 that any country possesses—its young people? Once that is destroyed, it is difficult to replace, and if the genetic effects of the hydrogen bomb continue it may be impossible.
Offices, halls and cinemas were surveyed as well as transport companies and building sites. It was found in this area that few trained nurses were employed, and the survey produced convincing proof of the need for an occupational health service, not only for the area but for the country. I hope that some of my hon. Friends will reinforce that point.
I do not propose to detain the House much longer, but I must make my case on this important issue. It was found that office accommodation was often restricted to a small compartment screened off from workrooms. Mind you, Mr. Speaker, that is not the only place where this happens. I have just been into the Library of the House of Commons and some people are working there under conditions in which I would not employ my secretary—
§ Mr. Davies
I might be out of order if I followed that remark, but it is time somebody looked into the conditions of workers in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Davies
I hope I shall not be interrupted too much, because if there is anything I enjoy it is an interruption. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman, as soon as I have finished this speech and have sat here a reasonable and courteous time, I, for example, will take him to see the policemen eating and to see the surroundings of that room. Of course I can show him squalid conditions in the House of Commons. However, I had better not follow that any further.
As I have said, office accommodation in this area was often restricted to a small compartment and, during the winter months, was generally stuffy and unhealthy. Seating, height of desks, and artificial lighting were far below accepted existing standards. There is no bone of contention between us on these points. There is agreement on both sides of the 693 House, and that is why I am urging the Government to give us this Bill today.
One completely underground office had no natural lighting and was fitted with unshielded strip lighting on a ceiling only seven feet high. Overcrowding both of furniture and of personnel was common in offices. This is adjusted here and, according to the evidence of the trade unions, discussions took place between them and the Ministry. The Bill covers the points where we manage to extract promises that go further than the Gowers Report.
Now as to shops. In this area only two out of the 465 shops had separate cloakrooms and separate washing facilities for employees. The lack of accommodation for the storage of goods is the main handicap to better facilities for shop assistants. There is lack of ventilation and lack of heating, and it is significant that only nine shops had mechanical aids to ventilation. The deficiency in proper washing facilities in food shops was serious. Seating arrangements for shop assistants were poor, while weight lifting in shops has not been tackled on industrial lines. Employees in fish shops seemed to be the only members of this group who are aware of the importance of wearing the correct kind of footwear for the job.
Let us deal with a special problem in this area, since I have mentioned cinemas more than once. Some people enjoy the dim—I was almost going to use the Miltonian phrase—semi-religious light of the cinema. But I doubt whether that would be appropriate in view of the type of films we are seeing today. The cinema projectionists in the three cinemas worked in ill-ventilated, little cupboards where film cleaning materials are used without due regard—I ask hon. Members to note this—to their toxicity, while the heat generated by the carbon arcs raises the workroom temperatures above the comfort level. In the wire weaving factory, annealing of silver and bronze wire is done with the aid of a watchmaker's glass so that the miniature oxy-acetylene burner is held close to the nose, thus causing inhalation of fumes. Nobody does anything about it, because there are no statutory regulations and we depend on the employers doing it.
Do not let me give the impression in a serious debate of this kind that every employer is not anxious about the con- 694 dition of his workpeople. The majority of them are, but we do not legislate merely for the good people. We have to' protect those who exploit their work-people, and the Government must listen to my appeal this morning. There is lack of education of employees in regard to the correct dress for work and the use of proper footwear at work, and there is insufficient attention to personal hygiene because of lack of facilities on these premises.
I have taken considerable trouble to struggle through the history of British industrial legislation over the last century. Though I assure the House that it is a fascinating story, I will not detain it now by dealing with that century of industrial legislation; but let me mention the principal Acts which are on the Statute Book. They involve the enforcement of the minimum standards of safety, life and welfare. Many employers provide much better conditions than the minimum standards.
What are the principal Acts that enforce a minimum? They are the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act, 1920, and the Factories Act, 1937—that is a great and historic Act, and it is the result of a century's effort by the British trade union movement. Then there are the Mines and Quarries Act of 1954, the Shops Act, 1950, the Young Persons (Employment) Act, 1938, and a number of other Acts covering particular industries.
In the survey by the Gowers Committee, however, in health, welfare and safety we have a complete vacuum, as I said at the beginning. I have analysed the figures, but I do not want to bore the House with statistics. Nevertheless, hon. Members must listen to some because they are based on official documents. There are 12 million forgotten people in Britain, and the danger of death, disease and accidents in the heavy industries is well known. It is dramatised, but as one born in a mining valley and as a small lad witnessing the greatest explosion in the history of British mining, with three of my uncles down the pit and our own home not very far from it, there is no need to dramatise all this for me.
I saw the famous Senghenydd explosion when I was a child, and I saw the 695 terrified look on the people's faces and the nearby mountains black with people who went there for safety. Afterwards there was the waiting drama. Let us never forget that the people in the mines and the factories who are working hard to produce the wealth of the nation today are every day taking these risks. They have been well protected, though there is still room for improvement, but there are these 12 million people in non-industrial employment who are not protected. The rate of accidents with them is growing because of the greater mechanisation of modern life. Death, disease and accident are taking their toll.
How often do we stop to think of the 12 million or more workers unprotected by statutory minimum standards? Vital areas of our economy have little or no protection for the men, women and children therein. If we look at the list of jobs uncovered in agriculture, railways, shops, offices, cinemas, theatres, catering trades, dental mechanics' workrooms and the like, we find that there are numerically more unprotected by statutory minimum standards than are protected in British industry. Are the Government still prepared to dither on this issue? Is the House of Commons going to dither longer on this, because this is a Private Member's Bill and is a matter for the House? Or are we going to do something about it?
Since the National Insurance Act was passed—I have the last report of the statistics available here, and I ask the House to bear with me for another five minutes while I make this case, because we must consider these figures carefully—there has been on an average 700,000 accidents a year. Of these, 230,000 have been in mines and 180,000 in factories. There are, therefore, some 290,000 accidents a year that must occur in these unprotected industries. The Annual Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories said:During 1953, then, accidents have increased more than proportionately to the working population.If accidents have increased in the sphere of legislation about which we have statistics, how much have they increased in the sphere about which we have very few statistics?
The most recent Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories shows that there 696 were 177,510 accidents in 1952 and 181,637 in 1953, an increase of 2.3 per cent. The rate of accidents per 1,000 in the sphere of industry covered by legislation was 22.7 per 1,000 for 1953 as compared with 22.5 for 1952 and 23.4 for 1951, which was one of our highest. If hon. Members will take a pen or pencil and put 290,000 over 12,000,000, their mental capacity, which is well-known, will enable them to work out the rate of accidents per 1,000; they will find that the accident rate in non-industrial employment is higher than the rate of accidents in industry covered by the Mines and Quarries Act and the Factories Act put together.
Is the House to do nothing? Let us take the question of ill health. Many examples could be given of life in dark basement offices and workrooms, and even banks. The Bill lays down standards of space, light and warmth. Let us have the standards by law and let us start getting them today. Since 1949 the annual reports of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance have provided a more accurate picture than ever of accidents and disease.
It is no good hon. Members on the other side saying that we must educate people against accident and disease. The safest place in Britain is the home, but in stark reality, as the Inter-Departmental Report, Accidents in the Home, illustrates, there are more deaths by accident in the home than there are deaths on the road. In 1952 the number killed on the roads in Britain was 4,706. In 1952 the number killed at home through all types of accident in the Englishman's home was 6,419.
Do not let us talk about educating to avoid accidents, because in most homes people educate each other and children are more educated today about accidents. Cannot the House of Commons legislate for this speed-up of modern life, this modernisation of life—the electric flex that has been neglected? Of course we must educate to prevent accidents, but that is not enough. We must legislate, and legislate today, in this sphere of industry. On this topic the Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Factories is an appealing one. In the Report this year he says:Allowing young persons to be injured or killed is a form of extravagance in which 697 British industry simply cannot afford to indulge; the supply of juvenile labour which will be available during the next decade can be forecast accurately; it is well known that it will be inadequate and that no wastage can be made good. Young persons in fact constitute industry's most precious raw material, and employers would do well to ask themselves if they are watching over it with all the care that it needs.I appeal to the House to listen to that Report and to protect young persons from exploitation. Is the House aware that greasers under 18 years of age are working as tugmen and bargemen and lightermen in those unions in London on this river today? They often work over a stretch of 18 hours or more at a time and have no protection. This group was not even considered by the Gowers Committee. Generally speaking, a case has been made for the introduction of the Bill. What we would save in sickness benefit, what we would save in accident benefit, what we would save in decent human material, and what we would save in suffering would be immeasurable. I appeal to the House to let the Bill go through, because the human problems of the mechanisation of the world are really high.
There is one aspect which I have left almost entirely in the hands of those who represent agriculture. This is the most vital sector of production, as I tried to illustrate last night. Last night I was attacked by the Minister on my facts, but he could not find any to denounce them because the statistics I gave about that industry were from his own Report. What do we find in British agriculture? We can see from official tables published by the Ministry that the percentage of workers in agriculture and forestry involved in accidents at work is higher than in engineering, or shipbuilding, the chemical and the vehicle trades, because of the intensification and the mechanisation in agriculture. In the fertiliser industry we had £5 million worth of machinery in the 1930's, but now we have about £30 million to £50 million worth. There is the possibility of disease and injury from the increasing amount of chemicals used in agriculture.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, for 30 years the National Union of Agricultural Workers and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers have been appealing to the House. I do not 698 appeal today to any one party. I do not bring this Bill forward in any partisan spirit. I appeal to the House of Commons today, as the great protector of the liberties of the subject, for once to legislate and introduce statutory minima to protect these 12 million forgotten people in this section of industry.
§ 11.46 a.m.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I beg to second the Motion.
The purpose of the Bill has been ably outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies). The whole House is indebted to him for the energy, the initiative, and the ability which have inspired the Bill. My hon. Friend referred to figures given in Reports from the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. It is certainly true that the average number of accidents since 1948 has been about 700,000 a year, of which nearly half have occurred in industries outside the scope of protecting legislation. One must underline this point by reminding the House that these reported accidents are only those which involve an absence from work of more than three days.
There is an incalculable number, uncollected in any available statistics, of minor accidents which may cause a great deal of pain and distress and loss of production. I should like to remind the House that for the year ended 31st March, 1953, this country paid £79 million in sickness benefit. It is impossible for us to compute how much of that figure was due to sickness arising from bad working conditions. In that regard we have no information available.
However, after five years spent as the wife of a doctor in a busy working-class district of East London, I know how many of the patients who used to come to my husband's surgery, not always suffering positively from ill health, but often from what we might call absence of good health, were reflecting the bad environmental conditions in which they had to work. It is only from personal experience of these circumstances that one can speak for a few moments, away from the realm of statistics and computation.
There are in this country, apart from industrial and domestic workers, 80 per cent. of our employees working in offices 699 and shops. What are the main provisions affecting workers in offices and shops, with whom I wish to deal more particularly? At present the main provisions affecting them are in the Public Health (London) Act, 1936, the Public Health Act, 1936, the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897, and, of course, the Shops Acts, 1934 and 1950. The important point to be remembered is that in none of this legislation is an office, as such, defined. So far as the Gowers Committee could discover—and it was a very able and distinguished Committee—no such definition exists in law, probably for the very reason that no legislation has ever been aimed at offices and, therefore, there has been no call for a definition in the courts.
Between 1932 and 1936, 11 office regulation Bills were introduced into the House of Commons and in not one case did those attempts result in any legislation reaching the Statute Book to protect office workers. It may be said that when the public health legislation was consolidated in the 1936 Act a "workplace" was defined, in Section 343, to include places of work such as offices, but the Public Health (London) Act, 1936, and the Scottish Act, which dates back to 1897, do not define a workplace.
Even if—I may say, as a London Member—the word "premises" in the London Act is taken to include office accommodation, powers under which any action can be taken are very limited indeed. Section 82 sets out the nuisances which may be dealt with summarily. They include such offensive occurrences as stopped up drains and gutters, but if the right of admission is refused to the sanitary inspector by the owner of business premises, as it can be refused, the inspector has to go to court to get an order, and the experience is that orders are not given to inspectors unless they can prove that they expect to find a serious nuisance. They are not enabled under any existing legislation, to make routine examinations of office accommodation.
There is in fact no provision covering the broader environmental conditions in which millions of our people spend their working days. There is no legal provision to cover lighting, temperatures, facilities for washing, taking meals. and 700 general cleanliness. Indeed, the public health legislation is not aimed primarily at this. Its purpose is to protect the community as a whole. It was not conceived specifically with a view to protecting workers in any premises.
One of the biggest groups affected by the Bill comprises the under-estimated, unorganised and often overloaded black-coated workers. Frequently they are men and women struggling to keep their collars white while working in circumstances which would not be permitted in any workshop. Unfortunately, organisation is not yet strong in the tradition of their calling. I wish that it was, because that is largely responsible for the present state of affairs.
Nor do the Government themselves always set high standards. My first job when I left school was as a civil servant in a Government office. I worked in a Government Department, an old building I admit, in a small office which looked out on to a well. The opposite wall of the well was only a few feet away. We worked all day in artificial light, but the lights were placed with no relation to the positioning of the desks at which we sat, except when we climbed on the desks and tied pieces of string to the flexes, which I am sure was against the regulations of the Office of Works, as it was then, to try to improve conditions for ourselves. The only person who was warm in winter was the boss, who sat with his back to the fire. The rest of us at the other end of the room got the smoke.
Among office workers there are many young people, especially girls, who form the main body of our younger clerical workers. Thousands of girls spend in offices all their working lives between leaving school and motherhood, and do not always spend that time in conditions which will lead to a healthy future for them. The House must face this problem. Why should there be all these people working in conditions which would be actionable if they existed in a factory? Bad light, bad ventilation, overcrowding and dirt are all permissible in an office environment but not, thanks to the provisions of the Factories Act, 1937, in many of our factories.
One trade union branch in Lancashire has written to me, and a copy of the letter went to the Home Secretary, so he 701 cannot pretend that he does not know about these matters. The letter says:The whole staff is cramped into 150 feet of what is virtually a corridor. There are no windows and daylight never enters.Another branch—much luckier—in a London suburb writes:Our windows will open if you take the screws out.Another provincial office says:Nine or 10 men have to work in what is little more than a cubbyhole.A branch of my own union has reported an office where there is space allowance of 13 square feet per person, and the union official writes:There is one lavatory, shared by another company, used by about 100 people.The Gowers Committee modestly recommended about 47 square feet of floor space per person. I submit that when evidence is brought forward, as it has been time and again, by office workers and their organisations, of instances where 10, 11 or 12 square feet of room for each person is all that is available, it is time for this House to intervene.
All this is especially relevant today. In my constituency, especially in Holborn, there are tens of thousands of office workers. We are watching great cliffs of new office buildings rising all over our city on the bombed sites. These buildings are subject to stringent by-laws and building regulations in which endeavours are made to provide for light, ventilation, and amenities, but unless there is some legislation to govern the allocation of space, nothing that the building by-laws can do can prevent overcrowding.
It should be remembered that office space in these new buildings is being let at so many pounds per square foot, and very expensive it is. This puts a temptation on employers to crowd as many people as they possibly can into this most expensive space.
Our closer concern, however, must be for the hundreds of thousands of people who have to go on working in the older offices, in the top back rooms of houses long abandoned as residential accommodation, in basements some of which have been condemned as unfit for human habitation, though men and women are allowed to spend their working lives—about one-third of their whole lives in such places. People are working in 702 dreary and dirty old rooms in which no attempt has been made to use modern lighting methods, to overcome structural drawbacks, or to provide the minimum of toilet or washing facilities.
Today, especially in view of high fares, many office workers—particularly the younger people and the family men—cannot afford to eat in restaurants. They eat sandwiches, often in cloakrooms, and sometimes, if they are lucky, they find a gas ring in a corridor where they can boil a kettle. Many examples have been brought to the attention of the Gowers Committee—
§ Mrs. Jeger
Yes, there are mice as well.
One of the difficulties is that these office workers are the least vocal of our working population, some of them with persistent pride even trying to hide from one another the fact that they are bringing sandwiches or "making do" for lunch on a bar of chocolate.
Complaints about working conditions after often inhibited because of insecurity. It might be argued that at a time of full employment it would be easy for employees to demand better physical conditions and to move from offices where they are not provided. But in fact there is little security in this weakly organised, non-standardised sphere of employment.
Older employees—not only in the Civil Service—have a real dread of redundancy and unemployment. Ageing clerical workers, both men and women, are among the most difficult people for employment exchanges to place, and this often involves their acceptance of conditions of employment which would not be tolerated in other industries. This places a particularly heavy responsibility on the Government to take more interest in the conditions of their employment, although hon. Members on this side of the House look forward to an improvement in the organisation of these workers.
I know that this Bill will cause some difficulty. It may even involve some employers in expense, and oblige them to take more trouble. But I am sure it would not be the wish of this House that such considerations should stand in the way.
703 My hon. Friend mentioned shops, and we know that there are still gaps in the legislation affecting shops. Hon. Members who have special experience will expand that theme. I do not think that many of us, visiting some of London's finest stores and experiencing their atmosphere of expensive luxury, pause to think about what happens when one goes through the door marked "Staff only." Often, after passing through that door, one goes, in one step, into a completely different world—as I know, because I have seen some of these places. In many cases these unsatisfactory conditions are found in small shops as well.
How many of us who enjoy the plush seats and thick carpets in the theatres and cinemas, or who have fun at a music hall—if hon. Members ever have any time to have fun—stop to wonder about what provision is made for the people who contribute to our enjoyment? Frequently the usherette, who carries a torch and conducts us to our seats, is a young girl. She stands in that atmosphere for hours on end. Where does she wash? Is there anywhere for her to rest her feet for a few minutes? Is there any provision for her to obtain necessary refreshment, even of the kind that hon. Members are able to obtain in the tea room? What happens about stage hands and about the members of bands and orchestras, the musicians, and the men who work under the stage? Often they are provided with a band-room which is a disgrace.
We must admit that our catering legislation is aimed more at protecting the customer than the staff. The backstairs conditions in many hotels and restaurants contrast very sharply with what the customer sees. If any hon. Members find it boring to read the reports of trade union committees on these matters, I recommend them to read George Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London," in which there are some descriptions of these places of work which may be a little easier to read than some of the more sternly-worded reports which I have been studying.
I hope that some of my hon. Friends with long practical experience as railwaymen will have an opportunity to speak; but may I, as "The Member for King's Cross and Euston"—and St. Pancras— 704 say a word about railwaymen, because many of them are my constituents? There are 500,000 employees of British Railways who are outside the scope of any protective legislation at the present time—half a million railway workers. They include clerical workers, permanent way staff and men at the locomotive running sheds, the depots, the signal boxes and the goods yards.
Section 151 of the Factories Act, 1937, specifically excludes locomotive running sheds, although they are permanent workplaces where many operations are carried out, both mechanical and manual. In the locomotive running sheds in my constituency there are men who have to coal tenders, wash and grease engines—which often involves climbing over them—clean boiler tubes with high-pressure steam jets, and use power-operated tools for all sorts of functions. They need good lighting, such as would be obligatory in a factory. But often these sheds are filled with fumes and smoke and steam, with hot boiler ash lying all around, and with all sorts of other hazards to life and safety.
Among the evidence submitted to the Gowers Committee there were details sent by the railway unions. I will make one quotation referring to a particular works:At these works there is no system of expelling smoke from the shed; at times the density of the smoke is such that visibility is no more than 10 yards and workers can be seen with tears running down their faces, coughing and spluttering.Many of these sheds are old-fashioned. We know that the railways have been nationalised, but I should be the last to say that nationalised industries should be exempted in any way from their obligations. We are hopeful that in the development plans of the British Transport Commission close attention will be paid to these matters affecting the condition of the workers.
In fairness, I would say that many employers have, sensibly, tried to help their workers. They have provided light and colour, comfort and cleanliness, and these things have always paid dividends in good staff relations, increased output, and in other ways. But there are other kinds of employers, and I hope that the Government will not drag their feet because of the opposition of such employers. I am sure that that argument would be 705 considered unworthy. The good employers, many of whom have set standards in advance of the Gowers Report, would welcome some legislation which would cause their more profit-conscious competitors to spend a little more on improving the working conditions of their staffs.
If the Government say that this is not the time for such legislation, I would reply that there are some people for whom it has never been the time to do anything for the workers of this country. That sort of argument was produced when factory legislation was first discussed in this House. If the Government say they do not like this Bill, we can only reply that it is the best Measure that a group of back benchers, working in close consultation with members of trades unions, have been able to produce. There may be weaknesses in it, and I am sure that we should be the first humbly to admit that.
We ask that this Bill may be given a Second Reading today so that during the Committee stage the Government can bring in their skilled draftsmen and advisers. I should be the last to suggest that this Bill, in its present form and without any necessary alterations, should find its way on to the Statute Book. My hope is that today the Government spokesman will not complain, like a new father, that "the baby is only a little one," because, with his help, the "baby" will grow. It could become a very important part of our labour legislation. I think that it would be unworthy of this House were the Government to find any excuse for discouraging the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm McCorquodale (Epsom)
I do not think there is any hon. Member on either side of the House who could in any way complain of the tone of either of the speeches which we have heard. They were both refreshing in their non-party approach to the matter and in the touches of humour and sincerity with which the hon. Members pleaded their cause.
The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) deserves great credit for having used his opportunity in the Ballot to bring forward a subject of great interest to us, a subject which is far better treated on non-party lines and which affects. in 706 our constituencies and our daily lives, almost one-third of the working population of the country.
He suggested that the Government had been tardy in the matter, but I think that can be confuted, and a little later I will suggest a few thoughts to him which show that the Conservative Government, in the last three years, have done a very great deal towards improving legislation in these spheres. I was glad to hear what the hon. Member said about party propaganda in his speech, and I hope that his attitude will be continued throughout the debate and that nobody on either side of the House will want to make "cheap party propaganda"—I use the hon. Member's own words—out of this discussion.
I interrupted the hon. Gentleman only because I was a member of a Committee set up by the House, of which the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) was Chairman, which considered the accommodation and working of the House. I cannot remember the hon. Member coming forward to give evidence to us upon the squalid conditions in the House, and I therefore thought that we might have heard a little evidence, even rather late in the day. I should not have interrupted him for any other purpose.
His speech, if I may say so, was largely concerned with justifying the Gowers Report rather than with justifying the exact method by which he hoped to turn the Gowers Report into legislation. I think he was wise in that and I will deal with that point later, because while I am in sympathy with the Gowers Report I am not altogether in sympathy with the way in which his Bill is planned.
We had a delightful speech from the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger)—the Member for Euston, Kings Cross and St. Pancras, as she put it; and I am sure that her railway constituents will be pleased with the proposed nomenclature of their Member. When she described to us the rigours of her early life in the Civil Service, I could not help recalling a remark which the late Mr. Bevin made in my presence during the war to a lady who had been complaining that, because we had directed her domestic staff to the war effort, she was having to get on her knees all the time and scrub floors. Mr. Bevin replied, "Madam, you look 707 very well on it." I am sure the hon. Lady will not mind if I apply those remarks to her, in spite of the rigours of her early work in the Civil Service.
She spoke a great deal about shops and offices, and especially about office accommodation, as would be expected from the hon. Member for her constituency, and she spoke of the necessity for an improvement. I am sure we are all with her in this matter. The work of the building industry, especially since the war, has been a matter of priorities, and I think everyone will agree that the first priority in the building industry after the war was housing. It was no use giving people good working conditions if they had to go back to live in slums or hovels.
Since the war the Government have rightly concentrated, therefore, primarily on house building and on factory building, in order that we could supplement our exports and maintain our economic life. Conditions are easing, however, and there is now much more opportunity. Big new offices are at last beginning to go up in London, and I trust, with the hon. Lady, that anybody who is designing offices and has permission to build will pay due regard to what is contained in the Gowers Report. I think they will probably find that they are very unwise if they do not.
Having said that about the proposer and the seconder of the Motion, I would add that the subject must interest us all, especially hon. Members of my party, for we are proud to say that the Conservative Party has had the privilege of introducing the major legislation on employment passed over many years, starting with Shaftesbury.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
The Factories Act, 1937, was a tremendous Measure containing 200 Clauses. The present Home Secretary was the Chairman of the Committee upstairs in which we dealt with about 1,500 Amendments, although it was a 708 joint-party Measure. To design an up-to-date Factories Act was a tremendous undertaking and took us at least three months upstairs, incidentally three of the most interesting months which I have ever spent in the House.
I think we were all proud of what emerged from our work on that Factories Act, but I would emphasise that it was a tremendous undertaking to deal with hundreds of Clauses and with the amount of consultation which went into the work behind the scenes and which enabled the Act to go through without serious opposition. It was only because full preparatory work had been done in the Department—in this case the Home Office—that we were able to get the Measure on to the Statute Book in the course of a Parliamentary year.
It is interesting to note that the present Minister of Fuel and Power was the junior Minister in charge of that Act, and he had the great privilege last year of introducing and seeing through the House an analagous Measure, the Mines and Quarries Act. I will not go into that Act in detail for it is fresh in the memory of the House, but that, again, ran to over 200 Clauses and was a most complicated affair. Yet it dealt only with two industries, and there were a number of criticisms, with which I agree that it was too large, and that it would have been wiser to bring in a Bill for mines and a Bill for quarries rather than that Measure, which was so large that it was difficult to find one's way about it.
I emphasise those points because this is a singularly difficult matter about which to legislate and to formulate a Measure. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Leek discovered that when he started on the good work which he has undertaken.
I remind the House that we have not been tardy for, in spite of the work done last year on the Mines and Quarries Act, we also introduced and carried through a Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Act. Before the war we had a Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Bill introduced by the late Mr. Banfield, who was respected by everyone in the House. He was lucky in the Ballot, and he introduced it as a Private Member's Bill. It went upstairs into Committee. In order to get it through against certain opposition it was 709 largely modified, by means of Government help.
The Government were anxious to get a Bill on the Statute Book regulating night baking, and I was privileged to do a good deal of work on behalf of the Home Office in endeavouring to get that Bill into a form which would be practical and which would not be subject to violent opposition in certain quarters. When the Bill came back to the House from the Standing Committee there was very little left of the original wording, except, so far as I remember, the Short Title, and your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, was in some doubt as to whether he should not rule the Bill out of order as being nothing like the Bill which had received a Second Reading. It was only on the urgent representations of Mr. Banfield, accompanied by a good many of us who had been considering it for many weeks in the Standing Committee, that the Bill, as amended, and in a completely renovated form was allowed to be placed on the Statute Book.
I mention that because I am quite sure that if this Bill goes to a Standing Committee it will need very radical treatment, and I am not sure whether the treatment will be so radical as to place you, Mr. Speaker, in a similar dilemma as that which faced your predecessor.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
We do not mind that at all, and I am not concerned with facts, figures and words on pieces of paper. I am concerned with human material, and if the Government will help in that way, I shall be delighted. I would point out, however, that the Government have found time for Bills about birds, horses and flowers. Now have they time for one about farm workers?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that if we are going to compare these Bills, we are going to get into difficulties. He knows very well that Bills about birds and horses are minor Measures which can go through this House in a week or two. This is a major Measure, requiring perhaps three or four months' work, with a matter of hundreds of Amendments, and all the rest of it. It is quite a different matter, and the Government, I think quite rightly, have to choose a time when the Parliamentary Session is in such 710 a state that they can get the Measure through.
I am very anxious, and I am sure that a great number of my hon. Friends are anxious, to see a Bill framed on the lines of the recommendations of the Gowers Committee, and I do not think that there is very much opposition to that view in the House. The Gowers Committee was an all-party Committee. The factory legislation, the mines and quarries legislation, and the food and drugs legislation, which Conservative Governments have introduced in a non-party spirit, with the support of both sides of the House, needs the coping-stone of some legislation for this non-industrial employment. For myself, I am fully persuaded of the need for it, and, indeed, so are the Government.
If I may remind the House of the fact, it was two years ago that the former Home Secretary, the present Viscount Kilmuir, replying to a Question on behalf of the Government, said this:The Government have considered the Report of the Gowers Committee on Health. Welfare and Safety in Non-Industrial Employment, and are in sympathy with the general tenor of the Committee's recommendations on this subject.That was three or three and a half years ago. He went on:As the Committee themselves recognised. however, implementation of their recommendations would involve considerable demands on building resources and some increase of local and central inspectorates … The Government are, however, anxious to prepare the way for legislation, by consultation and discussions with the numerous interested organisations so that there may be no avoidable delay in introducing it as soon as the economic outlook justifies it;"—I think we are coming to the point when the economic outlook is beginning to justify it. He added—and on this basis they propose shortly to. start consultations with the interested organisations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1952:, Vol. 504, c. 208.]Consultations and discussions with interested organisations did go on, and, if hon. Members would like to refer to a Parliamentary Answer given a year ago—on 9th February, 1954—a list was given by the Home Secretary—I think there are 77 or 78—of bodies, starting with the. T.U.C., the Caterers' Association, the Milk Bars Association and so on, with whom they were having consultations, and he said that the consultations were welt advanced.
711 Then we were told in November, by the present Home Secretary that preparations for legislation were well advanced. So that the Government are now, I hope, in a position to be ready to introduce the legislation when it is possible and practicable, and I hope that their consultations are pretty well complete now.
The Bill must be one which is very difficult to draft, and I think that will be confirmed by the hon. Member for Leek and by the whole House. I think it is also clear to anyone who, like myself, has been studying this matter in the light of the provisions of the Factories Acts and the Mines and Quarries Acts, that this Bill in its present form is not a comprehensive Bill. It is really just a summary of the major recommendations of the Gowers Report, and it evades many most important considerations on which difficulties arise, to some of which the Gowers Committee did refer and with some of which even they found difficulty in dealing.
But what the Bill would do, and what I object to in it, is that it endeavours to get over a number of hurdles by giving dictatorial powers, some mandatory and some quite discretionary, to the Secretary of State. We have been having many discussions—we had one last Friday—on the powers of the Executive as against the Legislature, and the essence of our employment legislation in the past has been that the House of Commons has kept control of it. We have detailed in the Bills that we have passed the regulations which would affect the lives of the citizens.
Everything has been stated in the Acts, and has been under the control of the House of Commons. Therefore, it is part of the law of the land. So far as I can see, this Bill lays down, in the Schedule, minimum standards, but leaves wide open the making by the Secretary of State of any further regulations he likes, regardless of the upsets which he may be causing to the rights of individual citizens, and without the power and control of this House being there all the time. That is the attitude in the Bill which I dislike.
I wish to see a Bill in which all these matters are defined, not a Bill which would merely increase still further the power of the administrator, the Minister 712 or his inspector, to interfere arbitrarily in the lives of citizens. The citizen should be able to know, by reading the Act, what Parliament has decided is the minimum which he has to do. If he does more than that, then that is a good thing; if he does less than that, the law of the land should come down on him, but it should not be in the hands of any Secretary of State, however admirable and no matter of what party, to have wide discretionary powers to interfere with the rights and duties of so many of our citizens.
What is worrying me about the Bill is whether we can, in Committee upstairs, if it gets so far, convert this Bill into a workable Measure, through which Parliament will have control of the details, as it has through the Factories Acts and the mines and quarries legislation, or whether we shall have a Bill drafted in this discretionary way, leaving all this wide power to the Minister.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me? I should not like it to go out that the House of Commons has no control at all, and if the right hon. Gentleman will look at Clause 18 of the Bill, he will find that all regulations under it shall be by way of Statutory Instrument. As he knows, the House has power over Statutory Instruments, and I resent this impression being given to the House that the control of the House of Commons will be lost. That is very far from being true, as Clause 18 indicates.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
That may well be true, but I want something provided that can come before the House and be amended. Statutory Instruments have to be passed en bloc or the Government falls. I want something which will give the House of Commons, and not only the Government, control, and something which is capable of being amended. I am sure that is the type of Bill which will give satisfaction to the great body of people which it is going to affect.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
Yes; we amended the Factories Acts, I quite agree, but whether this Bill, when it goes upstairs, can be so arranged as to come within the type of legislation illustrated by the 713 Factories Acts, in which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) and I are very much interested. I do not know.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I do not think I had better answer that as I am trying to keep the debate on non-party lines. I am surprised at the interruption of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South because I remember many of the things he said in that Committee, where he was a great help.
What can we do? It is up to the House of Commons, and I want to make some suggestions. All of us in this House have sympathy with the Gowers Report recommendations. I believe we all wish to see those recommendations become law—proper law—at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
If the hon. Member will read the Gowers Report he will see that the Committee went on the basis that its proposals were not immediately practicable in the conditions obtaining after the war. That must be recognised by all considering these matters.
§ Mr. Awbery
Is it not a fact that the Report was presented in March, 1949—six years ago—and that nothing has been done, but we are anxious that now something should be done?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
"Nothing has been done," says the hon. Member. I do not know whether anything was done in the years when the Labour Party was in power, but since the Conservative Government came in, as I have attempted to enumerate, a great many things have been done. I do not want to introduce party points.
§ Mr. Ede
With regard to the question of regulations, I have the Act of 1937 in front of me. In Section 3 (3) it is stated:The Secretary of State may. by regulations, for factories. …714 and so on. In Section 4 (2), it is stated:The Secretary of State may, by regulations, prescribe a standard of adequate ventilation for factories …In Section 5 (2) it is stated:The Secretary of State may, by regulations, prescribe a standard of sufficient and suitable lighting …I will not delay the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) any longer. Of course, when a Tory Minister passes an Act bringing reforms into force by regulations it is all right. If it is all right for Tory Ministers to do so it is all right for my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies).
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I think we want the minimum of regulation and the maximum of legislation in these matters.
I have not great sympathy with the methods of this Bill, but I think we all have sympathy with its intentions. Whether it can be so amended in Committee as to make it practicable, I could not say. I doubt it at present, in spite of the experience over the Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Bill which I mentioned earlier and which was a completely new Bill when it came back to the House from that which went to a Standing Committee.
I should like to see certain things happen in the meantime. I should like this Measure broken into two parts. I believe that we ought to have a Bill dealing with the agricultural aspect and another Bill dealing with shops and offices. It would be very much easier to handle the problem in that way. We should be more able to concentrate on the agricultural problem and on office and shop problems separately. I believe that would be administratively convenient and better legislation.
The hon. Member for Leek was quite right in saying that there is a tremendous amount of mechanisation in agriculture. Whatever happens to this Bill, I should like it to go out, even today, from the House and this debate that agricultural machinery makers would be well advised to consult the Factories Inspectorate. The Committee which I believe the Ministry of Agriculture has advising it on agricultural machinery should make quite sure that any machinery put on the market is up to factory standards of safety in regard to pulleys. drives, and so 715 on. I believe that we can go a long way, administratively, towards helping this matter along whilst we are getting the Bill onto the Statute Book.
No agricultural machinery should be displayed at agricultural shows or designed and manufactured by machinery makers unless they are quite sure that it is up to the safety specifications of the Factories Inspectorate. That would go a long way towards answering some of the legitimate complaints of those who operate machinery on the farms.
Secondly, although the hon. Member rather decried it, education in avoiding accidents is of great importance. I should not like it to go out from this House that we in any way minimise that importance. I had a striking example in one of the factories with which I am connected. We had too many small accidents. There was nothing very serious, but, not only were they annoying to the people who suffered the accidents, they were upsetting to others working in the factory.
We had consultations about it with the father of the chapel, the mother of the chapel, and the management. Finally we agreed, not only to put up posters in the rooms, but to write a joint letter, signed by myself and by the leaders of the trade unions, to every individual in the factory.
The letter pointed out that accidents had been too numerous and that most of them had been through avoidable causes; that it was up to everyone, foremen, trade union officials, and operatives, to watch for accidents and to make quite sure that they did not try to alter anything on a machine if they did not know about it. Whether it was luck, coincidence, or what it was, I do not know, but in the two years since we took that step accidents have almost entirely disappeared. I hope they will not increase.
Education, and the bringing of these facts to the notice of those concerned, are of great value. All employers in firms and factories should be endeavouring all the time to see that no machinery is used by people who do not understand it, and especially that people do not try to adjust or clean machinery whilst it is running, except under conditions in which proper -precaution is taken. Whilst we are considering legislation for the avoidance of 716 accidents and the like, let us also remember that the human factor does count, and continually press on with educating the individual in the handling of machines as they become more and more complex and inherently more and more dangerous.
I should like to think that anyone at present designing buildings for office accommodation and shops has the Gowers Committee Report in mind. They should also be making proper provisions which, when the recommendations become law, will need no further alteration to those offices. Let them plan their offices on a higher standard than the minimum laid down in the Gowers Report, then everybody will be pleased.
It is for the hon. Member to decide what to do if he receives pledges from the Government, but I wish to add this. Recently we have not had newspapers, except those wise newspapers of the North, the "Manchester Guardian," the "Yorkshire Post," and Scottish papers. What a pleasure it is to read those first and not the London newspapers first. As a result, in the last week—for purely extraneous reasons—we have not been subjected to pressure on what is going to happen in our political future. None of us in this Chamber—certainly not myself—knows what is to happen.
There is bound to be an Election soon—when "soon" is, who knows?—but whatever Government come into office, whether they be from these benches or from the benches opposite, I should like to hear spokesmen of both parties say that, as soon as practicable and as soon as consultations are complete, they will go ahead with legislation on a non-party basis on these lines in order, as it were, to put the coping-stone on our industrial legislation. I purposely say "both parties," because who knows who is going to win the next Election? We all think that we know, but events might falsify our predictions.
I apologise for detaining the House so long, but I wish once more to thank the hon. Member for Leek for raising this matter. I think that he has done a service. I also wish to thank him for the non-party and mild way, knowing what a strong party man he is—I do not know 717 whether that is the right term to use at the moment; perhaps I should say, the strong "super-party" man that he is—and the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South, too. I think that this day will have been well spent in discussing these important matters.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Gooch (Norfolk, North)
I have listened with a great deal of pleasure and interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale), and, although I disagree with part of what he said, I think that his name ought to have appeared on this Bill. I am very hopeful that what he has had to say will have the effect of making the Ministers responsible for replying to this debate make up their minds to give us that for which we are really asking in the Bill.
I support the Bill in its entirety, but I want to take advantage of the opportunity to deal more particularly with the agricultural part of it, and it is to that part that I propose to address my remarks. I want to go back into history a little and to draw the attention of the House to the fact that, as long ago as 1878, the Government of the day were sufficiently alive to the dangers to life and limb of the agricultural worker which had arisen through the introduction of certain mechanised forms of production for Parliament in that year to pass what is known as the Threshing Machine Act.
That Act served its purpose in its day. It provided for the adequate fencing of the drum and feeding-mouth of every threshing machine as a means of reducing the risk to the machine operator of accidentally getting his limbs or his body entangled in the moving parts of what was then regarded as a most dangerous machine. It is quite clear that as long as 70 years ago the Government recognised that farmers were introducing on to their farms machines of potential danger to their workers, but on only two subsequent occasions since 1878 has this principle again been applied to agriculture.
In 1897, the Chaff Cutting Machine (Accidents) Act was passed, and regulations now exist by virtue of a much more recent Act, as the Minister of Agriculture is aware, whereby farm workers engaged in spraying crops are protected 718 against the dangers of insecticides and weed-killers which are known for certain to be toxic in their effects on human beings.
I wish to stress in this connection that between 1897 and the present day, except for legislation concerning toxic chemicals, and despite the fact that the bulk of the workers in all other comparable industries enjoy such statutory rights, Government after Government have either overlooked or ignored what I regard as the indisputable right of agricultural workers to reasonable statutory safeguards in regard to health, welfare and safety.
I wish to make it quite plain that I naturally approve of Government actions that have been strictly solicitous for the welfare of children and young persons, particularly since the beginning of this century. Certain Acts of Parliament have been passed to regulate the hours of employment, to guard the health and to provide for the safety of workers, but, regrettably, agriculture has been largely excepted from these safeguards for children.
Once a child leaves school and commences work on a farm, there is virtually no danger to which he can be exposed in his work which is forbidden by Act of Parliament. The admirable and comprehensive provisions of the Factories Acts of 1937 and 1948, which strictly regulate the conditions under which women, young persons and adults may be permitted to work in all our major industries, have no application whatever—and again I want to emphasise this—to persons who work on farms.
While it is doubtless of major importance that farm workers should be protected when engaged in operating dangerous machinery, even the elementary right to such things as clean drinking water, provision to wash one's hands with clean water and soap, to sit and eat in reasonable conditions and comfort, and to have access to any sanitary convenience, is at present denied to farm workers because the Factories Acts do not apply to agriculture.
Even when a farm worker is involved in an accident—as many thousands of them are in the course of the year—the risk is enhanced by the complete lack of the law to protect him. The law makes no provision whatever to compel the 719 farmer to have available on his farm a first-aid kit or facilities, or any trained personnel to apply first-aid.
It is transparently clear, and is, of course, well known to us today, what a great advance machinery on farms has made. Farming methods have undergone what I think we all agree is a revolutionary change. It is improbable that in any other country mechanised means of production have been introduced and expanded at the rate they have been in Great Britain.
I wish to give a few figures so that the House may be aware of the enormous increase in the number of machines on farms. In 1942, there were 116,000 tractors, and in 1954, 334,000. In 1942 there were 1,000 combine harvesters, and in 1954, 21,000. In 1942, there were 37,000 potato spinners, and in 1954, 63,000. In 1942, there were 2,765 hay and straw balers, and in 1954, 28,000. In 1942, there were 29,500 milking machines, and in 1954, 90,740. The figure for petrol and oil engines in 1942 was 155,000, while in 1954 that figure had gone up to over 199,000.
As we are all well aware, one of the provisions of the Factories Acts provides that any accident resulting in the death or incapacity for employment for three days of a worker shall be recorded and reported to the factory inspector. But farmers have never been under any obligation whatever to report farm accidents to any similar Government Department or official.
Up to quite recently, therefore, there was almost a complete dearth of any official statistics relating to the incidence of accidents on farms. I am not putting forward any argument in a party spirit because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) has said, I have been campaigning for the provision of safeguards for men who work machines on farms for at least 30 years. The number of Home Secretaries to whom I have addressed my remarks is almost legion, yet nothing whatever has been done. Perhaps it has been my fault in not having been outspoken enough, but I have tried my best to urge upon Governments to do something on these lines.
It cannot be claimed that the present Government lack statistical evidence of 720 the seriousness of the situation. I do not want to deal with the figures which have been secured under social insurance schemes and the Industrial Injuries Act, but statistics obtained by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance are available in reports for anybody to see. These figures show that the agricultural worker has an unanswerable case for statutory safeguards of his conditions of employment along the lines of those which we seek to establish in the Bill.
Figures contained in the Report of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance for 1952 relating to workers in agriculture, forestry and fishing show that four per cent. of all the workers engaged in these industries met with an accident. That percentage is as high as the percentage for those engaged in engineering, shipbuilding, the electrical industries, and the building and contracting trades. Workers in the latter trades have been protected by legislation for years, yet, although the figures relating to farm workers are just as high, no provision whatsoever has been made in their case.
The right hon. Member for Epsom said that he would seek some means to ensure that the manufacturers of farm machinery provided some safeguards, but we have asked for that for some time and it has not come about. I therefore give the hint to the Minister of Agriculture, whom I am glad to see present, that some provision should be made to make it a statutory obligation upon manufacturers of farm machinery to provide the safeguards which are envisaged in the Bill. Unless there is some means of compulsion we shall not find the manufacturers turning out the machines that we want with the necessary safeguards.
The figures of fatal accidents in agriculture are known to the Minister and his Ministry. There has been an average of 122 deaths yearly from accidents on the farm between 1949 and 1952. What is even more tragic is that in each of those years the figure has included an average of 13 fatal accidents involving children under 15 years of age. In 1953 there were 139 fatal accidents among farm workers and 18 of the deaths were those of children under 15. I have not the complete figures for 1954, but there were 70 deaths during the first six months of last year, eight of those killed being children.
721 These figures point to the need for something to be done to protect farm workers from the dangers which have been brought about by the vast increase in mechanisation on the farms. One half of the fatalities to which I have referred resulted from accidents involving machinery or from electrocution. The farm tractor is involved in more machinery accidents than any other piece of equipment. One reason is that there are more tractors on the farms than there are of other types of machinery. It must be remembered also that tractors are used not only for dragging farming implements behind them in the fields but also as motive power on the farm.
A succession of accidents happen because the power shafting from the tractor to the implement which it is working is allowed to rotate at hundreds or thousands of revolutions per minute in an unguarded state with fatal results very often to the man who is working the machinery. The Ministry of Agriculture has seen fit to issue a pamphlet warning against the dangers of farm accidents. I have said before that I am very glad that the Ministry has issued the pamphlet and that during the last few months it has been brought up-to-date. Whilst some good may result from reading that pamphlet, risks are so common on the farm that, whatever advice is given in pamphlets, an accident is almost certain to occur at some time or other. Among the things which are frequently responsible for accidents are power takeoff shafts, chain, belt and gear drives, belts and pulleys, shafting, circular saws, stationary engines and electrical equipment.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Leek said, the Bill is the culmination of years of efforts to persuade different Governments to recognise the case presented to them from time to time by my organisation, the National Union of Agricultural Workers. It was demanding legislation along these lines at least 30 years ago. In making its demands it has had the support of the Trade Union Congress. I recall that I went to see the Home Secretary as far back as 1939 and then argued that the increasing use of machinery made it no longer possible to differentiate between industry and agriculture in this social legislation.
I will not discuss the Gowers Committee's Report in detail. The farm 722 workers gave evidence before that Committee and put forward very definite proposals about lines on which the Committee might base recommendations which might inspire legislation in Parliament. It has been admitted that legislation along the lines which I have indicated is vitally necessary. The National Union of Agricultural Workers has received various assurances from different Ministers over a good many years. It received an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor that he was fully alive to the desirability of early legislation to provide the necessary protection to agricultural workers, particularly in view of the great development of mechanisation on farms in recent years.
In the last few weeks I have put Questions to the Parliamentary Secretary about legislation to deal with these dangers, and some of my hon. Friends have done the same. The answer we have received each time has been that, so far as applying this kind of legislation to the farms is concerned, there is absolute agreement within the industry as to what should be done. Then each time the Parliamentary Secretary has administered his blow, saying that the Government are prepared to undertake the legislation if Parliamentary time is available.
Today we are not making propaganda speeches. We really mean business, and I hope the Government do. If they can give us some assurance that they will carefully weigh up the case which we have presented to them today and will accept this Bill or work out legislation along the lines of the Bill, they will give immense pleasure to those of us who are supporting the Bill.
I would encourage them to do so by drawing to their attention one or two cases that have come to my notice just recently. There was an inquest on a farm worker who died after his arm had been caught between the gears of a carrot washing machine. The York coroner said that in the last 20 years he had seen a revolution in farming. He said:I have seen machinery brought on to farms in large quantities and the whole art of the agricultural industry change due to the use of machinery. I have also, sitting in my position as coroner, increasingly more year by year seen deaths resulting from the use of machinery on farms. Deaths, in my opinion, in many cases could have been avoided by 723 the simplest application of safety regulations arising out of the misuse of machinery such as would never have been tolerated in any factory.It was the York City coroner saying this, not a union official. He went on to say:I cannot see why there should not be regulations for farming machinery for the safeguarding of workers who have to use it just the same as in the Factory Acts where the workers are safeguarded up to the hilt.I have said that there is general agreement within the industry as to the lines which legislation should take, and I would draw the attention of the House and of the Government to what was said by the President of the Institution of British Agricultural Engineers at a meeting of that body last year. He said that agricultural machinery was probably the most dangerous of any in industry. If it were industrial hardly any of it would be allowed inside factories. He was doubtful whether much more could be done until legislation was introduced on the lines of the Factory Acts.
To the layman and others knowing little about modern agricultural work two quieter sounding and more innocent jobs than sheep shearing and hedge cutting could scarcely be imagined, but last year those operations resulted in accidents with tragic consequences for the men involved. There was a tragic case in Kent that illustrates how danger can lurk even in sheep shearing. An elderly member of my union was engaged with the 21-year-old son of his employer shearing sheep with electrical apparatus. Both men were discovered lying dead near the last of the sheep they had been shearing. It was obvious that they had been electrocuted. Examination of the plant revealed a lack of proper earthing—a simple matter to the expert, but not to the unwary.
A hedge cutting accident occurred in Dorset. Fortunately it did not result in death, though it could have done, and anyway it resulted in the worker's losing part of his leg below the knee. The accident resulted from the recent innovation of hedge cutting by means of a mechanical circular saw. Those familiar with rural areas will have seen this machine at work. It is one of the modern types of equipment now plied on the farms, modern equipment some of us would not have imagined could have been devised.
724 The circular saw moves along the top of the hedge from a power driven arm operated by a slowly moving tractor. The operator of the machine was standing on its moving platform. When the machine was acquired there was a shield near the operating part of the machine, and the shield was covered by some sort of steel mesh. The farmer regarded the protection as inadequate, and he affixed a stouter shield of steel plate. Unfortunately, the protection was still inadequate, because the rotating blade of the saw, or one of the nuts beneath it, accidentally struck the top of a steel gate post, with the result that the nut broke off and the rotating steel saw blade hurtled through the air, penetrating with ease the steel plate and severing the operator's leg. We have since learned to our relief that the farmer concerned has abandoned the use of that device.
These two examples could be multiplied by the hundred. They are proving expensive to the union because we try to get injured men and the dependants of men who died because of accidents their deserts. They are also proving expensive to the insurance companies, and the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance must be feeling the expense a little. I wonder that some of the insurance companies do not join with us in the union in demanding the application, where appropriate, of the Factory Acts to farming.
The remedy that we think should be applied can be made possible only by the Government giving a sympathetic reception to the Bill before the House. It is many years overdue. It will not eliminate accidents altogether, for we cannot eliminate the human element, but it will have the effect of providing for the workers in whom I am particularly interested, the farm workers, certain safeguards and certain standards of safety that have been provided for men engaged in other industries. and which have been needed and sought by the farm workers for a very long time.
With a great deal of feeling, I commend the Bill to the House. I do not know what the Minister will say about it, but I appeal to him, "Do not turn the farm workers down." They have been turned down a long while, time after time through many years. I hope the Minister will look sympathetically upon the agricultural section of the community.
§ 1.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (Norfolk, South-West)
Like the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch), I find myself able to support fully the objects of the Bill in so far as they are concerned with accidents on the farms, and I do not think I can find anything at all with which to disagree in the sentiments that he has expressed. I can tell the House, as a farmer myself, that when I leave home to come to this place the one anxiety I always carry with me is the danger which my own people, the members of my family and the workers on my farm, are subject to on the farm.
I have had one or two experiences that have shaken me very deeply. I do not say they could all have been prevented by legislation of this kind, but legislation of this kind would help to prevent accidents from occurring. A nephew of mine was driving a combine harvester, and he jumped off the working table of the machine on to the handle of a fork. It was standing in the ground the proper way up, but he did not see it was there, and he ripped himself open in the middle. I can tell the House that anyone who has had the experience of having to see what has happened after an accident of that kind is not going to treat lightly this matter of farm accidents. Anything we can do in the House to prevent them will have my fullest support.
I think we ought to look at the causes of accidents before proceeding with legislation to deal with them. I was interested in what the hon. Member for Norfolk, North said about the increase in machinery, which is definitely one of the very important factors affecting accidents. I have noted, however—I do not know whether he has noted it, too—that at any rate since 1949, during the last five or six years, the number of fatal accidents on the farms has fortunately not increased in proportion to the number of machines. Looking at the figures, I am not able to see that the number of fatal accidents due to tractors has increased over the last five or six years. I take pleasure from that. I do not draw any particular inference from it with regard to the suggested regulations, because I agree that in the case of many kinds of machines, protection devices are necessary.
However, there are many types of fatal accidents on farms which will be 726 very difficult to guard against by any form of legislation. I was interested to find that gunshots and drowning figure prominently among the causes of fatal accidents on farms. That is surprising. The number of fatal accidents due to gunshots on farms in 1951 was 15 and in 1952 14. two involving children. We must not assume that by means of regulations affecting machinery we shall deal with the bulk of the problem. The problem is larger than that, and it requires most detailed and careful attention if we are to do anything effective. I agree that the number of non-fatal accidents is formidable.
One of the most effective means not of preventing accidents but of minimising their consequences would be the provision of proper first-aid facilities, as is laid down in the Schedule. I am not sure whether it is proper to insist on there being trained people to use them. The important thing would be to provide proper facilities in the correct places, and very often that would be in the farm house or the house of a farm-worker. The people who live in the country have a fair amount of common sense in dealing with such accidents as these if they are given the materials to use. Therefore, I find.myself in general agreement with the principles of the Bill.
Part V of the Bill deals with the power which would be given to the Secretary of State to make regulations. I may be thought presumptuous if I join issue with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), a former Leader of the House, while I am a relatively new Member of the House, but I thought the point of his intervention was hardly a good one. He produced a copy of the Factories Act, 1947.
§ Mr. Bullard
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. It was 1937. The right hon. Gentleman pointed to the number of places where power was given to the Secretary of State to make regulations. I am sure we would all agree that it would be impossible for the House to prescribe in a Bill like this every detail of the regulations which would be required. When I first entered the House I had the privilege of introducing a very small and narrow but, I hope, useful Measure called the Heating 727 Appliances (Fireguards) Bill, in the preparation of which I had very great help from the Home Secretary at the time. Even in such a small Measure as that it was necessary to make provision for regulations.
Part V provides that the Secretary of State shall have power to make regulations in respect of any of divisions of the matters covered by the Bill. I believe I am right in saying that under the Factories Act, 1937, the power for the Minister to make regulations was dealt with under the individual sections. The power given to the Secretary of State in Part V covers the whole of the vast field of the Bill, and I do not think that is a proper method of dealing with it. I am glad that the right hon. Member for South Shields has not dissented from my point of view—I see that he now wishes to do so—and I am gratified that I have been able to score a point over him on a matter of procedure, on which I know he is an expert.
§ Mr. Bullard
It seems to me that too many words are saved in the Bill. In order to achieve its purpose, it has been cut down to limits which are too narrow for it to be workable.
I want now to deal with one or two other points coming under Part V which illustrate what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale)—I wish I could put my points as well as he did—to the effect that there is a very sound case for having two Bills to cover the matter. First of all, there are the provisions about registration. Clause 12 says:The occupier of any premises affected by the provisions of this Act at the commencement of this Act shall register such premises …I gather that that would entail the registration of every agricultural holding in the country, and there are 380,000 of them. I wonder what use it would be to anybody if the enforcing authority had a list of agricultural holdings of an extraordinarily diverse character, and I wonder 728 what use the authority could make of the information which it obtained through registration. The Factories Act no doubt requires to have registration, and perhaps registration may be required in the case of shops, railways and so on, but it would be most unnecessary to require registration of all agricultural holdings. This points to the need for two Bills to cover the matter.
The same applies to the next Clause, which deals with:Posting of abstracts of Act and regulations.It says:There shall be posted at the principal entrances of any premises to which this Act applies a copy of the prescribed abstract of this Act and a copy of all regulations made under this Act …I have applied that to conditions which I know very well. In my constituency there are large numbers of smallholdings, to which I referred last night, where the workers co-operate together at busy times of the year, and they often live on the holdings. Where should we post a copy of the abstract in circumstances of that sort? I have heard it said that:He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.But there are a great many ways of entering a holding. I am sure there is ample proof here that these matters ought to be dealt with in two Bills instead of one.
The Bill evades the subject of responsibility in its provisions concerning agriculture. It places the entire responsibility on the occupier of the land. Many other people besides the occupier come into the matter of accidents and accident prevention on farms. The owner comes into the picture. A great amount of work in agriculture is also done by contractors. Any Bill which sets out to deal with the subject as it should be dealt with should state clearly, in the way that the Factories Act does, who shall be responsible in the different circumstances which arise on a farm. That again illustrates the fact that all these matters cannot be combined in one Bill, and that matters affecting agriculture must be dealt with entirely separate from the others.
I agree that we would like to have made faster progress than we have done. The Gowers Report came out a long time 729 ago, and it is useless to apportion blame about the delay. The hon. Member for Norfolk, North has worked hard on this matter, and even on this side of the House it is our business to chivvy Government Departments. However, I must give credit to the Government for having tackled one of the matters dealt with in the Gowers Report. We have had the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Bill which dealt with one of the immediate dangers facing people who work on the land. It will happen often that we shall have to deal with these matters by special ad hoc methods rather than by trying to cover a vast field with the detail required to make action effective. Therefore it is wrong to accuse the Government of having neglected this matter, because an important part of it—perhaps less than half—has already been dealt with in this House.
I would have liked to ask the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) what consultations went on over the Bill. Last night he and I were engaged in a debate on another agricultural matter, but he left half-way through it in order to have something to eat. That is probably where the hon. Gentleman has gone now, and I sympathise with him, although I do not see why he should not wait as long as the rest of us. However, I do not want to press that point because I had it out with him last night. I would have liked to ask him what consultations went on over the Bill on the agricultural side. The hon. Member for Norfolk. North, who was President of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, has said that he supports it, but was there consultation on the methods by which this Bill seeks to achieve its objects?
§ Mr. Gooch
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to interrupt, I have said already that there is general agreement within the industry along the lines of this legislation. There was consultation between all parties in the industry, and the Bill contains nothing more than the agreements reached within the industry. That is all we are asking for.
§ Mr. Bullard
I do not want to be difficult about this point because I am agreeing with the hon. Gentleman, but it is important, because, when we come down to brass tacks, whether this Measure works or not will in the end be due to the full agreement of the partners in 730 industry about its practicability. It is all very well to say that there will be inspectors to enforce it; unless there is reasonable agreement, the Bill will not succeed.
I know that the National Farmers' Union, the National Union of Agricultural Workers and, I suppose, the Transport and General Workers Union have been in consultation with the Government about the matter, and I accept that there has been broad agreement on what should be done so far as agriculture is concerned, but what consultations have gone on about the Bill? It is the Bill we are considering, and I would have doubted whether either of the two organizations—
§ Mr. Bullard
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I would have thought that both the unions would have recommended to the hon. Member for Leek that this matter should have been dealt with separately and in a rather different way from the way in which he is dealing with it in this Bill. I do not think there is any disagreement between us about what ought to be achieved, but many of us think that this is not the easiest or the most satisfactory way of dealing with the matter. That is what should exercise our minds today in considering whether we shall give general approval to the Bill and send it upstairs to a Standing Committee.
I do not know what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries will say about the attitude of the Government to the Bill. I hope he will be able to say that he has plans ready to come into operation shortly in order that we may deal with this matter properly and on the lines agreed between the parties in the industry. In that light, I hope that the hon. Member for Leek and the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger) will agree to allow the Government to take over the Bill, as should be the case, since this is a proper subject for Government legislation rather than for Private Bill legislation.
I do not find fault with the hon. Member for Leek for having brought forward this Bill, because he has performed a useful service by doing so. If it goes to Standing Committee, it will need much amendment. not of principle but of the 731 method by which it can be brought into operation, and I would be pleased to do what I could in a humble way to try to improve the Bill and make it suitable for achieving its object of accident prevention, which is in all our minds and which everybody is most anxious to see proceed.
§ 1.27 p.m.
§ Mr. W. E. Padley (Ogmore)
I was impressed by the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) but, as in the case of the speech of the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale), it seemed that there was an attempt to find some ground on which later in the day he might go into the Lobby against the Bill.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Epsom is not in his place because, after saying that he agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) that this matter ought to be above party strife, he went on to make a few party points about the record of the Conservative Party. As a former Minister he ought to know that Ministers and prominent trade unionists are sometimes embarrassed at international conferences connected with the I.L.O. and trade unions because British legislation in this field falls well behind that of some of the more progressive countries in Europe.
Moreover, speaking for shop workers, I would say that the only right hon. or hon. Gentleman on the opposite benches who has any place in the hearts and minds of shop workers is the Prime Minister. It is true that when that right hon. Gentleman was a Liberal Home Secretary he piloted through this House the first Shops Act, but he had to fight the ranks of the party opposite, who sought to delete from that Measure a Clause limiting the working week to 60 hours.
It is rumoured that the Prime Minister is about to retire from the Premiership and from the leadership of the party opposite. If the right hon. Gentleman remains in the House, I hope that he will not resign his position as President of the Early Closing Association, and I hope that we may have an alliance of Presidents across the House to fight in favour of new and more up-to-date legislation for workers in shops and offices in the distributive trades.
732 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epsom sought to give the Government considerable credit for all the consultation that has taken place. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West also referred to the need for consultation over the details of the Bill. I would remind the House of the history of this matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) reminded the House, he has been campaigning for legislation for agricultural workers for over 30 years. For 60 years, my own trade union has been campaigning for legislation for workers in shops and other parts of the distributive trades.
We talk about the Shops Act, 1950. It has been referred to in those terms today, but, of course, it is a consolidating Measure. If we look at its provisions relating to the subject before the House today, we see that they date back to 1934, 1928 or 1912. The first majority Labour Government set up the Gowers Committee to inquire into these matters as long ago as 1946. It made its first Report on shop hours and other matters in 1947. It produced its Report on health, welfare and safety in 1949.
There has been plenty of consultation. I, in company with other trade unionists, have been to see three Home Secretaries about these problems. I have spent some very agreeable afternoons at the Home Office. We were treated with great consideration and courtesy. But whenever I put down a Question on the Order Paper asking when the consultations, proposals and drafting of legislation are going to produce results, we are fobbed off with talk about lack of Parliamentary time and so on.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West may rest assured that the substance of the Bill now before the House consists of all the material about which there is general agreement in the agricultural industry and in the other trades and industries to which the Bill refers. It is true that in Committee there will be many points of disputation, and we shall accept Governmental advice, mainly on drafting but partly on substance.
The union with which I am associated is concerned with workers in shops, offices, catering establishments, dental workrooms, and coal depots, all of which are covered by this Bill. Indeed, I suppose that that grouping in the distributive and allied trades is the largest 733 single operational grouping covered by the Bill, and I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leek and my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger) on their initiative in bringing forward this Bill.
I should like to spotlight just a few of the evils which the Bill seeks to root out. First, let me make it plain that there are limits to the value of generalisations on this subject, as on all others. At one end of the scale in the distributive trades there are some employers providing first-class conditions which are in excess of the minima laid down in this Bill and its Schedule. At the other end of the scale there are conditions so frightful that I think that only the word" slum" is adequate to describe them.
§ Mr. Padley
There are shops with no sanitary conveniences, or with primitive sanitary conveniences. Let me give three examples. I have scores of them, if the House had time to listen to them. The first is in Frome, in the West Country, where there is a block of offices and shops employing staffs of both sexes. The shops include butchery, grocery, hardware, footwear, pharmacy, and confectionery businesses. No toilet facilities of any kind exist. When the staff need to use them they must leave the premises and go to the public conveniences in the town. That is not an isolated example. There are many thousand of such cases in all parts of Britain.
The second example is in Plymouth, in a retail tailoring shop where three males and one female are employed. One toilet is provided. It is in the shop and is partitioned off by a curtain about three feet from the cash desk in which the female employee works. Again those sort of conditions can be paralleled in thousands of cases up and down Britain.
A third typical example is in the Arcade in Blackburn. There are some 20 shops, and two lavatories are available for the whole of the staffs employed in those 20 establishments. Here are three categories—primitiveness in hygienic lavatory accommodation, inadequate lavatory accommodation, and no lavatory accommodation at all. Am I not justified in saying, therefore, that in large sections of distributive trades the 734 conditions in which shop workers are employed are slum conditions?
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
Would the hon. Member answer me one question? Let us take the Blackburn case. What has his union, in fact, done? I am hoping that it has done quite a lot in connection with the matter, but what has been done, with the owners, tenants, or occupiers of these premises, in order to get the position altered?
§ Mr. Padley
The answer to the hon. Member is that not today or yesterday or last week but for 60 years my union has been fighting against these evils, and over the last 60 years I will proudly confess that there has been a very substantial improvement.
§ Mr. Fell
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but he has mentioned a specific case. We all know that it is impossible for his union to follow up every case, and it is impossible for the union to put the whole matter right, and that is why he is asking for general legislation which will help the union. But what representations did the union make in the specific case of Blackburn? That is what I am asking.
§ Mr. Padley
The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that I was quoting almost at random from thousands of cases which exist in the archives of my union. I would ask him to believe that our union acts on behalf of its members in representations to employers and to local councils, who are responsible for administering the Public Health Acts and the Shops Act.
The fact of the matter is that so long as this issue is governed by the vague definitions of the Shops Acts, and the Public Health Acts, which exist to protect the public and not the worker, and as considerable capital expenditure is sometimes involved, there is no remedy within the hands of the union itself, apart from general legislation such as the Bill now before the House.
I could go on and describe conditions of overcrowding in unseen and underground rooms in the distributive trades. I could deal in detail with the utter lack of adequate washing facilities in many of the shops of Britain. But I will give only one example. There is a grocery shop in Monmouthshire which employs a mixed 735 staff. No soap, hot water or towels are provided. The wash basin is in a deplorable state, being set in a tiny room behind the warehouse. The room is not lit, except when daylight filters through holes in the roof. It is impossible to use it during rainy weather.
The female members of the staff do not use the place unless they are obliged to. The practice is to fill a small bowl of water, which is carried into the warehouse when it is wanted for use. The shops inspector of Salford reports that although cold water is available in most of the food shops, in 90 per cent. of the other shops there is not a tap at all, either for hot or cold water.
Next, I want to refer to the provision of meals. Under the present structure of the distributive trades, many shop workers have to take their meals on the premises of the employer. Here I am glad to say that the more progressive employers' organisations, in evidence to the Gowers Committee, recommended standards far in excess of those which are laid down in the Bill. But the Bill is required to enforce a minimum standard throughout the trades.
I want now to deal with two special problems. The first is the question of coal depots. There has been a long agitation to provide some sort of amenities for workers in the retail coal trade at coal wharves. At one end of the scale. our long agitation and pressure on employers, negotiations on the Joint Industrial Council for the Coal Distributive Trade. and so on. have resulted in shower baths and proper equipment being provided at a few of the larger depots. At a Leeds depot shower baths were opened last week. At the other end of the scale, the Gowers Committee reported that in the overwhelming majority of cases there are either no amenities, or that those which exist are primitive.
The difficulty of dealing with this problem from the trade union angle is that though the coal merchants' federation set up a planning committee and made recommendations, there has been a long dispute whether the merchant who is the tenant, or the railway which is the owner, of the depots and wharves, should be responsible for providing lavatories. washing facilities, rooms for the storage of clothing, and facilities of that kind.
736 Through trade union action some small beginning has been made in solving this problem. But I say frankly that for the smaller wharves and depots, without the provisions of the Bill as the law of the land—
§ Mr. Padley
Or a Bill.
I agree that another Bill would do just as well as this, but I am sure those of my trade union members who are working in the retail coal trade or at coal wharves would say that at least this Bill is having a Second Reading, whereas other Bills are figments of the imagination and dependent on Parliamentary time and the ebb and flow of party fortune and so on. I am sure they would say that this is the opportunity to provide a measure of justice which is long overdue.
I want briefly to refer to dangerous machinery in the distributive trades. Having heard the splendid speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North, I feel a little diffident about raising this point, because it is certainly true that the accident rate in the distributive trade does not compare with that in mining, which is the principal industry in my constituency, or in agriculture. However, in our shops there are lethal weapons, bacon-slicing machines, coffee grinders, fruit stoners and things of that kind. There are many cases where thumbs and fingers have to be amputated, where hands and wrists are lacerated. The shocking thing about it is that generally the thumbs and fingers belong to young persons, usually women, who are cleaning these machines. That is why the Bill contains, in Clause 10, a provision to deal with women and young persons cleaning machines of this kind.
I hope that the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Leek will be supported in all parts of the House. Certainly if the Bill has a Second Reading and goes upstairs to a Standing Committee, it will need some attention to rectify the drafting in some places and to provide additional safeguards in other parts. It is a Bill which in substance is the result of the inquiry by the Gowers Committee, the experience of both trade union organisations and employers' organisations, and consultation with Government Departments.
737 Whatever criticism may be made of a Bill which is not drafted by the Parliamentary draftsman in a Government Department, the substance of this Bill deserves to become law. Given the good will of the Government, a Standing Committee upstairs could rectify faults of drafting and these 10 million to 12 million people, ranging from railwaymen to agricultural workers, from dental technicians to shopworkers, could receive a measure of justice which is disgracefully overdue.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) speaks with very great authority as a leading figure in one of the greatest trade unions. He speaks for a union which has written to most hon. Members present and to a good many who are not. I should say that his union probably comes into our constituencies more than any other save the Transport and General Workers' Union.
All of us realise that the conditions in which shopkeepers work fall very considerably short of what they should be. Certainly some of the examples the hon. Member for Ogmore gave are utterly appalling. What is especially appalling is that the people responsible for employing others in those conditions are not fit to employ anybody. I put it as strongly as that, and I feel sure that nothing can excuse employing people in conditions in which one is not prepared to work one's self.
That brings me to a topic which my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) raised. We are all today absolutely agreed with the findings of the Gowers Committee. Many of the speeches that have been made have been speeches which would have justified the setting up and the reporting of the Gowers Committee. There is unanimity in the House and the country on that subject.
The real question we have to face is whether a specific piece of legislation presented to us is the right one, whether it is done in the right way and whether it has the right content. I must confess that with every piece of legislation my immediate reaction is always this: legislation in an endeavour to put right certain things usually creates other wrongs. There are very few Acts of Parliament that one can truthfully say are so excellent that 738 they have corrected all they were designed to correct and have not led to any new difficulties which will have to be corrected later.
There is another aspect of legislation about which we have always to be extremely careful. If we are not very careful when we legislate, we inevitably tend to make it possible—I put it no stronger—for people not to exercise a personal sense of responsibility but to wait until they are found out and charged with an offence when it is brought to light. I am afraid that that is human nature, and it is something which we have always to bear in mind. If it were not for human nature, the Cowers Committee would not have had to report. When there is legislation people say, "It is not my responsibility, nor is it mainly my responsibility. I was not consulted about the code of laws which I am now expected to obey, and I shall get away with what I can until I am found out." it is unfortunate that there is always a section of the community which takes that view.
I have said two things about legislation, one about the danger of new difficulties and the second about undermining personal responsibility. When I judge that against the Report and recommendations of the Gowers Committee—and I feel that this will perhaps please some hon. Members more than some of the things I have just said—I must say that this Report, despite what I have said, does justify and more than justify legislation.
There is no question but that legislation is necessary, much as I dislike legislation having to be necessary. I agree with "Diogenes"—I think that usually he is Mr. W. J. Brown who was formerly a Member of this House—who said in "Time and Tide" the other day, "All Governments are evil." They are only necessary because human nature is what it is. If everybody were perfect there would be no need for governments. Therefore, to some extent, the need for the existence of governments is evil. Even so, I would say that in this instance legislation is necessary.
§ Mr. Awbery
I believe that the general feeling among hon. Gentlemen opposite is that legislation on the lines suggested is necessary. Our complaint is that the Government have been waiting for six 739 years. If legislation has not been introduced in this way by a private Member, what steps would the Government have taken to implement the Gowers Report?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I have listened to every speech which has been made today. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has been present, but that point has been put several times. I fully appreciate the force of the argument, but I am trying to develop another argument, and I shall be grateful if the hon. Member will at least give me time to complete it before he rushes to conclusions.
Although I regard government itself as an unfortunate thing which we have to put up with because human nature is what it is, I agree that legislation is necessary. The question is whether the form now before the House is the right one. The case was made by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch), supported in considerable degree by my hon. Friend, neighbour and constituent the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard). I say at once that there is a case for doing something very soon about the conditions of work in agriculture. As the hon. Member for Ogmore has shown, there is an argument for doing something for shop-workers. There is a case in the railway industry. I have in the middle of my constituency the biggest railway yards in the country, and the conditions in the loco sheds there are far from being as good as they should be.
There is an argument for all these industries being dealt with, but I honestly do not believe that there is a case for all being dealt with in the same piece of legislation. It seems to me that there is an enormous argument for introducing a Bill to deal with conditions of work in agriculture. After all, the success which a Measure of this kind will achieve depends very largely upon how well everybody understands it. It would be ludricous if an enormously comprehensive Act of Parliament—something like the Factories Act or probably bigger—had to be purchased by every farmer and every agricultural worker so that they could know the law affecting their conditions of work.
That is one aspect, and we can add to it the fact that this legislation should be dealt with by those most qualified to deal 740 with it. We all know in this House the great difficulty of speaking on anything on which we are not well versed. We all know of the shortage of time there is in any debate that takes place. To cover all the aspects of the Bill, I believe that we ought to have the best part of the week set aside for the Second Reading debate, let alone anything else.
I should have thought that what we need is a Bill to deal with shopkeepers; another to deal with those in the catering trade; a third to deal with those involved in agriculture, and another to deal with the railway and transport industries, instead of covering all in one consolidating Measure. With the best will in the world, I do not see how we can hope to make this Bill as good as it ought to be; and we want to make it as good as possible.
The problems which we are confronting are the sort of problems which add great force to the argument of those who say that life is becoming so intricate and technical today that we ought to have a third House of Parliament. This is the sort of Bill which I should like to see debated in an economic House of Parliament. Let it be debated there. Let the legislation be prepared by those who really know what they are talking about in a House like that, and then let it be submitted to us just as are the Ecclesiastical Measures which come from the Church Assembly. That is the way in which we shall have to deal with problems as comprehensive as this.
I realise that in mentioning that subject I shall very rapidly get out of order because it is not within the ambit of the Bill. We have to treat the Bill against the background of the machinery that we have already. I appreciate the enormous amount of trouble taken by the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), but I suggest that this Measure is not in suitable form to deal with all the matters with which we want to deal. It should be broken up into several smaller Bills, certainly separating agriculture from the other industries.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
While the hon. Gentleman was out of the Chamber my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, 741 South-West referred to his absence. He has not heard the whole of my argument. Perhaps he will do me the courtesy of reading it in the OFFICIAL REPORT and then if he likes to ask any questions I shall be delighted to answer them.
I have been looking at what is in the Bill and in the Gowers Report about agriculture. It cannot be argued that the Bill does not go a good deal further than the Report on the question of agriculture, especially in connection with the definition of the word "premises." The Report mentions fenland farms and says:We agree that no general statutory requirement could take into account the varying circumstances to which we have referred in the preceding paragraph"—which deals with sanitary accommodation—and we think that the average farm does in fact provide adequate and decent facilities, but in some places such as market gardens, fenland farms, and holdings where gang labour is employed there may be need for special facilities and we therefore concur in the view that in circumstances such as these the local sanitary authority is the appropriate body to decide the nature and the extent of the facilities that ought to be supplied.I realise that the Bill would give power to the Secretary of State to delegate to local sanitary authorities, but it will be difficult to generalise the application of the Bill to agriculture as a whole, quite apart from bringing in all the other industries.
For instance, quite a number of the smaller farmers, let alone the bigger ones, started in a very small way in one place and, because land is rarely on the market there, they have had to take other land elsewhere. We should very soon get bogged down in providing a definition. The definition in the Bill refers to:… any land or premises used for agricultural purposes.Should we, for example, include all the farming units farmed by any one farmer, or should it be done on a territorial basis by means of words such as:Any land included in a ringed fence "?While the hon. Member for Leek was out of the Chamber, my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West asked where we should put the notices dealing with the regulations. I know that it is easy enough to pick holes in this Bill, and I do not desire to pick more holes 742 in it than I feel obliged to. Many of the things which I have mentioned could be dealt with in Committee—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—but I have already made the point that I should like to see a separate Bill for agriculture.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Apart from anyone else, I think that the hon. Member for Norfolk, North would support such a proposal, and we should be able to get a Bill of that kind through Parliament more quickly. We should achieve more agreement about agriculture than about most of the other industries.
§ Mr. Davies
I deny that there is any difficulty about that. This Bill is divided into parts. It is an enabling Bill on exactly the same lines as the 1937 Factories Act. The hon. and gallant Member suggested that we needed a week to debate the Second Reading. We have never spent a week on a Second Reading of any Bill in the history of Parliament.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I know, but I often think that we should. Parliamentary time is so crowded that we never manage to spend the amount of time on some things that we ought. Take, for example, debates on the economic situation, or the foreign situation. Every hon. Member who wished to speak on those subjects should be given the chance to do so—although I dare say, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that sometimes your patience would be strained. I think that we should give as much time as we can to these things
Again while the hon. Member for Leek was out of the Chamber, reference was made to the question of delegated legislation. Some time between 1946 and 1950 I recall hearing senior civil servants say that the thing which concerned them most about the present trend of legislation was the increasing amount of delegated legislation. One speaker said that it led to a loss of anonymity in the Civil Service—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who was it?"] I will not quote names, but I will take the responsibility for the accuracy of the statement. The more delegated legislation we have, the more we tend to make democracy impotent. If any hon. Member doubts that, he has only to read Gibbon's "Decline and Fall."
743 I think we are all agreed that it was right to set up the Gowers Committee; that the Report which it submitted was of immense value and that its recommendations should be implemented as quickly and effectively as possible. I do not accept the argument that, because a Measure is important, it should not be introduced by a private Member, but only by the Government. The power of the Executive is so colossal today that a back bencher must exercise his rights now and then. I give full marks to the hon. Member for Leek for introducing a Bill which has some importance and is not merely a tiny Measure to suit sectional interests.
This Measure will affect every constituent in one way or another, either as a consumer or a worker. I do not see how any Government—be it a Government I support or one that I oppose—can claim a monopoly of benevolence over legislation. Some people will criticise hon. Members opposite and say that this Measure should not have been in the form of a Private Member's Bill. I do not support that view either, and that is what I am trying to tell them. If something requires to be done, either by the introduction of a Private Member's Bill or by a Government-sponsored Measure, for heaven' sake let us do it as quickly and effectively as possible.
I am sorry that this Bill has been introduced in its present form. I feel that it should not be an all-embracing and comprehensive Bill but that it should be broken up. Were it broken up I believe that we could get what we all want more rapidly, namely, a great improvement in the conditions on farms, in shops in railway centres and so on.
Of all the needs which seem to me important in the condition of employment, light and air are the most important. In my opinion, both before and since nationalisation. the railways have lagged behind in putting into operation modern air conditioning. The present conditions in engine sheds are unnecessarily smoky and smutty. The modern air-cleansing processes are so good that it is quite easy to obtain a supply of pure air if a little trouble is taken.
Wherever possible, we should let in light and purify the air. I have a particular reason for saying that, because I believe that it was one of my ancestors 744 who had something to do with the Window Tax. I have always considered that the most disgraceful tax ever introduced. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will rest assured that I am sympathetic to their cause. I only wish that I could support the manner in which they are trying to do what I desire to see done.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
During the speeches of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) and the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) I was unable to resist the thought that sometimes a little practical help is worth a lot of sympathy. Here we have an excellent opportunity to put that admirable adage into effect.
We are accustomed to hearing unusual speeches from the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely. Usually he addresses us as a "high Tory," and I must confess to great surprise at hearing anarchist doctrines from his lips today. It was an odd mixture of philosphy—if one can give so distinguished a word to such a disconnected discourse—in which there were observations which would have done credit to a 19th Century Lancashire mill owner, and revelations that would have come well from an anarchist in the Spanish Revolution.
§ Mr. Mulley
I agree. We had a very wide speech from the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely. He complained about the width of the Bill, but I think that everyone would agree that his speech went a good deal further and was of a far more comprehensive nature than the Bill. To put it in a phrase, he went from Gibbon's "Decline and Fall" to "The New Despotism."
I suggest that a private Member who introduces a Bill finds himself in great difficulty. Last year I introduced a Bill which attempted—in fact it succeeded—in implementing part of the recommendations of a Royal Commission. Today we have heard a criticism from the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely that it is a great mistake to attempt to implement the whole of the recommendations of a Commission. I feel that had 745 my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) introduced a Bill dealing with only part of the question there would have been an outcry from the benches opposite, "Is not this a mistake? The Gowers Report is all-embracing. Why pick on agriculture, or slops, and leave out the scandals which are known to exist in other fields?"
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I hope that the hon. Member will be accurate. I never said that I was not in favour of doing the thing piecemeal. The Government have already started to do so.
§ Mr. Mulley
The hon. and gallant Member has missed my point. I said that on a previous occasion, when I introduced a Bill to deal with part of the recommendations of a Royal Commission, the hon. and gallant Member and others said that the whole thing ought to be treated as one.
I appreciate the argument which the hon. and gallant Member has advanced today. The same argument has been raised about regulations, about the power of the executive and about dictatorship of Ministers. Only a couple of years ago one of my hon. Friends introduced a Bill to improve the conditions in foundries, and the argument from the benches opposite was that the whole matter should be dealt with by regulations; and in fact regulations were introduced in order to prevent my hon. Friend from proceeding with the Bill, which would have arranged for exactly what we wanted to be put in an Act of Parliament in black-and-white.
I wonder what is the substance of the arguments against the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend not only on the way in which he brought forward the Bill and on its subject matter but also because he has shown that a private Member can—and in my opinion should—bring forward a substantial Measure and need not content himself with a two or three-Clause Bill which he gets out of a Government pigeon-hole. When an hon. Member has the good fortune to have a whole Parliamentary day at his disposal, then it is a failure if he does not attempt to deal with some substantial matters which need attention.
The argument has been well developed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) and others about 746 the delay since the Gowers Committee made its recommendations. In July, 1951, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), then Home Secretary, said, in answer to a Question of mine, that before the end of that year discussions would be proceeding with the unions and that he hoped that shortly thereafter legislation could be prepared and introduced. But since the change of Government, unhappily, in 1951 we have had nothing but stone-walling from the Box on the many occasions on which my hon. Friends and I have raised the matter.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Leek would be quite prepared to withdraw his Bill if he had a firm undertaking from the Box that a Bill would be produced in this Session to cover these points. My hon. Friend has been at great pains to try to reach full agreement not only with the unions but also with the other interests involved, and I am sure that it would have been easy for the Home Secretary in November, when my hon. Friend announced his choice of subject, to have said, "Let us get together and produce a Bill and take advantage of the Parliamentary time available to private Members." If I may adapt a familiar saying, the ordinary people working in these industries take the view that a Bill on the Floor of the House is better than two better Bills in a Government pigeon-hole. That is the view we should all take if we were working in the kind of conditions which many hon. Members have described.
My interest is largely in Clause 1 and the First Schedule, for my union, the Clerical and Administrative Workers' Union, have been campaigning—I do not think for quite as long as the shop assistants, but at least for 40 or 50 years—about the need for an Offices Regulation Bill. The case for the clerical workers was put admirably by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger).
I do not want to take up time by going into great detail on the recommendations which have been made for office workers. Bearing in mind the limitations of generalisations, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore said, obviously in many offices, as in many shops, the conditions are above the standards laid down here; and in generalisations one is always open to that exception. But there is a need for the provisions of the Bill.
747 I remember that at the annual conference of my union three or four years ago a colliery clerk, speaking in a discussion on; the Gowers Committee Report, said that where he worked a new mortuary had been built—a magnificent building—while at the same time, clerks were working in a leaky tin hut. I am glad to say that my union took this matter up, and it has been remedied, but, despite what the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely said about human nature and about people who ought not to let others work in conditions in which they would not work themselves, it is a fact that in many cases, unless they are obliged to do so, employers will not provide the minimum conditions which we regard as necessary.
I will not elaborate the case about underground offices. In my judgment, and that of my union, subject to the licensing proposed in the Bill, underground office work should be stopped. Rest rooms for office workers are at the moment almost non-existent and it is quite usual for clerks to have to eat their mid-day sandwiches on the desks at which they work, often in buildings where no decent drinking water is available. Toilet facilities in many office buildings are totally inadequate. I can speak from personal knowledge about the facilities for males and I understand that the facilities for females are often very much worse.
The union has from time to time taken up these points and brought about improvements, but I can tell the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely that not everyone takes the view which he takes—that managers and directors should not want conditions for themselves which are better than those of their workers. In many office buildings two or three toilets are kept locked for the use of certain managerial grades or directors and probably five or six people have the use of three or four lavatories, while there is another, single lavatory serving a staff or 30 or 40 of both sexes. We need a Bill of this sort.
Turning to the question of first aid, over the last 20 or 30 years, particularly since the war, a vast amount of office machinery has been introduced. Office work today is largely mechanised and 748 there is a possibility of injury—not a major injury whereby people may lose their lives, but injuries to fingers and other injuries which, if properly treated, will readily heal. The need for first-aid equipment to deal with such cases is overwhelming.
I do not want to go further into matters of detail, but I am sure that if the Bill reaches the Committee, as I hope it will, any defects can be remedied. My union takes the view that the standards in the Bill and the standards of the Gowers Committee are by any judgment modest, but we are prepared to sacrifice the standards which we should like in order to achieve the standards which the Bill prescribes.
One great weakness of the Bill is that the enforcement machinery is not as cleat and as strong as we should like. I do not blame my hon. Friend for that, because it arises from the technical difficulties which a private Member has about a Money Resolution. In case anyone wishes to criticise the Bill on this account, I would point out that it is a simple matter which the Government can remedy. If, in replying to the debate, the Minister announces that the Government will give a Money Resolution to the Bill, then in Committee we can introduce new and more effective enforcement provisions. I hope that in his reply the Minister will say that we shall get a Money Resolution and get the full support of the Government in Committee in order to put the Bill through.
As many hon. Members have said, we do not want to make a political issue of this matter, but I am bound to tell the House that if the Government view is that which has been expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely and the right hon. Member for Epsom, then we shall have to draw our own conclusions; and I am bound to say that for my part I shall be obliged to recommend those conclusions to the clerks, shop assistants, railway and agricultural workers with whom I come into contact, because I cannot see that there is any possible excuse which would convince me that the Government could not already have introduced a Bill. As they have failed to do it, I can see no reason why they should not assist my hon. Friend to make his Bill an Act of Parliament.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. Heathcoat Amory)
The subject of this Bill is one of very great importance, and, in the regretted absence of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary—an absence for which he has apologised to the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), as the hon. Gentleman himself said—it falls to me to express the Government's view upon it.
I should like, if I may, to say with very great respect that I thought the hon. Member for Leek and his seconder, the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger) put their case extremely well. They put it in a very eloquent, very feeling and very agreeable way. The hon. Member for Leek sounded a light note in persuading us that the absence of this Bill would cause serious interference in the supply of dentures to hon. and right hon. Members of this House. I suppose that we are hard on our dentures because we gnash our teeth so much.
The hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South told us the story of the "black hole" in which she was accommodated. I hope it was not in either the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries or the Ministry of Food. It is quite true that the absence of a statutory code for working conditions in non-industrial employment leaves an unjustifiable gap in our protective legislation such as the Factories Act, which provides employees with safe and decent conditions.
Irrespective of party, all of us are proud of the long tradition of legislation of this kind which successive Parliaments have introduced ever since the days of Lord Shaftesbury. When I used to be an employer myself, I was very conscious of the need of further provision in this field.
The Gowers Committee on Non-Industrial Employment produced an excellent Report in 1949. Since then, the Government Departments concerned have translated the Committee's recommendations, or many of them, into concrete proposals, and have circulated these proposals to a very great number of interested organisations as a basis for discussion and as a basis for future legislation. A vast amount of comment 750 on these proposals has been received and has been given detailed consideration.
We must remember that, as has been pointed out already in some excellent speeches, non-industrial employment covers a terrific range of various types of workplaces in which conditions vary very much indeed, and, in tithe circumstances, it is of the highest importance to ensure that every factor and every point of view is taken into account before legislation is passed. I feel that we are indebted to the hon. Member for Leek for providing us with the opportunity of debating this matter, and I want to say straight away that we are in entire agreement with the general object of the Bill. I am sure that that is not what he would regard as a kind of sugary observation from me. but a sincere affirmation of the Government's view.
I feel that there is a gap in our legislation in this field, and we mean and intend to see that that gap is filled. As Minister of Agriculture, I am particularly concerned that matters regarding agriculture and forestry are dealt with as soon as possible, with particular emphasis on safety. I agree with almost every word of the speech of the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch), except perhaps a little bit where he was courteous but implied a criticism of the Government for not having done something. I would exclude that. I agree with everything that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard). There is no reason at all for us to be complacent about the number of accidents occurring in agriculture.
The views which hon. Members have expressed so far, and those that will be expressed during the remainder of the debate, will be of great value to the Government in the preparation of legislation, if this Bill is not passed. I refer to Government legislation because I am bound to say that I believe that this matter ought to be dealt with by Government legislation. In saying that, I intend not the slightest disrespect to the hon. Member for Leek, nor do I forget the many useful and important Measures that have been passed as Private Members' Bills.
In the Government's considered opinion, this subject is much too wide and complex to be dealt with properly by a Private Member's Bill. This Bill 751 affects the rights and interests, and even the livelihood, of very large numbers of employees and of owners and occupiers of premises, including very many in a small way of business. We have only to repeat the main categories of premises that will be dealt with—shops, offices, catering establishments, clubs, theatres, music-halls, cinemas, bus garages, coal depots, the dental mechanics' premises which we have heard about. railway premises, and, of course, agriculture and forestry.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
The right hon. Gentleman should add those not brought within the scope of the Bill, because it is difficult to legislate for them—the number of domestic workers in this country, approximately one million, who must also be catered for in comprehensive legislation.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) will agree that it is a very wide field indeed and it covers, I believe, nine million workers. I believe it is something like that. [HON. MEMBERS: "No. 12 million."] Well, I will not dispute that. It is a very substantial proportion, and, if it is 12 million, then I suppose it is about half the total. I thought it was nine million, but I do not think there is much between us there.
We feel that any Government is in duty bound to assume direct responsibility for such a Measure as we are talking about today. If we are to ensure that a just balance is maintained between the vital and proper interests concerned, and also make sure that all the many points that will inevitably arise in the course of Parliamentary discussion are considered, such a Bill must be given proper scope. Moreover, we must see that in legislation of this kind that provisions are not only fair to all parties, but that they are provisions that can be effectively enforced. It is only too easy to devise provisions which represent good intentions, but that is of no use unless we can make sure that those intentions can be carried out in practice.
The point that seems to me to be of great importance in connection with a Bill of this scope is that we should enable it to receive the amount of Parliamentary time that it will obviously need. It must 752 receive adequate Parliamentary time, and we cannot see how that could possibly be provided if it is a Private Member's Bill. A short discussion on Second Reading on one Friday is not enough for a Bill of this sort, and I cannot see on any possible hypothesis that sufficient time could be provided for a Bill to deal with a subject of this magnitude during the present Session.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
The Minister told the House, if I heard him rightly, that he cannot see how there can be any possible chance during this Session of introducing a Bill. But we have been given the impression that there has been continuous discussion between the unions and the Home Secretary and that they have such a Bill in readiness to put on the Statute Book. Where is that Bill? Could it not be introduced this Session if the Government really had the heart to do it?
The point I am trying to make is that, in my opinion, a sufficient amount of Parliamentary time could not be found during the remainder of this Session, though clearly I do not know how long this Session will run. I will say that sufficient time could not be found to do justice to this important Measure.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale), in what I thought was an excellent speech, reminded us of the Factories Act, 1937, and of the amount of time that it required. I believe that it required 27 Committee sittings. during the course of which 580 Amendments were dealt with. I think the Government have had a good record in their three years of legislation on this kind of work. We had the Mines and Quarries Act, the Food and Drugs Act, the Baking Industry (Hours of Work) Act, and the Agriculture (Poisonous Substances) Act. We are very sorry that it has not been possible so far to find time for this important Measure.
I do not want to press debating points on a subject where there is so much broad agreement between the parties, but I think it is up to me to point out two or three of the defects we see in this Bill in substantiation of what I have said. First, I will say a word about Ministerial responsibility under the Bill. The Bill makes the Secretary of State for the Home 753 Department responsible for everything, including making very important regulations for railway premises and employment in agriculture and forestry. As to conditions of employment in railway premises—
§ Mrs. Jeger
It was in the minds of the sponsors of the Bill that, as it was to the Home Secretary that the Gowers Committee reported, at this stage it would be proper to relate the Bill to the Home Secretary, but that is a matter which could be considered later.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for pointing that out, but if I may follow this question a little further, I think she will see what I am driving at. We think that railway premises would more properly be a matter for the Minister of Labour and matters related to agriculture and food to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries and the Secretary of State for Scotland.
The second point in the Bill about which we are unhappy is the way in which it seeks to prescribe standards. We are not quarrelling with what, I imagine, is the general intention of the Bill—that certain standards should be laid down and the Minister given further discretionary powers—but we think the way in which that is done is rather topsy-turvy. The usual practice in legislation of this kind is to lay down requirements in general terms and leave it to the Minister to fill in the details in accordance with specific needs and in the light of experience. That I think is the sensible, empirical approach essentially to be adopted in a Measure in which one has to allow to a Minister discretion in a variety of circumstances.
This Bill seems to adopt almost the opposite approach. It sets out the requirements in considerable detail in Schedules and then requires—not merely enables, but requires—the Secretary of State to make regulations giving effect to those minimum requirements. Having tied the hands of the Secretary of State in that curious way, the Bill then seeks to give the Secretary of State almost unlimited additional powers. If I understand it rightly, in effect the Secretary of State would have power to make regulations to prescribe any standard of working conditions generally for the purposes of 754the better protection of the health, safety and welfare of persons employed at any of the premisesto which the Bill would apply.
Although in agriculture conditions are very different from those in factories and where, I think, wide powers may be needed, I cannot think that in all cases it is right for Parliament to delegate to any Minister powers on the scale proposed in this Bill. Nor do I think it really necessary to do so. I did not quite agree with what the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said about the 1937 Factories Act. I think that Act proceeds on rather different lines and defines much more closely the various fields in which the Minister can make regulations.
Also under the Bill the Secretary of State is given astoundingly wide powers to say by whom the Act should be enforced. Clause 14 (1) says:Any regulation made by the Secretary of State under any provisions of this Act shall be enforced by such authority and administered in such manner as the Secretary of State may prescribe.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
I quite agree, but the right hon. Gentleman is now taking advantage of a private Member, for he knows full well that a private Member cannot introduce a financial Clause in a Private Member's Bill. I very much resent selecting a fiddling Committee point like that when it could be adjusted completely if the Government had the courage to take over the Bill.
I do not think it is really a fiddling Committee point that I am making. I am pointing out a series of defects. Although the hon. Member may not agree, I say that cumulatively those defects are such that the Bill cannot be amended successfully at a later stage to meet the situation. That is the substance of my argument.
§ Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)
I have not yet heard a word from the right hon. Gentleman why all the things he has mentioned cannot be dealt with by amendment in Committee?
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to go a little further; then I will sum up. As I understand it, the Bill leaves the Secretary of State responsible for deciding who shall administer and enforce the Act—to decide, for instance, whether local authorities should 755 do so and, if so, what local authorities and in what way they should do it. That seems to us to give a Minister power to make the sort of decisions which normally are the prerogative of Parliament.
I cannot think that a Bill on these lines with these powers given to the Minister would commend itself to the House, or be at all acceptable to local authorities. I agree that the requirements of the Bill are broadly in line with the recommendations of the Gowers Committee Report. But I think that in some ways some of them—I am not going into detail here, because I do not think this the right moment to do so—seem too rigid and would not prove workable.
The Clause dealing with the railways problem has been over-simplified by the hon. Member for Leek. Railways are a special problem of great complexity. There is a tremendous variety in their premises and in the use of those premises. Here I do not blame the hon. Member, because I think he has had an impossible task to compress into the scope of the Bill everything that is required. I do not think it could possibly be done. The result is a fault running through the Bill, which I might call over-simplification of the problem.
There is one matter on which I do not think the Bill goes far enough. I have pointed out its wide scope. It applies to a very great many premises, but, in addition, there are a number of miscellaneous premises and work places to which it does not apply. Those could be most easily identified and the requirements which should be applied to them decided upon after some experience of the general legislation has been gained. But under these proposals, I understand, the Secretary of State would not be able to extend the operation of the Act to any types of work places other than those specified in it.
I mention some of these defects as illustrations. When we listed these objections and looked at them very carefully, we came to the conclusion that, cumulatively, they were such that it would be impossible to make a successful comprehensive Bill out of this Measure. I am very sorry indeed to be critical of the precise provisions of the Bill. I simply hate pouring cold water on the hon. Gentleman's proposals. I admire his initiative, and, as I 756 have mentioned, the Government are in entire agreement with the general objective of the Bill.
The Government have already made it clear that it is their intention to introduce legislation of, broadly, the same scope. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] As soon as Parliamentary time can be found.
§ Mrs. Jeger
Does the right hon. Gentleman expect the people of the country to accept that assurance from a Government which have found time to raise rents, derequisition houses and introduce commercial television and all sorts of other things which are of much less importance?
I certainly see no reason to be ashamed of the legislative record of the present Government. It is not only the legislation which we have passed, but the fact that we have a programme of desirable legislation which we are looking forward to introducing in the future. When we come to put that programme before the electorate, I am quite sure that they will say, "You must have another five years in which to carry it out."
I repeat the assurance that we mean to introduce legislation in this field as soon as Parliamentary time can be found for it. A great deal of the work of preparing that legislation has been done, and it is simply and solely the shortage of Parliamentary time which prevents it being introduced.
One thing which the Government in this Parliament have tried to do is not to overwork the House of Commons unreasonably. I think that hon. Members will agree that they have had about as much work to do as could be done efficiently. One of the mistakes that the last Government made was in working the House legislatively rather too much like a sausage machine from which ill-thought out legislation was exuded.
We intend to introduce legislation just as soon as we can, and I would advise hon. Members on this occasion to wait for that Government legislation which will do much better justice to the object which we all have in mind than would a Private Member's Bill, however well devised.
§ 2.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
Before I begin my speech, I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman a specific question. Will 757 the Government undertake to introduce the Bill of which he spoke, and to mention it in the next Queen's Speech?
I am afraid that I have no authority to give an assurance of that kind. I cannot go one word beyond what I have already said, that we intend to introduce this legislation as soon as Parliamentary time can be found.
§ Mr. Robens
The Minister will understand that that sort of offer is valueless to us on this side of the House. It is well known in these circles that the Government have been scraping the bottom of the barrel in order to produce a legislative programme, and it is quite untrue to say that the Conservative Party can produce a programme to put before the electorate, because they can do nothing of the kind. All they do is to put promises before the electorate, which they proceed to break when they get to power. There is plenty of evidence of that.
Quite frankly, it is nonsense for the right hon. Gentleman to say—when one considers what legislation has been produced by the Government on behalf of their friends—that they will neglect the 12 million workers who are covered by this Bill. It is not a question of working the House hard. We are all ready to work the House hard on legislation that is worth while, and we should all be ready to work hard in a non-party spirit to produce a Bill that would implement the Gowers Committee Report. We should lend every possible assistance to see that such a Bill was properly considered and placed on the Statute Book.
It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman has been put up to speak in order to tell the House the unpleasant fact that the Government are not prepared to accept the Bill. The Government will pay lip service to the principle, and they will tell us that when Parliamentary time is available they will implement it, but we have no knowledge of when that Parliamentary time will be available. From their record over the past few years, it is perfectly clear that the necessary Parliamentary time will not be forthcoming.
When I came into the House this morning and discovered that the Minister of Agriculture was to speak on the Bill, I immediately came to the conclusion that he was going to tell us that the Govern- 758 ment could not accept it, because, otherwise, I was quite sure that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department would have been at the Box, and, in his usual efficient way, would have dealt with the Bill and been ready to say that the Government accepted it and would help it forward.
We are very fond of the Minister of Agriculture, and the Government know that we are. He is always put up to defend the weak cases of the Government. This morning, although this Bill is almost completely outside his Department—he has only one aspect of it to deal with as it affects agriculture—there is not the slightest doubt that the Government have used him once again, as they used a previous Minister who has gone to another place, to bring bad tidings, and to indicate to the Opposition, in the rather nice way that he is able to do it, that they cannot accept what we are putting forward.
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has in any way indicated that the Bill could not have been accepted and given a Second Reading, or that we could not have dealt with all the defects in it, as he sees them, in Committee. What are the defects? One of them is that the Secretary of State for Home Affairs is mainly responsible for everything in the Bill. If the Government do not think that that should be so, and that the railways should be the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour and agricultural matters the responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland, then those are points with which we could deal in Committee. We should not be difficult about matters of that kind.
Then the right hon. Gentleman says that the provisions about standards are topsy-turvy, that we set minimum requirements in the Bill, and subsequently give too great a power to the Minister. Those again are matters which can be discussed and put right in Committee. I do not accept the list of defects which the right hon. Gentleman has produced as the reason why the Government cannot permit this Private Member's Bill to go forward, because that reason bears no relation to the facts.
It is perfectly clear that the Government are not ready to permit us to get on with this legislation which deals with 759 these 12 million workers. I think that all the 12 million non-industrial workers concerned ought to feel very grateful indeed to my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) who, having been successful in the Ballot, chose this very important subject for a Private Member's Bill.
I, as one who has been associated with him, have been able to see the enormous amount of work that he has done on the Bill in an honest endeavour to reproduce in it the Gowers Committee's recommendations. My hon. Friend has done this without any regard to party politics, and because it is the sort of legislation that must be enacted sooner or later. My hon. Friend has gone to an enormous amount of trouble, in meeting the various trade unions and others concerned, in order to produce a Bill that could be acceptable to the Government.
I think that it will be a matter of great distress to many millions of workers, judging from the letters which most of us will have received from them and from their trade union organisations, that the Government are not prepared to help to get this Private Member's Bill through the House. I wonder whether it is because many of the workers in shops and in the other non-industrial fields covered by this Bill are not so highly organised as are the members of the National Union of Mineworkers, and whether that is the real reason why we have not had this legislation before.
I doubt whether there is a single miner who is not a member of the National Union of Mineworkers. As a result, the right hon. Gentleman was able to tell us today that part of the legislation which the Government have been able to put through the House has been the Mines and Quarries Act. A good deal of that work was done in the time of the Labour Government, indeed when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power.
The present Government took up what we had done, and carried it through to a conclusion. I am very glad of it, but I wonder whether the Government would have bothered if the mineworkers had not been so highly organised. Is it not the fact that all these people working in slum offices, in the shocking conditions which have been described from this side 760 of the House today, are not being listened to by the Government and right hon. Gentlemen opposite because they are not well organised?
A few days ago, the Minister of Labour placed before the House a White Paper relating to the International Labour Conference. A number of the recommendations of that conference have been carried out. The standing of Great Britain at the International Labour Office in Geneva is extremely high. We are looked upon as a nation in the forefront of those carrying out protective legislation for workers.
At Geneva, a recommendation was approved concerning the protection of the health of workers in their places of employment. Here we have a White Paper showing that, whilst the Government can accept this recommendation, they must do so with reservations. What are the reservations? They say that legislation affecting the protection of the health of workers in such employment is a comprehensive matter and the Government are consulting with the interests concerned with a view to introducing a Bill.
If the Government were really sincere about carrying out the recommendation of the International Labour Conference they would not have placed a White Paper with reservations before the House. They would have said that they could accept the recommendation because legislation was before the House now to implement those parts of the recommendation which need to be implemented if the recommendation is to be accepted by the United Kingdom. It is important that the United Kingdom should be a speedy signatory to the recommendation of the International Labour Conference. The Government are dealing most unfairly with the I.L.O. and with the non-industrial workers of the country in that when they have an opportunity of dealing with something to which they give lip service they fail so to do.
It would be wrong for me to take up too much time in indicating some of the disgraceful conditions in which this class of people work, and I do not propose to do so now. I do, however, draw attention to the fact that the Bill would make a great contribution to health and hygiene. The Minister of Food and the Minister of Health have made many speeches in 761 the House and the country indicating that they want higher standards of cleanliness. The Bill would have given them an opportunity of doing something about it, but they reject that opportunity. I will merely quote two cases which have come to my knowledge through my union, the Union of Distributive and Allied Workers.
In Manchester, for example, there is a mixed staff of seven people employed in an office and warehouse. Only one toilet is provided, and that has to be reached through the warehouse. I refer to only the bigger towns and cities. In a place in Croydon where there is a mixed staff there is no lavatory accommodation at all. The staff have to use the public conveniences three minutes' walk away from their place of employment. Can the Minister really say that he can accept a situation like that? There are men and women serving consumers in shops, and handling many packages that go into homes, who have no lavatory accommodation and have to go to the public conveniences.
Can the Minister say that it is not necessary to have this Bill on the Statute Book when the washing facilities in many of these places are deplorable? Where a tap is provided it is sometimes only a cold-water tap. Would the Minister like to be served by a shop assistant who has to use a lavatory where hands can only be rinsed in cold water? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) seems to be suggesting that these are exceptional cases—he says, "cant"—
§ Mr. Fell
I have never heard such nonsense, because no fewer than two hon. Members opposite have said today that people have been trying, for 60 years in the one case, and 50 years in the other. to get Measures to deal with this kind of thing passed by the House. Why did the right hon. Gentleman not do something when he was in power?
§ Mr. Robens
Surely the answer to the hon. Member. who does not like these unpleasant facts being brought to light, is that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who was then Home Secretary, who set up the Gowers Committee in order that there could be comprehensive legislation. Everyone appreciates that it is a good thing to have a Committee to examine 762 a problem completely. One always recognises that, when one has received a Report of the immensity of the Gowers Report, covering so many people, it must inevitably take considerable time to meet all the interests concerned.
One does not complain if, after a Report like that is received, two years are spent in exploring the ground, meeting employers, local authorities, medical officers of health, trade unions, and everyone else, to consider the effects of legislation. But six years have now passed, and the work done when the present Government took over was sufficiently advanced for them to have proceeded much more rapidly and to have brought forward a Bill.
I should like the hon. Member fat Yarmouth to go to a railway siding, particularly in winter-time, and see the conditions under which men who deliver fuel to his house have to work. Very often they have no lavatory accommodation at all, and they have to use the most crude facilities to relieve the human necessities of men working in those conditions. Is it not right that we should have a Bill to deal with the improvement of those conditions? Is it right that men who deliver coal in winter-time should have no place to dry their clothes, and should be unable to wash their hands before they have a meal in a hut on the railway-side? The hon. Member should think twice before he says "cant," and he should get around a little more.
§ Mr. Fell
It is conceivable that the right hon. Gentleman is not the only person in the world who has seen the conditions under which men work. If the site to which he has just referred is such a disgrace to the country, and has been such a disgrace for decades, why did he not do something about that limited side of this question?
§ Mr. Robens
I suggest to the hon. Member that he reads HANSARD tomorrow. I have just answered that question. He now claims that he himself has gone round to see these sorts of conditions. I do not understand why, if he has, he should describe as "cant" a description of conditions which he says he knows about.
§ Mr. Robens
The hon. Gentleman would rather spend his time on commercial television than on matters of this kind.
§ Dr. Stross
Is it not interesting to note, in paragraph 2 of the Report, the statement by the Chairman himself, who so clearly sets out why, at the time he presented the Report, it was, in his opinion, not possible to implement the provisions suggested in the Report? Now that so many years have gone by since that Report was issued there is no substance in the argument of the hon. Member for Yarmouth.
§ Mr. Robens
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but the hon. Gentleman, whose contribution is to say "cant" about a serious subject, has obviously not read the Gowers Committee's Report. He has to debate, perhaps, merely because he happens to be in the building today. Indeed, if it were not for the Government Whip he probably would not be here at all.
However, time is getting on, and I know that many of my hon. Friends, and, I am sure, many hon. Gentlemen opposite, too, want to take part in the debate, and so I shall conclude by telling the right hon. Gentleman that we reject his arguments why the Government cannot agree to the Second Reading of the Bill, because the arguments, in our view, are fallacious. They do not appear to us to have any ground whatsoever. Time could be found for the Bill, and in consideration of it in Committee alterations could be made to it, if alterations should be needed. We are very disappointed that the Government are not prepared to accept the Bill, and we shall have to take steps to see what we can do in the Division Lobby to express our disappointment and enforce our demand.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Remnant (Wokingham)
I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) on many occasions with a great deal of interest and a great deal of pleasure, so I am sorry to say that today he has fallen far below his usual high standard. Hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House have declared that they are in favour of the objects of the Bill and we have been debating merely methods of attaining those objects. There were no party politics about the debate until 764 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth introduced them.
§ Mr. Robens rose—
§ Mr. Remnant
I shall declare any interest I have. I am not a farmer. I am, however, an employer of labour. That, however, does not forbid my expressing a view of what the right hon. Gentleman said. Has he no other interest himself than as a representative in this House of a trade union?
§ Mr. Robens
We on this side of the House have the interests of the workers of Britain at heart. When the hon. Member declares his interest, let him say whether or not legislation of this kind is required in pubs and other places.
§ Mr. Remnant
I invite the right hon. Gentleman to see my office or any other accommodation of any business in which I am concerned at any time he likes to name.
When my right hon. Friend says legislation will be introduced as soon as Parliamentary time is available, the right hon. Gentleman retorts that he does not believe it. How then, when he says that the party behind him, for which I presume he is speaking, will not be difficult in Committee, can he expect me to believe that—me or anybody else on this side? What right has he to expect that at the moment?
However, let us return from this rather unfortunate episode which the right hon. Gentleman introduced to the Bill, and let me say to the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) that I congratulate him on his luck in the Ballot and on his having introduced this subject, and that I entirely agree with him in the object he seeks to achieve. However, without being in the least difficult, I hope that he will agree that this is not the moment, and 765 that the time for it will be when the internal economy is not subject to the same strains and stresses.
Last night the hon. Member was seeking to attack the Government for not giving proper help to the small farmer. He asked:What policy can we adopt to save the small farmer from bankruptcy?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st March, 1955; Vol. 539, c. 659.]Is it one of the hon. Member's methods to add to his expenditure? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] These proposals probably would, and they would add to the cost of living of the workers we want to help. I have said that I agree with the hon. Gentleman's objects, and I agree that they should be attained at the earliest possible moment, but I am arguing that this is not the most practicable time.
For instance, it is extremely difficult to get builders today. In my own mind I have allotted certain priorities to the interests of all sections of the community. I place them as housing, schools, hospitals. I do so on the basis that the effects of good education are lost in bad homes, and that bad homes make hospital cases.
My way of looking at it is that I believe that an agreed Measure would be likely to achieve its objectives, which are real safety measures, very much better than legislation imposed in this fashion, and I wonder how much we should lose by spending a little more time in getting such an agreed Measure in relation to what is being done in connection with the provision of homes, hospitals, schools, water, electricity and so on, because it must be accepted that one cannot do all of that at one and the same time.
I would agree that one would like some limit to the time in which Government legislation could be introduced. I am sure we should all agree, for a number of reasons, that a Government Measure is preferable to a Private Member's Bill. That is not suggesting that the hon. Member is wrong in what he proposes, but a Government Measure would be preferable because of the wider sphere that it could cover, and because of the consultations that could take place. Discussions have been going on for a number of years, and we have been told that they are nearing conclusion. If it meant waiting another six months to get agreement between all the bodies concerned and the Government, I should be 766 inclined to wait six months for that agreement, knowing the stresses on the building trade, because I believe we should benefit by it.
I do not want to go into too much detail. I want, however, to mention one angle. In the Bill, responsibility is put upon the occupier. It may well be the occupier's responsibility, but it may well not be his responsibility at all. It could be the owner's responsibility or that of the individual worker, or a modicum of responsibility could be borne by all three. Having regard to what I think the hon. Member had in mind, the responsibility for providing conveniences must be the responsibility of either the occupier or the owner and certainly not that of the individual worker, but I am sure he would agree that in many cases an accident is not the responsibility of the occupier or the owner.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch) referred to the number of accidents in which children were involved. I wondered whether the children were actually employees or were being given a ride on the back of a tractor or sharing the seat, as so often happens when a good-natured fellow gives his younger brother or sister, as he thinks, a bit of fun. That is a highly dangerous practice and one which might well be barred.
Clause 6 (2) places responsibility for registration on the occupier, but little guidance is given to him as to what the phrases really mean. I admit at once that I cannot suggest more satisfactory wording. However, I look at it as if I were a farmer. Subsection (2, b) says:any land or premises where persons are regularly or temporarily employed …Let us take forestry as an example. As one block is felled, the work shifts to another. What is to happen about the hot and cold water provision in such circumstances? There will probably be no gas, except Calor gas, and it will probably be necessary for the workers to carry with them the water that they require. Is it to be installed at each place of work and then taken out, or what?
While not wishing to discuss the imposition of rules and regulations for agriculture, the task is made much more difficult by trying to make the legislation cover both offices and agriculture. For instance, there is an excellent point about first-aid equipment, but is an open shed 767 housing a tractor "premises" and is a plough or a hay lift, which will not be used for more than three weeks in the year, within that category? In all humility, I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that if he would separate those two aspects, he would find it easier to achieve his objective.
I am prepared to accept the word of my right hon. Friend that he will introduce legislation based on the Gowers Report at the earliest practicable moment, but I suspect that the reason why he cannot say when, is because he also is waiting to get agreement and that this agreement has not yet been reached.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
Discussions have been going on. I have endeavoured to introduce this legislation because I am aware that the discussions are completed and that a Bill in embryo has already been considered by Her Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. Remnant
May I follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) by asking how the hon. Member for Leek knows that the consultations are finished and that agreement has been reached?
§ Mr. Remnant
Then I presume that applies to me. I accept the word of the hon. Member for Leek that he is now fully satisfied that consultations have been finished, and if my hon. Friend and his colleagues would be prepared to say when he expects agreement to be reached, and when he hopes to be able to introduce legislation resulting therefrom, we might get some distance forward on the agreed objective which nearly all of us want on this matter.
§ 3.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
I would be willing for a vote to be taken now, and I know that my hon. Friends would like that, but I have an idea that this discussion would still be continued by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and that is the reason for 768 my intervention after the Minister has spoken.
I will preface my remarks by attempting to give an answer to the first query of the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant). Why should he believe we would not be difficult in Committee? The answer is obvious: because we believe in the merits of this Bill and because we believe, and particularly the trade union movement believes, in the necessity for implementing the Gowers Report. That is an assurance from this side of the House that we would not be difficult about any Amendment brought forward by the Government which was calculated to implement the findings of the Gowers Committee.
§ Mr. Remnant
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that that is a reason for urgent action rather than a reason for disbelieving the statement of the Minister?
§ Mr. Popplewell
That is the reason why I say we would not be difficult in Committee. I have said that in answer to the charge by the hon. Gentleman, and it is my only reason for mentioning the point.
This debate has revealed the different ideological approach of each side of the House on this matter. In speech after speech we have heard hon. Gentlemen opposite agreeing that something should be done. What a typical Tory outlook this is. All down the ages the Tories have agreed that something should be done, but that the time was not ripe. For instance, they said that of the Health Service and a number of other things as well. Their cry always is, "Yes, it is a very worthy object but the time is not yet ripe." I wonder how long it will be before the time is ripe for the Tories to introduce a Measure on the lines of my hon. Friend's Bill.
I thought that the Minister's speech was a big disappointment, and it will be to many people in the country. As has already been stated, the Gowers Committee was set up on 1st January, 1946. It issued its final Report in March, 1949. It was set up at the instigation of my right hon. Friends when they were in office because they knew, through the 60 years of agitation to which reference has been made today, of the difficulties, particularly of the non-manual and 769 clerical workers, to obtain anything like a reasonable standard of employment conditions. The Committee was set up within a few months of their taking office.
It took the Committee some three and a quarter years to finalise its Report. The Government have had it for six years. Each hon. Member from the Government side of the House who has spoken today has paid lip service to the suggestions contained in the Report. They have agreed that something should be done, but then they have trotted out the old argument that the time is not yet ripe. How many more years of discussion do they want before the time is ripe?
Of course this is all a facade, an excuse for delay. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Wokingham asked how we knew that the discussions have been completed. I venture to suggest that many of the employers' organisations which are represented on the other side of the House also know that these discussions with the Trades Union Congress have been completed for a considerable time. If the Minister has anything further to say I hope he will tell us whether it is correct that he has been under constant pressure from the Trades Union Congress to introduce a Bill. Is it not correct that the Cabinet have decided that such matters as independent television, the British Museum Bill and various other subjects will have precedence?
§ Mr. Popplewell
Yes, look after the brewers, look after the pubs and the like, because they are far more important to Government supporters than is a Bill such as this. To use the excuse that there is not the Parliamentary time is, I think, one of the most despicable reasons for not introducing a Bill similar to this.
There is an overwhelming case for such a Bill, and I would remind the House that the Statute Book is full of Acts of Parliament which attempt in some way or another to ameliorate conditions for employees in industry. Surely the time is long overdue when a consolidating, comprehensive Measure should be brought in to bring the whole subject into line with modern thought. Many of the offices, establishments and places which work-people are expected to use are typical of 770 what used to exist in the days of Charles Dickens. I am not saying that is general, but they are to be found in certain types of employment.
I do not want to overpaint the picture, but the time has come when a Bill should be passed to get rid of that particular type of thing in the industrial life of the nation. The right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) and some of his hon. Friends stated that they were afraid of Government action, that they were afraid of the power of Government interference, and that was one of the reasons they advanced against this Bill.
The need for Government interference was realised by pre-war Governments when they produced the Factories Acts. [HON. MEMBERS: "They resisted them."] They did resist them. But it was realised that it was impossible to rely upon the good will of many employers to bring about anything approaching reasonable conditions. That was true then, and it is true today.
The good will of a number of employers cannot be relied upon. One can rely on some of the employers. We do not want to overpaint the picture and say that every employer is bad. That would be wrong. Nevertheless, there are shocking individuals over whom there must be Government control.
Using the same argument, one could say that Her Majesty's tax inspectors have no right to interfere with people who evade Income Tax. That is the power of Government interference, and to argue that the Bill should not be given a Second Reading because it is Government interference is a very weak argument indeed.
Many trade unions and millions of trade unionists think that they have been badly let down by the Government. There were the difficult post-war years when the trade unions had tremendous power and could have gone ahead with wage claims. They held their people in check, hoping that they would receive reasonable understanding from the Government. We gave them that understanding, and we worked with them.
What has happened since? We established the Gowers Committee in 1946, and three and a quarter years passed before it issued its findings. Then we were faced with two General Elections before we could complete the discussions 771 and talks. This Government is now shockingly letting down the trade unions on this issue. That is typical. I do not want to occupy too much time of the House because the generalities of the case are paramount, and many hon. Members have quoted individual cases.
I have a vast experience of railways, and I know that hundreds of thousands of railway men are not covered by any Act, not even by the Factories Act or anything of that description. Let me place on record that railway men who know the facts appreciate what the British Transport Commission has attempted to do. They appreciate the fact that the Commission is spending about £25 million on certain welfare and other arrangements. The time for that has long been overdue.
Another witness to the good will of a nationalised undertaking is the National Coal Board. The Coal Board has voluntarily agreed to—at least it has not raised strong objection—and time has been found for the Mines and Quarries Act, which will cost the Coal Board millions of pounds. That was a very worthy Measure which was greatly needed in the industry. Time was found for that Measure, but when private industry is asked to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, there is a distinctly different line of approach.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) and those other hon. Members who are wholeheartedly behind the Bill would be only too delighted to withdraw the Measure if the Minister would give any indication of the date when the Government would introduce their Measure, which I guess is already in its final stages of drafting, if it is not already completed. It needs only the finishing touches. I think that it is a pretty intelligent guess. I invite the Minister to confirm or deny it. That would be a much more comprehensive Measure than this Bill because it would contain many details which it is impossible for a Private Member's Bill to cover.
If the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department intends to reply, I suggest that he pays attention and that he does not do so much smirking—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is a serious business. Hon. Gentlemen opposite 772 should have seen how the Joint Under-Secretary was smirking and carrying on when I was putting a very serious argument to the House. I ask for better treatment. Is that typical of the Tory Government when dealing with reasonable requests from the workers? It was a shocking exhibition. The hon. Gentleman should address himself more intelligently to the matter under discussion.
I was about to conclude by saying that, if the Minister cannot give the date when he proposes to introduce his Bill, I am convinced that the sponsors of this Measure would be only too willing, if it obtained a Second Reading, to let the Government take charge and to draft Amendments as a result of the negotiations which have already taken place between both sides of industry. Let there be hundreds of Amendments if the Government wish to make it comprehensive and to do the right thing. There will be no difficulty from us. We will co-operate to the utmost.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I should like to say that those of us who know my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department know that the charge of the hon. Member was grossly unfair. We know my hon. Friend to be deeply sincere and to be taking an immense interest in all the activities of the Department. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reconsider what he said.
§ Mr. Popplewell
I have heard what has been said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but the behaviour of the Joint Under-Secretary did not reflect what he said. The smirking grin on his face at that time certainly conveyed a different impression to my mind.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)
May I say that I was exchanging a remark on another matter with one of my hon. Friends? I am sorry if it upset the hon. Gentleman, but I did not really think that the charge he made was worth denying.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
I thought that the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) opened the debate in a most reasonable fashion, and moved the Motion in a manner to which nobody in the House could take exception. Not 773 only that, but the Motion was seconded by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger), who described herself as the "Member for Euston, King's Cross and St. Pancras" in an admirable speech which was entirely and utterly reasonable.
I do not wish to misquote either of the hon. Members, but I think I am right in saying they both stressed the fact that they did not wish to make this a party issue; that they thought it much better for everyone concerned if this Bill went through in a non-party atmosphere. Both hon. Members gave at least some credit to hon. Members on this side of the House for thinking that something should be done on these lines. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), who replied to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, will forgive my outburst against him. I thought that his speech did nothing but harm. I believe he was absent when the Motion was moved and seconded—no doubt unavoidably—
§ Mr. Robens
For the record in HANSARD, I left the Chamber at 11.45, and so I was present when the Motion was moved and seconded.
§ Mr. Fell
I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman. But that, of course, makes it much worse. He was present and heard the speeches of the hon. Member for Leek and the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South.
I do not know whether there is some new division in the party opposite—I cannot imagine that there is—and I presume, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman was attempting to help his hon. Friend and not to oppose him. But the right hon. Gentleman introduced vituperation of a purely party political nature, for the first time in this debate. which leads me to believe that he knows something about a coming General Election which I certainly do not know.
§ Mr. Robens
I spoke after the Minister had indicated that he refused to accept the Motion of my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Fell
The right hon. Gentleman is now in the position which I was in a short while ago. Now I have the Floor and he has not, and so I am able to spend a little more time in replying to his interruptions—which I must say were not nearly so good as mine.
774 The hon. Gentleman says, in effect, that the difference is that he was replying to my right hon. Friend, but, far from opposing the spirit and object of the Bill, in fact, my hon. Friend supported them. Are we then to believe that the hon. Member for Leek did not mean it when he said—I am not quoting his actual words, but the spirit of what he said—"What we are attempting to do is to get this matter rectified, and we do not want to make this a party issue"?
Are we to take it that the right hon. Gentleman was simply digging up any excuse he could find and using it as a political platform for his own personal advancement and for his party's advancement during the General Election which he thinks is coming? May I remind him that he should be a little careful about moving into the atmosphere of an Election. Had he found time today, not to consult the papers—because there are none—but to look at the "tape," I think that he would conclude that it would not be very advantageous for him to work up a General Election spirit.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
The hon. Member seems to have a sense of grievance because my right hon. Friend made this a party issue. But is it not the fact that the Government Whips will be on if we take a vote?
§ Mr. Fell
I do not know. [Laughter.] Right hon. and hon. Members may laugh, but, so far as I know, I am entitled to vote on this Measure as I wish. It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to treat this as a humorous matter, but it is not very funny. It is not a very funny matter for the right hon. Gentleman whose constituency I cannot think of, which is very rude of me—[HON. MEMBERS: "Blyth."]—the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). It is enough to annoy anybody when he imputes to everybody on this side of the House an interest in the matter only to the extent of paying lip-service to it.
§ Mr. Fell
A number of us on this side of the House feel very much as the hon. Member for Leek does. [Interruption.] I had not meant to speak for more than five minutes because I know that there are other hon. Members, particularly on the other side of the House, who want 775 to speak. If the right hon. Member for Blyth had cut his remarks down to about 20 minutes—he could have said all he wanted to say in three minutes—they would have had more time.
I think that a Bill of this nature is long overdue. I admit that. I speak as a Member who has been in the House only three years and has not had the opportunity of piloting a Bill through. There is no doubt that a Bill of this sort is needed. I may be wrong, for I am not a great expert on these matters, but it appears to me to be a matter of doing a botched job. I hope that the hon. Member for Leek will forgive me saying so, but it is impossible for him, in view of the resources at his disposal, to make more than a botched job of the vast issue which his Bill attempts to encompass. If his Bill were to go to a Committee, I am sure it would be there many weeks and it would be practically impossible to get it through. The alternative is a comprehensive Measure, or more than one Measure, because I agree that agriculture should be dealt with separately, presented by the Government, whether this Government or a Government of another complexion.
I hoped to hear my right hon. Friend not only say that the Government would bring in a Measure, but tell us when. Having listened to his speech and thought it over since, I can appreciate the reasons why, without being dishonest about it and without simply saying it for the sake of saying it, it is impossible for the Government at this stage to announce exactly when such a Bill could be brought in.
As a humble back bencher who has not been able to bring in a Private Member's Bill, I have the greatest admiration for the hon. Member for Leek, who must have gone to a great amount of trouble in preparing the Bill. What is more, he has done a tremendous service to the country in that the debate will have highlighted the problem. The Government will get into very serious trouble from me for one if the implied promise—indeed, the promise—to bring in legislation is not fulfilled in the very near future. If by any chance hon. and right hon. Members opposite should become the Government. and if I am still here, quite obviously, they will be committed to making it one of the first things they do.
§ Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)
Will the hon. Gentleman now put his hand on his heart and say whether this is not all double talk?
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) was so obviously preoccupied in his mind with the imminence of a General Election that I thought that that explained the extraordinary castigation in advance of his Government which he made in the last few remarks of his speech. As it is obviously of immense importance to more than half of the workers of this country that legislation of this sort should be put upon the Statute Book soon, and not years hence, the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members opposite are very anxious, in view of the imminence of a General Election, to say that they are in sympathy with the provisions of this Bill. Yet at the same time they are pouring cold water upon it as fast as they can.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
No, but of course this hon. Member, if, as I hope, he is honourable, together with very many more hon. Members, has had to listen for a whole day—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I did not hear that, but I hope we shall keep ourselves calm for the rest of this debate.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
What I did say was "If I were honourable"; I was referring entirely to myself. I hope the hon. Member opposite will not shake his head, thereby implying that I am not speaking the truth.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I am within the recollection of the House, and I think that it would be undignified to refer further to that particular remark.
The whole matter of today's debate has been introduced by my hon. Friends, as the hon. Member for Yarmouth so fairly said, with a notable absence of partisan spirit. Nevertheless, though hon. Gentlemen opposite have refrained, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) from making cheap party gibes, they have from the very start tried to make what I think was very cheap party capital out of this.
All the same, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epsom and others who have spoken since have tried to make out that they alone were the people to whom this country was indebted for such factory legislation as has been produced and so forth, whereas all today we have had hon. Members opposite constituting themselves into a human chain with buckets bringing in cold water to pour upon the proposals which my hon. Friends have introduced so fairly and to such tune in the earlier part of this debate.
I was not only disappointed by the speech of the Minister, though it was a great disappointment from one who has shown such promise in his work hitherto that he should damp the ardour of those who wish to put legislation of this sort upon the Statute Book. Almost from the word go in this debate hon. Members opposite have been damning this Bill with faint praise, so that disappointment came very early in this debate.
I think it was the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant) who really put his finger on the true reason for the objections of hon. Members opposite. He said they did not want to put extra expense on the small farmer. He never specified what extra expense would be put on the small farmer. Very little would be put on the small farmers—at any rate the good ones—by any legislation proposed here. This is merely giving statutory recognition to the present practice of good farmers. All sorts of excuses 778 have been trumped up from hon. Members opposite. They have said we need two Bills, or three Bills. Very well, bring them in. Where are those Bills?
One of the points made in the debate has been, "Let us wait until there is agreement." Is there not agreement at present? There is agreement. Would it not be true to say that the predecessor of the Minister presided over discussions which led to that predecessor putting before all the interested parties a proposal, to which they agreed, for legislation on very similar lines to those proposed in this Bill. Is it not so, that the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman did put such proposals before all interested parties and they did accept them? If that is true, why are they not before the House in the form of a Government Measure?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
That being so, why cannot the right hon. Gentleman give us some indication that this matter will be brought before the House of Commons by the Government? If he had done that my hon. Friends and I would have been only too glad to see the end of this Bill, but the right hon. Gentleman has failed to say in what respects that agreement differs materially—that is to say in ways which could not be altered in Committee—from the Bill at present before the House. That being so, are we not obliged to carry the matter to a Division? Does it not look like stonewalling for political purposes, although I am sure that, in the case of the right hon. Gentleman, he would be sincere? Does it not look like him being used as a tool by party politicians because of the imminence of a General Election? These proposals which are broadly in the Gowers Report are the most modest proposals which could be put forward and arrived at in the most judicial manner.
Surely it is the time now, not years hence, to bring legislation forward. I am delighted the right hon. Gentleman has told us that there is broad agreement between all the parties concerned. Will he not give a specific date, or even some indication, when the Government will introduce a Measure such as this? If the right hon. Gentleman could do so 779 I feel sure he would have very little difficulty in getting all the support he needs from this side of the House.
For my part, even though it may be thought a partisan point, I am going to make this point. Here again is the Conservative Party failing to do the right thing by the land. For centuries, almost, it has told people in agriculture that it alone stands up for agriculture and the countryside; but once again it has been left to the Labour Party to bring forward a Measure which everyone admits is badly needed for the land. I feel quite certain that when this matter is put before those people in the countryside, who hitherto have looked to the Conservative Party for support and succour, it is seen once again that they have been let down by the Conservative Party and that nearly half the workers of the country are not being given the legislation for their own protection and wellbeing which they ought to have, many will alter their allegiance, if they have not already done so.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock (Spelthorne)
Let me say at the very outset to hon. Members opposite who are shouting "Divide" that I propose to sit down not later than a minute to 4 p.m., when they can have the opportunity of carrying out what they wish. That being so, I hope that hon. Members will allow me to say a few things on the Bill.
The hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) said that, once again, because we did not fully support this Private Member's Bill, it was another example of the Tory Party letting down the land.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but that is not precisely what I said. I said that, once again, the Government having given no indication that they intend, in the relatively near future, to bring in this necessary legislation, people would be entitled to say that they have let down the land.
§ Mr. Craddock
With respect, that is not quite what I understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to say, but, be that 780 as it may, it is quite diametrically opposed to what his hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) said in this House only last night when, at the instigation of the hon. Member for Leek, we were discussing a very interesting topic, namely the small farmer.
The hon. Member for Leek was generous enough to commend to the House the recent price arrangements which this Government brought in, and said that the scheme which had been announced in the last week or two was very acceptable to the farmers, and that he commended it. Therefore, there is certainly a great difference between the hon. and learned Member for Brigg and the hon. Member for Leek.
I am bound to say that I was rather surprised at the attitude of the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) in their suggestions that we on this side of the House are against social legislation of this description. I think it can be said in all fairness—indeed, this is a statement of fact and something which was said by no less a person than that great member of the party opposite, the late J. R. Clynes, in the 'thirties when speaking of the previous 25 years—that no party had brought in better social legislation than the Tory Party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, indeed, and any fair-minded person who reads the social history of this country during the past 100 years would agree that the record of the Tory Party in social matters, education, the trade unions, and many others, is one of which the party can be proud.
I go further and say quite frankly that in the 1945–50 Parliament, as I have always said in this House and on my platforms, the party opposite also brought in beneficial Measures for the general well-being of the people. I should have expected that the right hon. Member for Blyth, who has occupied an important office under the Crown, would have been fair enough to give us the same credit.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Leek for not being present to hear his speech, much as I should like to have done.
§ Mr. Craddock
I am sure it was, and he made a good one last night. The reason was that I had a constituency engagement which I could not break at the last moment.
My objection to the Bill is that there is far too much delegated legislation in it. As far as its principles and its objects are concerned, I subscribe to everything that has been said on both sides of the House. I am sure that all hon. Members fully support the object which the hon. Member for Leek has in mind. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Leek should have brought forward a Bill of this description, drawn up as it is, because almost in every Clause one has the words,… the Secretary of State shall make regulations …and so on.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
It is quite obvious that the hon. Member has not read the Factories Act. The hon. Member would not have made that statement if he had studied the Factories Act, because the formula follows in parallel fashion the formula in the Factories Act. That was pointed out earlier in the debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede).
§ Mr. Craddock
I assure the hon. Member that I have read the Factories Act. I have had to do it in my professional work. He will agree that the 1937 Act contains a very large number of Sections which were debated and discussed for days and days not only on the Floor of the House but in Committee. That is my main objection to the Bill. I am surprised at this action on the part of the hon. Member for Leek whom we all regard as a democrat. I have often heard him say that we must implement 782 democratic principles and I am surprised that he should bring in a Bill which gives a Minister, of whatever party, such tremendous powers to bring in regulations.
I sometimes wonder what is the right definition of democracy. We all know the classic one of government of the people by the people for the people, but I prefer the definition of democracy as a system of government by discussion. All parties have been guilty of Bills of this kind in the past 40 years and I am coming to believe that the right definition of democracy today is, "Freedom to do what we are told." This Bill is a classic example of it.
In view of my promise I cannot go on speaking very much longer, but I beg the hon. Member for Leek and his supporters to consider again whether it would not be better to accept the indication which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has given that it is the intention of the Government, at the earliest possible moment, to bring in a proper, comprehensive Measure on the lines that are suggested. I respectfully suggest to the hon. Member for Leek that he might consider asking leave to withdraw the Bill.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).