HC Deb 14 April 1959 vol 603 cc841-50

The facilities required by subsection (1) of section forty-two of the principal Act shall include a supply of hot and cold or of warm water.—[Mr. Iain Macleod.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr Iain Macleod

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

This Clause, the last of the Government's new Clauses on the Notice Paper, although it contains what at first sight may seem a small point, is, I think, in many ways one of the most important. It implements one of the most important Amendments proposed in Committee on the Bill. It will be seen that the words of the Clause are not simply " a supply of hot water but are a supply of hot and cold or of warm water. They are obviously necessary, because hot water may be so hot that it may be scalding and unsuitable for washing, and cold water must be supplied with it.

We have sought to follow in this Clause the phrase which, I think, is common in a great number of regulations and welfare orders, by which over the years the provision of hot or warm water has been encouraged. Personally, I single out this new Clause from the other ones. It is an important and valuable advance, and I am very glad that we are adding it to the Bill.

Mr. Ellis Smith

As soon as I saw this new Clause on the Notice Paper I desired to, and spontaneously did, add my name to it for the sake of those whose confidence I have had the privilege of holding for so long. For the same reason it would be wrong of me not to say at least a few words in support of the Clause and about its implementation when it becomes law.

I am sure that the Minister will agree that the Inspectorate's annual reports are a tribute to the Inspectorate. It is acknowledged that those reports are among the finest documents of the kind published in any part of the world, and do credit to the inspectors department of the Ministry. We read in those reports about the effect of dermatitis. The inspectors have had the advice of dermatologists about the dangers of new processes. It was with that in mind that I unhesitatingly put my name to this new Clause.

Those familiar with industry will know that, as a result of the development of science, many new materials and processes are being introduced into industry. During the last twenty years more new processes and new materials have been introduced, especially synthetic materials, than in any other comparable period of time in the history of the world. They are having some serious effects, for instance, in pollution of the air. It would be out of order to deal with that now, but they have also given rise to dermatitis and other industrial diseases, and it is upon that aspect of the matter that I want to make a few observations.

My relationship with the officials in the Ministry could not have been better. There has been the maximum of cooperation and a readiness to give advice, and I wish that that obtained in all other parts of administration in this country. However, difficulties have arisen because the officials have not been empowered to deal with these questions in the way in which they will be dealt with if the Minister's proposal in the new Clause is accepted.

The words of the Clause are so definite that they will place upon the employers the responsibility of having to provide hot and running water. They will also place upon the Chief Inspector of the Ministry a responsibility to see that the new Clause is operated, so that the maximum benefit may be obtained from it when the Bill becomes an Act

4.45 p.m.

It would be wrong of me not to give a concrete example of what I am talking about. I do not want to develop it too far, because I have had excellent correspondence with the Department about it, and that correspondence is still going on. The Minister will be aware of the increasing use of glass fibre in the aircraft industry and in the engineering and allied industries, and, indeed, in other forms of manufacture. In addition to glass fibre being used as an ordinary process, it is being increasingly used for the purpose of reinforcing plastics, and this process of adding glass fibre on to plastics is giving rise to dermatitis.

The Chief Inspector has said at a number of conferences held with representatives of the trade union movement that there ought to be running water, both hot and cold, and that there should be ample supplies of white towels and that the towels should not be soiled with grit from glass fibre or other materials of that kind. I hope that the Minister will consult the Chief Inspector and the other inspectors with a view to getting the widest interpretation in the administration of the new Clause so that we can benefit from the experience gained by the inspectors in dealing with matters of this kind. I have seen some distressing cases which have arisen because running hot water was not provided.

I have confidence in the medical profession, but it cannot get on top of this problem of dermatitis. More time yet is needed for that. The provision of running hot water will minimise the effects of these processes in causing dermatitis. Sir George Barnett has told me of cases in which the effects could have been minimised or avoided if there had been running hot water, or if the men had played their part by using it. I acknowledge that there is a responsibility upon those engaged in work on these processes of using the facilities provided so that they may get the maximum benefit from this Clause.

I used to find that I was able to work best by keeping myself as clean as possible, and that meant that I was constantly washing my hands. In those days employers were very reluctant to agree to my doing it, but nowadays employers and the managements acting on their be- half are more enlightened and there is not the same difficulty about taking advantage of the facilities that such a Clause as this provides.

Those engaged in industry, on both sides, can and should play their part to avoid the suffering which arises from industrial diseases like dematitis and the loss of time which those diseases involve. For these reasons, and many others I could have gone into had that been necessary, I hope that the House will give unanimous support to this proposal. I am confident it will be a big step forward.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

I rise to welcome this new Clause and to add a word or two to what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) has said. Of course, this Clause is directed to a very, very small minority of employers who have not provided the facilities referred to in Section 42 of the principal Statute in the broadest sense. My right hon. Friend omitted to draw attention to the fact that Section 42 of the Act of 1937 refers to adequate and suitable facilities for washing. Those are the words. I have not heard yet of an employer who did not regard the proper interpretation of the word " adequate " as including hot water.

One cannot properly remove dirt or oil or any matter from the hands after working in a factory without getting hot water to do so. Factory inspectors have always interpreted Section 42 of the principal Statute exactly in that way. I know of countless cases where factory inspectors have served notices on employers or occupiers requiring them, under Section 42, to install hot water services. They have fastened their directive on the word " adequate ", and if they have failed under that head, they have fastened it on the word " suitable " in " suitable means of cleaning" in the same Section.

My right hon. Friend is not making a great advance with the new Clause, but he is possibly clearing up a doubt which may have formerly existed in one case in a thousand where hot water supplies have not been available in factories and where factory inspectors have not picked up the fact and issued directives.

The second purpose of my short intervention is to ask my right hon. Friend, when he considers the next new Clause, to bear in mind that the fact that hot water in factories is no less important than hot food in factories, and that they are complementary. If he regards it as essential to require all factory occupiers and owners, by Statute, to have hot water supplies, I hope that he will extend the principle to hot food supplies as well.

Mr. C. Howell

It is always interesting to listen to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), because one never knows how far he will delve into history or fiction. One thing he does prove is that he moves in far better circles than many of us on this side of the House who have spent many years in factories.

Mr. Robens

He is always going round in circles.

Mr. Howell

I said " better circles ", higher class circles. It is obvious that the hon. Member knows, possibly through snobbishness, although I would not like to say that it was, only good employers.

Mr. Nabarro

Of course I know only good employers. I move in the right circles and I mix in the right circles. The overwhelming majority of employers are good employers. A tiny minority are not, and they are the people who have not put in hot water.

Mr. Howell

That bears out exactly what I was saying. The hon. Member circulates in such " posh " circles, such narrow circles of " poshness ", that he does not see the necessity for the Factories Acts. As I said earlier, if they were all good employers, similar to those with whom the hon. Member associates, we would not need this Clause, nor would we need any factory legislation.

I assure the hon. Member that I know many good employers who do not provide hot water, many good employers who provide canteen facilities and a little washroom containing two or three basins and with hot water but a long way from the shop. I assure him that many departments in many factories have only a bucket of cold water which all the men it the shop have to use. There might be a tin of soft soap at the side of the bucket. Not once but hundreds of times 1 have seen men use oil and paraffin to get swarf and grease off their hands. That happens on British Railways.

I could take the hon. Member to hundreds of places where the only hot water comes from the kettle being used for " mashing " the tea—I will not take that too far, because the hon. Member and I might then return to the argument about mashing and brewing which we had in Committee. There are hundreds of places on railway sidings and in railway cabins where no hot water is laid on. Consequently, the only hot water possibly available is that which comes from the kettle. If someone is due to make tea, then one of the worst offences one can commit is to steal the hot water required for that purpose.

The Minister is right and the new Clause is a move in the right direction. The hon. Gentleman said that the Minister would not be doing anything. In fact. he will be doing a lot.

Mr. Nabarro

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howell

No. The hon. Member must wait until I have finished.

The hon. Gentleman was quite right to say that one cannot remove swarf, grease and dirt without hot water. If he is right, why should we deny that facility to those who need it? Why should we not force those bad employers with whom the hon. Member does not associate to provide facilities as good as those provided by the good employers with whom the hon. Gentleman does associate?

Mr. Robens

Do these words mean the provision of a supply of running hot and cold or warm water? It is important that this should be made clear. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) has not referred to running water, and there is no reference to a supply of running water in Section 42.

The new Clause also provides for the supply of hot and cold or warm water. Does that mean that if there is a supply of warm water whose temperature need be only a degree or two above that of cold water—it will be a sufficient substitute for a supply of hot water? I do not want to appear to be niggling about this. The Minister has produced a very useful Clause, and we are grateful for it. The right hon. Gentleman followed the Committee proceedings with great attention, and the number of Amendments down is a clear indication of his desire to do everything possible, within the confines of the Bill, to provide better protection for factory workers.

I am one of those who believes that running water is very important for washing. I do not like to see cans of hot or cold water put into basins for washing. What then happens very frequently is that more than one person uses the same water, not a hygienic practice from any point of view. Is it in the Minister's mind that a supply of running hot and cold water should be provided?

The expression " or of warm water " is not very good if it means that warm water can be substituted for a supply of hot or cold water. I agree that most employers would not take advantage of the possibility, but, as the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has said, there is a minority which wants to run away from its obligations to the work people.

Of course, we shall accept the new Clause, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether the Clause should not refer to running hot water and running cold water, and whether the expression " or of warm water " should not be eliminated to make it clear that it is not intended that a supply of warm water will be a sufficient substitute.

Mr Iain Macleod

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) has raised a number of important points and has been quite right in his interpretation. The Clause does not require that running hot water shall be laid on. Of course, one hopes that in the vast majority of factories there will be such a supply, but, with great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), there are many factories in which there is no such thing.

Mr Nabarro

Will my right hon. Friend answer this simple query? If there are many factories without hot water, what have the factory inspectors been doing for the last twenty-two years? They have had power to require factory owners and occupiers to install hot water supplies, and in my knowledge and experience they have given such directives in hundreds of cases.

Mr Macleod

Obviously, if the factory inspectors could make laws of that nature there would not be the slightest need to bring a Clause of this sort before the House. It is because they have no such legal power that we need the new Clause. There are tens of thousands of factories, some tiny places employing only one or two people. Unquestionably, it would be too great an imposition on such factories to insist that running hot water should be laid on. Even though we have been dealing with very much larger factories, in a number of codes and regulations we have been content to leave the alternative provision of a sufficient supply of warm water always at hand.

The two points which the right hon. Gentleman put go together. If hot and cold water are laid on, that is an improvement, but there are hundreds of cases Where, to use the words usually included in regulations or welfare orders, there should be a sufficient supply of warm water always at hand. That is the intention of the new Clause. I think that it is something of an advance, and I hope that the House will agree to it.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Lee

I am a little concerned with the Minister's explanation that we do not have the power to insist on the provision of running hot water. I entirely support what the Minister said to his hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) who, as usual, is talking instead of listening to words of wisdom. The hon. Member was hopelessly wrong on this matter. The new Clause will make a most important contribution to factory hygiene.

There are thousands of machine men working in the engineering industry who day in and day out have to wash their hands at what is called the " mystic tap ", or other coolant fluid. They have no facility other than that, apart from a bucket which a labourer may bring round and which may contain warm water. The first there has the privilege of washing in clean water, but after that everyone has to wash in dirty, greasy water, the possible result being much more dangerous than not washing the hands at all. Such conditions still obtain in wide sections of the engineering industry, and the picture which the hon. Member for Kidderminster painted was not correct.

The Clause will do a great deal of good, but I am disappointed that it does not ask for running water. Apparently, the new conditions will be met by the old method of a labourer coming round with a bucket of warm water a minute or two before lunch time. After the first three or four men have washed their hands in such a bucket, the water is not too good. There is probably more silt at the bottom than water on top.

What inquiries has the right hon. Gentleman made about this, and why does he believe that it is not possible to insist upon running hot water? I know that in most factories—and on this point I agree with the hon. Member for Kidderminster—wash-bowls are provided. I also know that the breakage of these things must be one of the highest casualty rates of any industrial equipment. They are broken very frequently indeed. Once they are broken some firms are inclined to say, " We are not going to replace them." Then we get people putting their hands under the " mystic tap " over lathes. This is probably the way in which industrial dermatitis is bred more than in any other single way of which I know, and therefore we get back to the bad old ways.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will have another look at this matter to see why it is not possible for us to insist on hot water being running hot water. I know of a great many factories where running water is provided which, because of breakages of equipment, has been allowed to go into disuse, and there may ice one or two instances in which at the moment that facility is not provided. But I think that is not a good reason for denying running water to 99 per cent. of the persons working in industry where it is possible for it to be provided. While we welcome what is being done, I should be very grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would have another look at this to see whether it would be possible to do it.

Mr Macleod

This can be done. Perhaps I did not put this clearly enough in my earlier intervention. If the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) will look at Section 42 (2) of the 1937 Act, he will find these words, which I will read, because I know the Committee is interested: The Secretary of State"— that now means the Minister of Labour— may by regulations prescribe, either generally or as respects any class or description of factory or as respects the persons employed in any process, a standard of adequate and suitable washing facilities. These washing facilities are now enlarged by the new Clause. In fact, we have these powers and it is possible to make regulations in the sense which the hon. Gentleman suggests. If one considers what tiny little places some factories can be, it is clearly too absolute a requirement to put into the Bill itself. It is a matter that should be considered by the Minister in the light of his consideration of what regulations are appropriate.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.