HC Deb 14 April 1959 vol 603 cc947-56
Mr Iain Macleod

I beg to move, in page 12, line 23, at the end to insert: and for the purpose of investigating such problems he may provide and maintain such laboratories and other services as appear to him requisite ". Clause 20, as the House knows, is one to which I attach great importance. It deals with the promotion of health, safety and welfare in factories. I think that we could reasonably argue in Committee that I had the powers to provide and maintain laboratories. Still, I said that I attached such importance to this matter that I thought it would be a good thing, despite my usual inclinations, which are not to be too precise in a Bill, to spell this matter out.

There are really two points of difference between this Amendment and that which the Opposition moved in Committee. The first is—and I think that this is right—that I take permissive powers to do this when I consider it is appropriate. I think that this must be left as a matter for the Minister to decide. The word " research " has been dropped. It was in the Amendment which the Opposition moved. The reason is mainly that the word " research " is restrictive and would mean that I could establish a laboratory only for the purposes of research.

Secondly, to some extent it gave rather the wrong flavour to the Clause, because I think that research as such, in the sense in which it is normally understood, should probably best not be carried out by my Department but by the D.S.I.R., or the M.R.C., or whatever the appropriate body may be. I have certain facilities for the investigation of problems in this field, but I would like to put these requirements into the Bill as part of Clause 20. We had a valuable discussion on this matter in Committee and I hope that the House will feel that the Amendment meets the sense of what the Committee wanted and will accept it.

Mr. Lee

We all have our own views as to the most important Clause of the Bill. I think that this is the most important issue which we can discuss within the framework of the present Bill in that for the first time in factory legislation a Minister of Labour is accepting the responsibility for the promotion of health, safety and welfare.

Factory legislation in years gone by has never pinpointed such responsibilities on either the Board of Trade in the old days or the Ministry of Labour since. Therefore, it is quite a break from our background of factory legislation for us to put responsibility for the promotion of health, safety and welfare upon a Government Department.

On this side of the House, we welcome the Clause and the Amendment. I am not sure, however, that I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about research. This is a matter of balance. I know that industry itself must undertake much research work, work peculiar to an industry and even to a particular factory within an industry.

On the other hand, I take a serious view of the Clause and the Amendment. As at present constituted, the Factory Department cannot provide the right hon. Gentleman with the information essential to carrying out the duties which the House is placing upon him for the promotion of health, safety and welfare.

I know that there is a political difference between the two parties about how much responsibility industry should take and how much should be taken by a Government Department, but apart from that basic difference the Minister himself is undertaking to be responsible for health, safety and welfare. That being the case, the House is entitled to ask him whether he or his Department is in a fit state to allow him to honour the obligation which he is now accepting. With my limited knowledge of the Factory Department, I do not believe that it is in a position to enable the right hon. Gentleman to have the information required for the promotion of these objectives.

I was a little alarmed that the right hon. Gentleman should have deleted the reference to research, because research is the kernel to that ability of his Department to provide him with power to undertake the responsibilities which he is now incurring.

Mr Iain Macleod

I want the word research " to be excluded since its inclusion would limit me to that one purpose. Normally, the M.R.C., the D.S.I R. and similar organisations undertake research on these aspects. It may well be that in certain circumstances this would be a proper function for me to undertake. I have three laboratories which work in this sort of way. I do not want to take powers for research alone, but my idea includes research and does not exclude it. I merely want to have the widest possible scope, including research, to set up laboratories.

10.15 p.m.

Mr Lee

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that explanation which goes a long way to cover the point that I was labouring.

The main point, on which I now see that he is himself convinced, is that it is not much use for the right hon. Gentle- man to accept certain responsibilities unless he fortifies himself with the capacity to carry them out. I am grateful to him for what he has said. I agree with him that in research, if we itemise one type of development then, by inference, we exclude others, and I do not want to do that. Is he now satisfied with his facilities, or will he tell the House that once it has given these powers to him he intends to develop his own Factory Department or other sections, whether D.S.I.R. or any other department, in order that the House can he assured that this is not merely so many words?

We are entitled to expect that he will set up or create organisations which give him the facility to act. If that is so, we feel that the Clause and the Amendment will put into operation those things for which we have asked for so long. If he is able to say to us that he is now setting up or using in some way or other, through the Factory Department or D.S.I.R., facilities which will enable him to make a living reality out of the task we are now giving him, we shall be very grateful to him for what he has done.

Dr. Stross

When we were discussing this matter in Committee, I made a long and, I fear, a somewhat tedious speech on this subject. I have thought about it to a great extent since then. I like the Amendment and I think that it covers the possibilities and contingencies that might occur in the future.

In Committee I thought that I made clear that I was personally averse to the Minister directing his mind to substantial research on these problems. I thought that it would be much more effective to use the accredited and acknowledged research organisations of this country and direct them to do whatever piece of fundamental research was required and pay them for it. Research organisations are few and far between, if they arc good, and they are certainly very expensive to maintain. The last thing that we want to do is to have something that is not absolutely fire-class. To insist that the Minister creates a first-class organisation which is very expensive and which duplicates other organisations already in the field is not our intention at all, and we are happy to hear what he has said tonight.

I think that the addition of these further words to the Clause gives him all possible power. He uses the word " laboratory ". What is done there? It is work that may include research. If research is required it is done in the laboratory. It is also there for doing routine examinations, such as blood counts and various types of biological and physiological estimations.

I hope the Minister will forgive me if 1 repeat very briefly why l think this is a most important Clause. We are very anxious that the Minister of Labour should take only powers at this stage which are permissive and which will allow him to give us an occupational health service. This is something leading towards it. We know that £5,000 mentioned in the Bill does not mean anything very serious to us. We know that the Minister can spend money almost at will. He spent a considerable amount of money on the public health survey, and quite a lot on the Halifax survey. Whatever service he wishes to undertake he provides extra money, which is nothing to do with this £5,000 which superficially appears to limit him.

Several years have gone by since the right hon. Gentleman and many other hon. Members began discussing the matter and hearing talk about the creation of an occupational health service, but we are no nearer to it now than we have ever been.

Mr Ellis Smith

Whom does my hon. Friend blame?

Dr. Stross

I am asked whom I blame. The fact is that there is no serious desire for an occupational health service I am not even sure that the T.U.C. is pressing the Minister as hard today as it pressed his predecessor in 1954. People are beginning to accept the idea that they will never have such a health service, and that is a great shame, because it could be tremendously useful. I do not want to go into too wide a discussion, but with his long experience as Minister of Health and his intimate experience as Minister of Labour I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman must to some extent agree with me when I express disappointment that we have not moved rather faster in this direction. We welcome the provision, but I suspect that the Minister would like to move faster. I do not know how we could do so, however, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us whether he has any expectations in that direction. We have had two surveys, and years have gone by without anything further being done. Much is to be gained for the nation if somebody will have the courage to give us a service for the workers.

Mr. D. Jones

I welcome the Amendment because it goes a good deal further than the original draft. However, lest it be thought by people reading the Press reports tomorrow that the Minister is taking power to promote health, safety and welfare; I would remind the Minister and the House that all he is doing is to take these powers in respect of those processes and industries to which the principal Act applies. Speaking from memory, I believe it is true that the Mines and Quarries Act gives a more limited power to the Minister of Power to deal with the mining and quarrying industries. but I would remind the House that if the Minister obtains the power provided in the Amendment, and it is limited to the industries, trades and professions to which the principal Act applies, shops, offices, hotels, restaurants and the catering industry generally, indoor and outdoor entertainment, rail and road transport, fishing, shipping and domestic employment will still be outside the scope of the Minister, in that he will not be able to spend one copper in conducting research into them.

This is a limiting factor. In view of the fact that the Minister has jurisdiction in other respects over the industries that I have mentioned he should have widened the provision to enable him to conduct inquiries and research into them. If the Bill becomes law those industries and establishments, with the exception of locomotive running sheds, will be the Cinderellas of industry, although they are just as entitled as other industries to have research undertaken on their behalf. There are diseases and afflictions which apply to a number of these industries on which additional research ought to take place.

The Minister ought to widen the scope of this provision considerably. If it is good, and I think it is, that research, development and inquiry should take place into the industries covered by the principal Act, and if the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954, does it for the mines and quarries industry, what logical reason can there be for excluding other industries from this type of inquiry? I hope that the Minister will cease to treat this group of industries as Cinderellas and, somehow or other, will widen the scope in order to bring in all industrial workers.

Mr A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

I intervene briefly, and with some apology at this late stage, to say that I appreciate that very much importance must be attached to this provision, in, as much as great developments that could take place in the standard of health could come from a great expansion in the direction of an occupational health service.

I would ask the Minister, because of his experience in his previous office, what steps he is taking to make sure, on the points mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stress), that use is being made of the research establishments of the Medical Research Council and of some of our universities and of the work which is being done at a few of our teaching hospitals. The right hon. Gentleman must be aware, as we all are, of the dangers that can arise from work of this sort being developed in isolation, away from the comparable work being done more directly through the hospital service. I know of the assistance being given in some areas on Tyneside to experimental developments in the way of a laboratory service, and a sketch plan of an industrial health service.

One knows of the appalling shortage of helpers in this field. We cannot afford to waste anybody who can give useful service and, I imagine, can provide training for others. Here is a field of work for the specialist and for the general practitioner doctors to be trained. I hope that in the centers run under the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry or in other ways there will be facilities for the general practitioner doctor to learn about the work that is going on in some of these directions so that he can play a useful part in industry.

I am not opposing the proposal but am welcoming the desire to extend the facilities and am asking what steps the Minister is taking to ensure that they can run together with developments taking place under the auspices of the Minister of Health.

Mr. Iain Macleod

Those short speeches take us very wide indeed, but that is not surprising because Clause 20 was, quite deliberately, made very wide. The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) made a gallant and perhaps even a last attempt to raise the ghost of Gowers.

Mr D. Jones

indicated dissent.

Mr. Macleod

The last on this Bill perhaps. I do not expect, because that would be asking too much, that he should be grateful to us for including the railway running sheds within the ambit of this factories legislation. He might at least have been surprised, as he knows perfectly well that he is. He did not expect to get that when the Bill started. To that extent he has been successful, because I have listened to and met that part of his case.

10.30 p.m.

Both the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) and the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne. East (Mr. Blenkinsop), who are expert in this field, raised the question of the occupational health service. I do not think it would be appropriate to go into it in any detail now—not because of the time, but on this Amendment—but I would just say that anybody who has held, as T have, the two key Ministries, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour, must be, as I am, deeply interested in the subject.

It is true that the pressure for an occupational health service is less, for a variety of reasons, than it was a few years ago, but I look forward to it very much. There are tremendous questions of administration to be settled and of allocation between the Ministries. These are matters which we cannot debate at this moment, but in answer particularly to the point made by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East, one thing that I regard as important in trying to make sure that there is liaison between the Ministries is a sort of body like my Industrial Health Advisory Committee over which I preside and which has representatives of those two Ministries and of many people concerned. Incidentally, it was at meeting of the I.H.A.C. that the question of the provision of laboratories for the Ministry of Labour was first raised, the matter that we are discussing now. So it is a matter on which there is liaison, though whether it is perfect or not I should not like to say. However, of my interest in the development of an occupational health service for this country there need be no doubt.

We have for the moment immediately before us this proposal which everyone has welcomed. In answer to the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee), who asked the key question—" Is this words, or do you mean it?"—the answer is that I hope and intend to use these powers if the House will now give them to me.

Amendment agreed to.