§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
First I should like to make it clear to hon. Members that, while I still have some traces of Parliamentary virginity, I am not a maiden. I want to make that quite clear, because on an isue as important as this it would be unfair if any hon. Members were unjustly curbed in anything that they wanted to say.
I should also like to be permitted, Mr. Speaker—I hope you will not stop me until I have finished saying this—to make reference to something which I think is relevant to the Bill in perhaps a secondary way. I came here as a new Member and was very fortunate in drawing first place in the Ballot, which enabled me to introduce legislation on behalf of this great Parliament. I was horrified, however, to discover that one is given the right to introduce legislation in this House but denied the tools with which to produce good legislation. I would be so bold as to suggest that it is manifestly absurd to allow private Members to introduce Bills but to deny them the services of Parliamentary draftsmen to enable them to produce good bills. This is an issue which will no doubt be dealt with at some other time.
It may be asked: why this particular Bill? I believe that in recent years the non-manual worker has not had as good a time and as much consideration as his manual colleague, for many reasons. I can remember that when I was a child the hope of all working-class parents was that their offspring would one day attain 908 the dizzy heights of working in an office. If they could work in a local government office, then they were indeed on the royal road to success, and if they could join the Civil Service, then all the neighbours within earshot were likely to be bored until they either retired or dropped dead.
That is not the position today. Office work has become a Cinderella of the industrial life of the country. There are many reasons for it. The plight of the manual worker towards the end of the last century and at the beginning of this century was so extremely bad that all attention was focussed on some alleviation of the conditions under which he worked. In addition to that, the manual worker—I think this must be said—was perhaps a little more intelligent or perhaps a little less snobbish in realising the need to combine in trade union organisation to achieve for himself that which he wanted. The non-manual worker was often not quite so keen to do so.
Obviously, the white-collared worker still enjoys some advantages. I think it is rather unfair that people should be surprised to receive claims for a 40-hour week in industry when they accept as perfectly normal a 38-hour week for white-collared workers. It is often the case that superannuation is considered perfectly normal, reasonable and fair for the non-manual worker while it is denied to the manual worker—although in this last respect my right hon. Friends intend to remedy the position in about four years' time.
Every day in this country thousands of people pour out of the mainline stations in all our great centres of population, London in particular, and make their way to work under conditions which if they existed in factories would result in immediate strikes. They go to work in offices which are not only uncomfortable—it is my point that we are here trying to legislate not only for a little more comfort—but frequently downright dangerous to health, life and limb, to offices where the lavatories are inadequate, to offices where there are no lavatories, adequate or otherwise, to offices where there are no washing facilities.
What a farce it is that in 1959, when the State pays out thousands of pounds of its hardly collected revenue to publicise the need for people to wash their 909 hands and the need for hygiene, and after that sort of inculcation during school years, frequently the first job an innocent school leaver of fifteen has to do in an office is to wash up teacups in a bucket in the lavatory.
Not all offices are bad. It would be absurd to overstate the case and suggest that every employer is a grinder of the poor and every office a sort of Dickensian cellar, but there are enough offices which are had to make it essential that the House does something to improve conditions.
Since the Bill was first mooted, I have received letters of support from many people and organisations. I have received letters from public health inspectors and from trade unions. There is nothing wrong in that. The trade unions are people who are fulfilling their functions. If the House had been as active as the trade unions in working on behalf of non-manual workers, we might not have had conditions necessitating in 1959 a day's debate about bad conditions of employment. I have also had letters from the National Council of Women and from hundreds of individual workers.
It is suggested that if an office worker does not like his job he can go elsewhere. That is dodging the issue. First, why should he? Is there anything wrong in demanding by legislation that all of our people should enjoy, as of right, decent health conditions in their place of employment? Many of them cannot go elsewhere, because once the office worker has passed 40, frequently without a trade or profession, he finds himself incapable of other work and of finding other office work since office jobs are easy to fill with young women paid a lower rate than men.
In addition, people working in offices feel that if they are no better than the manual worker they are at least no worse than the manual worker. If every hon. Member accepts as right and normal the existence of the Factories Acts, as I am sure all hon. Members do, then the office worker sees no reason why he should not have something similar.
What of the Bill? Obviously, a great deal of thought went into the preparation of this document. No mother ever looked upon her offspring with a greater love than I look upon the Bill, nor did she have a more difficult birth. One criticism which may be made of the Bill is that 910 it is too wide and that it delegates to the Minister powers which should rightly rest with the House. Hon. Members may ask that. Why we should have a Bill providing so much delegated legislation?
There are several reasons for that, and the first is that the Government apparently want it that way. In April, 1955, my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) introduced his Non-Industrial Employment Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, then Minister of Agriculture, dealt at some length not with the principle involved but with the Bill itself. He said that they were unhappy about… 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 he laid down and the Minister given … discretionary powers —but we think the way in which it 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st April, 1955; Vol. 539, c. 753.]I proceeded to draft the Bill so that it was sufficiently wide to enable it subsequently to be amended in any way, provided that it was for the benefit of the people the Bill seeks to cover.
However, the Government cannot have it both ways. The Gowers Report was published in 1949. The Home Secretary at that time, now on this side of the House, accepted the Report, and the House was unanimous in its acceptance of the Report. Then, through the misfortunes of Fate, my party went out of office. However, the party opposite still said that it supported the provisions of the Gowers Report. It went on supporting the provisions of the Gowers Report until my hon. Friend the Member for Leek decided to help hon Gentlemen opposite and to introduce the Non-Industrial Employment Bill to implement the provisions of the Gowers Report. The Government then said that they were in agreement with what the Bill set out to do. The only trouble was that they did not support it. At least, they said they were in agreement with it, and subsequently they said in the course of the debate that there was no need to accept that Bill because they were themselves about to produce their own legislation.
911 The years ticked past and in 1958 another hon. Member decided to introduce a Bill to implement the Gowers Report in respect of office workers. The Government again said that they were still in agreement—I doubt if there are many issues upon which the Government have been in agreement for such a long time—and the Government spokesman spoke in favour of the principle of that Bill—and a few minutes later proceeded to talk it out.
The second reason why I have used delegated legislation is that it is the method used in the Factories Acts and a great deal of other modern legislation.
It has been suggested that the growth of new office building and the passage of time have rendered the provisions of the Gowers Report obsolete. It is argued that so many new buildings have gone up since the end of the war that there is now no problem, or the problem is not serious. Yesterday, I was shocked when I found my way into the secretaries' room just above this Chamber. Above the ceiling of this Chamber sit 90 girls who have to share two lavatories. Hon. Members do not have far to go to find bad office conditions. A great deal can be said about the accommodation of hon. Members in the House, but a great deal more could be said about the accommodation of staff and servants of the House.
Of course, there have been other examples. One of the biggest problems with which we are faced is that we do not know how bad the problem is nationally. There are no records and nothing else to tell us how many offices have no lavatory accommodation. No figures are available to show how many offices have inadequate methods of ventilation, inadequate methods of temperature control, and how many offices are overcrowded.
About two years ago public health inspectors made a systematic survey of office accommodation in Liverpool. They brought to the attention of the employers faults which could have been remedied under Public Health Act, 1936. Last August and September, they went back to Liverpool and carried out another survey to see how much had been achieved by request and discussion.
912 They found a sad picture. Only 176 offices out of 269 had wash basins in the offices. One hundred and nine of those had no hot water. They went further and found that in 189 offices 70 per cent. of the staff ate their midday meal at their desks because there was nowhere else to eat it. Only 38 per cent. of the offices had drinking water available. Fifty four per cent. of them obtained their fresh water from taps over communal housemaids sinks, and many of those taps had rubber house connections. In sixteen firms there was no water supply at all.
Those conditions were discovered in a small scale survey in one part of the country. There is no reason to assume that conditions are better anywhere else. In some parts of central London, in the E.C.1 and E.C.3 districts, conditions are probably far worse than anywhere else in the country. To say that new office buildings will remedy the position is fallacious.
We hope that overcrowding will be dealt with under the Bill. Overcrowding is not prevented by building a big office. The size of a building has nothing to do with overcrowding. Whether an office is overcrowded or not is determined by the number of people who are crammed into it. There can be as much overcrowding in a new office as there is in an old one. The new office buildings which are now modern shiny structures will become slums at some time in the future. Provision should be made for the systematic inspection of such offices, not merely to ensure that they are not overcrowded, although that is important, not merely to ensure that there are adequate sanitary arrangements, adequate washing facilities and means of maintaining decent temperatures, but to ensure that they are not death traps in case of fire.
Many offices had electrical wiring installed many years ago, and one trembles to think of the condition of some of them now. The Bill makes provision for regulations to ensure that dangerous machinery is fenced. I once held the popular conception that all office workers had comfortable jobs and did not come into contact with dangerous machinery, but there has been a big growth in the use of electrical equipment in offices. 913 On several occasions I have quoted a case that was brought to my notice. In one advertising office in one year three members of the staff suffered minor injuries to their fingers through the operation of a power-driven guillotine which had no fencing round it. Can anyone say why a dangerous piece of machinery on a factory floor is subject to a mass of legislative protection while an identical piece of machinery in an office is allowed to be used without any supervision? At present, there are no regulations to cover that aspect.
I ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to give the Bill their sympathetic consideration. I know that they will do that because they have been doing so for ten years. When they have given it their sympathetic consideration, I hope that they will go one step further and do what they have not done in the past ten years, and that is to give some practical assistance to those who require it by voting in favour of the Bill.
I have no desire to make this a party issue, and I hope that it will not become one. When I decided on what I wanted to introduce, I passed the word round among my colleagues on this side of the House. They were very enthusiastic, and I was delighted, because at least I had somebody behind me. In fact, I was doubly thankful because, as hon. Members will agree, in some ways I had the best section of the House solidly behind me. I also approached Members of the Liberal Party who usually sit just in front of me. They assured me of their support, but I do not know where they are today. I also approached a number of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and most of them informed me that though they were sympathetic they would have to consider the matter. Hon. Members on this side of the House had no more information than hon. Gentlemen opposite. I would have been happy if I could have said that I had an official measure of support from the Conservative Party as well as from the Labour Party. If this becomes a division on party lines—and I hope it will not—it will be unfortunate, but the blame will not rest with this side of the House.
I also approached the Government before the Bill was drafted to make it quite clear that I was keen to get legislation and not make a party point. 914 Because of that, I would consider any legislation which the Government themselves produced. It is sometimes said that there is a shortage of time. I appreciate that. Obviously all things are a matter of priority, and no Government can do everything at the same time. There are a whole host of things that need doing, but hon. Members will agree that one has to look at the legislative programme and decide on which issue must take priority. If hon. Gentlemen opposite believe that betting shops are more important than the provisions of sanitary accommodation for clerical workers, they are entitled to their opinion, but I do not agree. If they believe that we should have a five and a half weeks Christmas holiday and that there is therefore insufficient time to introduce legislation of a social character affecting about 5 million or 6 million people, that is a matter of opinion.
In recent years, there has been growing throughout the civilised and democratic world a certain cynicism about Parliament. In the eyes of many of our people we in this Chamber are a pretty shifty lot.
§ Mr. Marsh
The politician of today is not considered to be a man who is following an honourable profession. This is unfortunate, but if year after year after year the Government say, "We believe that something needs doing for these 5 to 6 million people and we believe that legislation is not only good but necessary," and at the same time offer nothing but promises for an ill-defined future, then they do nothing to enhance the prestige of this or any other Parliament.
I hope that there is not a Division on the Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, immediately jumps up at the end of my speech, agrees with everything I have said and states that the Government offer their unstinted support of the Bill, I shall apologise to him and send him a Christmas card.
§ Mr. Marsh
If, on the other hand, there is a Division, I hope that before hon. Members vote they will bear in mind that they are dealing with the welfare of very many people. If the appeals for this type of legislation go unheeded, I hope that it will be borne in mind on both sides of the House that the white-collar workers are rising and stirring and they have had enough of being forgotten. I am convinced that their memories of today's debate will extend even over the next four-and-a-half years.
§ 11.32 a.m.
§ Mr. E. C. Redhead (Walthamstow, West)
I beg to second the Motion.
It gives me the greatest pleasure, as one who made a modest and abortive attempt to bring this matter before the attention of the House in the last Session of the last Parliament, to support my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) in introducing the Bill.
In the first place, however, I should like to offer him, as I am sure will other hon. Members, congratulations on his remarkably good fortune in having drawn the first place in the Ballot so early in his Parliamentary career. To have had such an advantage is almost without precedent.
Secondly, I congratulate him upon his choice of subject. This is a subject which has been very sadly neglected and for far too long has called out for some effective action to be taken, as distinct from the good intentions to which he has referred and which have been expressed so repeatedly.
Thirdly, I am sure that none of us will withhold congratulations from him on the quality, persuasiveness and forcefulness of the speech with which he introduced the Bill. It is an indication of the measure of long frustration that this is, I believe, the sixteenth Bill within thirty-six years which has been brought before the House designed to remedy what at this stage in history can only be described as a scandalous condition of affairs. It is a matter which is of vital importance to the health, the happiness, the welfare, and, let me add, the efficiency of millions of deserving and important sections of the community.
It has long been accepted as right and proper that by way of Public Health 916 Acts, Food and Drugs Acts, building bye-laws, Housing Acts, regulations and a whole spate of statutory provisions we should make legislative provision for the health and welfare of the community generally, in respect of dwellings, the purity of water, the purity of food, the cleanliness of supply and so on, and that by the Factories Acts we should make legislative provision for the protection of the industrial worker in his place of employment. It cannot be emphasised too strongly that there is no comparable or effective legislative protection for the millions of black-coated workers who are employed in offices in this country.
It was argued at one time that the provisions of the Public Health Act, 1936, would go a long way to meet the need for some form of systematic, routine inspection of offices. We now know that that expectation has not been fulfilled, for the definition of workplaces in that Act has proved to be difficult of interpretation and quite incapable of enforcement. There are no enforceable standards in respect of offices governing questions of space, ventilation, lighting, water supply, heating, or any of the minimum, essential requisites to provide for the health and comfort of those who are employed in such places. There is no such thing as routine and systematic inspection and no effective power by which any authority can require the observance even of conditions of decency, far less of reasonable amenity.
It may be contended—indeed, I have heard it contended—that many of these complaints fall within the ambit of our public health inspectors. That is not the case in respect of offices. They have no power whatever to inspect such places, and the most that the public health inspectors can do—I have verified this by discussion with many of them—is, if their attention is drawn to some gross condition of an insanitary character, to require that that particular defect be remedied. They have no power whatever to prescribe any minimum standards of sanitation or, indeed, to make any other requirements.
It remains a fact that any odd building, however unsuitable, however inadequate, however primitive—and some of them are very primitive—can be used as an office. Indeed, any squalid dump 917 can be used and designated an office, and there is no let or hindrance to the employment of clerical workers in such a place.
Although there is today a widespread and universal acceptance of the need and the high desirability of an effective programme to clear up our slum dwellings, because of their admitted deleterious effect upon the health of the community, we still tolerate offices which deserve the description of slum offices, and those which do not attract that extreme description are still to be found in many instances woefully lacking in the ordinary amenities which most of us now insist upon as the basic minimum for ordinary dwellings. It surely does not make sense to have this elaborate framework of legislation to provide for public health generally and not to include the equally important questions of workers' environmental conditions.
The history of all the attempts over the last thirty-six years to deal effectively with this problem has been one of repeated procrastination and evasion, as my hon. Friend demonstrated. Between 1923 and 1936 no fewer than eleven Bills were brought before the House designed to remedy this state of affairs. I do not want to weary the House with a recital of the fate of these Bills. It is perhaps not without significance that they all emanated from this side of the House. In 1946, to bring us a little nearer to current history, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who was then Home Secretary, appointed the Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Ernest Gowers, charged with the task, among others,To enquire into and make recommendationsintothe health, the welfare and safety of employed persons at places of employment other than those regulated under the Factories or Mines and Quarries Acts …I cannot emphasise too much that the Gowers Committee had the opportunity of examining this matter most exhaustively. It had before it the testimony, the evidence, of many not only interested but disinterested bodies which felt keenly that a remedy for the condition of affairs revealed by the evidence was vitally necessary. After long deliberation, the Committee published its Report in March, 1959.
918 The Committee made a series of recommendations in respect of offices based upon the model of the Factories Act. 1937, which it said, very rightly, was a model in its own field of what protective legislation could accomplish. These recommendations were hailed by black-coated workers throughout the country as an office workers' charter. At long last there was the prospect that something effective might be done to remedy the condition of affairs under which so many thousands had suffered for far too long. They were widely welcomed by a variety of organisations, which have continued to press for the implementation of those recommendations ever since. It has, however, been a continuing story of procrastination and frustration.
Let me try to illustrate what has been the subsequent course of events. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, who was still in office as Home Secretary in March, 1950, shortly after the publication of the Report, told a deputation of the National Federation of Professional Workers, an organisation representing over half a million black-coated workers which has always been in the forefront of the fight for better office conditions, that preparatory work was being carried on as speedily as possible.
Let me say straight away that no one would complain about the necessity of spending some time on preparations for the type of Measure that was obviously requisite in face of the conditions revealed by the Report. Indeed, the Report itself recognised that not all the recommendations would be immediately practicable Unhappily, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields left office before his intentions could be carried into legislative effect.
A deputation then waited upon the succeeding Home Secretary, the present Lord Chancellor, in February, 1951. That right hon. and learned Gentleman gave expression to the utmost sympathy with the purposes and objects of the Gowers Report. Then the matter came to the attention and active participation of the Non-Manual Workers' Advisory Committee of the Trades Union Congress.
The Home Secretary was questioned in the House upon the matter on 1st August, 1952. It is noteworthy to recall 919 what he said on that occasion. I quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT of that date. He said: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 recommendation on this subject. As the Committee themselves recognise, 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 discussion with the numerous interested organisations, so that there may be no avoidable delay in introducing it as soon as the economic outlook justifies it; and on this basis they propose shortly to start consultations with the interested organisations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1952; Vol. 504, c. 208.]I hope that we will not be told again today that economic conditions still stand in the way of some practical steps being taken for the implementation of the recommendations of the Gowers Committee. That would be completely insufferable in the light of the claims of hon. Members opposite about improvements in the economic situation since that statement was made in 1952.
Again, a deputation saw the Home Secretary in May, 1953, and again in November of the same year. The Home Secretary again expressed the hope that legislation would not be long delayed. A joint deputation from the National Federation of Professional Workers and the Non-Manual Workers' Advisory Committee was received in October, 1954. Once again, the need for urgent action was stressed. On that occasion the Minister discovered a new excuse. He recognised the need for legislation but pleaded his inability to provide Parliamentary time.
So we go on until my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), tired and impatient at the lack of any effective action by the Government, sought to prod the Administration into some action by introducing a Private Member's Bill. Unhappily, that Bill was brought to an end by the General Election of 1955. Immediately following that election a determined effort was made by those concerned with the problem to go to the fountain head and get some clear indication of the new Government's intention. A deputation waited upon the new Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, in July, 1955.
920 I think it pertinent to recall what he said to the deputation on that occasion. The right hon. Gentleman gave an undertaking that agriculture and forestry and other aspects of the Gowers Report would be dealt with and that a Bill would be introduced in respect of railways in 1955. We did—and I acknowledge this—have a Bill for the implementation of the recommendations in respect of agriculture, and this was put into the Statute Book. The Measure in respect of railways has not yet seen the light of day.
The right hon. Gentleman then went on to say that another Bill would be introduced in 1955 to deal with closing hours for shops, and that legislation as to general working conditions in shops and offices would, it was hoped, be introduced in the 1956–57 Session. The House will remember that we did, in fact, have a Bill dealing with shops, that it passed through all its stages in this House and then met with obstruction in another place, at which the Government took fright, dropped it and refused to give any undertaking about reintroducing a Measure of that kind, and have since been quietly content to bury the whole issue behind a fog of evasion and a profession of good intentions. But no practical steps have been taken to carry the recommendations regarding offices into effect.
There has been no move whatsoever on the part of the Government to effect any remedy of the conditions of employment of office workers to which I have referred. As my hon. Friend said, it has been argued in some quaters recently that so much time has elapsed since the Gowers Report—ten years—and so many changes have taken place, with the erection of new blocks of offices of modern design, that there is no longer any problem of this character and, therefore, no need for legislation of the kind now proposed. No more than my hon. Friend would I contend that all offices come into the worst categories which have been described. I would not deny for a moment that there are enlightened employers who on grounds of common-sense business efficiency or on grounds of public prestige and good public relations have seen to it that the new office buildings conform to more reasonable standards than those of the past. But even some of the newest blocks of buildings, in the 921 absence of any defined standards, still show signs of inadequacy and unsuitability for office accommodation.
In the issue of the Sanitarian of November, 1956, the journal of the public health inspectors, there appeared a paper by the chief public health inspector of the County Borough of Exeter, with descriptions and photographs of so-called modern office buildings which still display features which are gravely deleterious to the health of those employed there—inadequate lighting, overcrowded conditions and so on.
§ Mr. Redhead
In November, 1956.
Whatever advances and improvements may have been made in recent years, I think that it is completely undeniable that there still remain as my hon. Friend has demonstrated, many shocking examples of appalling conditions for office workers in all the big towns and cities, and not all the large concerns with adequate resources to remedy this state of affairs can be exempted from severe criticism for their negligence and indifference to this problem.
I include in this category, unhappily, a large number of local authorities whose conditions for their staffs are appalling. I would not exempt even some of the institutions, such as the banks, from whom I have had correspondence illustrating the shocking conditions under which many bank clerks have to operate, despite the grand and extravagant facades of the frontages. Nor would I exempt the Government in their treatment of their own staffs in this respect.
If anyone doubts that, he has only to look at some of the local offices of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance and some of the dumps in which civil servants concerned with intimate human problems have to try to carry out their responsible and arduous duties. We need not go far into the country to see this. We need only cross over to White-hall, and go into that morgue, the Home Office itself, a place which always sends a shiver down my spine every time I enter it. Then, look at the way in which the officers of the Treasury, in the rabbit warrens of the basement of the 922 Treasury building, have to carry on their duties. Eminent gentlemen who sometimes adorn the official box have complained bitterly to me about the conditions under which they have to work. Strangely and ironically enough, in the building which is designated as the Ministry of Health will be found similar appalling conditions.
Many thousands are still condemned to these conditions in a multitude of commercial offices. I hope that no one will argue today on strictly legalistic grounds about the Bill because, if so, I shall have to remind him that the members of the legal fraternity are among the worst sinners in this regard. We have only to look at some of the solicitors' offices and the conditions under which their staffs have to work. If anyone has any doubt about this, I would point out that only last month, on the 10th and 11th November, in the News Chronicle appeared a couple of articles based upon a current survey by the industrial correspondent, Margaret Stewart, entitled "Slum Offices". The descriptions there were, I think, in themselves sufficient to convince anyone who has any doubt about this at this stage.
I am told that these two articles have produced a spate of correspondence from people throughout the country, who have had to endure conditions of this kind. Unfortunately, so strong is the fear of victimisation among many clerical staff today that these communications have to be of a character in which the writers must remain anonymous. I intend to refer to only one or two.
I have here a letter from a lady living in the London area. She says:For your information I send the following details of the accommodation in the branch office of one of the wealthier insurance companies.I imagine that this is not a question of economic difficulties, and that there is no difficulty about meeting the cost of remedying the state of affairs of which the writer complains. She goes on to describe an office in which there are nine men employed all day and one or two others in the early morning and late afternoon and odd times during the day. The lavatory accommodation for the male staff consists of a cubicle about 3 ft. by 5 ft., just enough space to 923 house the lavatory pan. The door has to be left open when the lavatory is not in use in order to provide a reasonable degree of ventilation. In an adjoining compartment serving the needs of 20 to 25 people is one handbasin and a table at which the tea-making for the staff is carried on. There is a sink and draining board, ancient and worn, with a gas ring and hooks for coats. This leads from the toilet and lavatory and is approximately the same size and the messenger has to change into uniform in this particular compartment. The ventilation for this is one window in a skylight. The accommodation for thirteen girls and women is a cloakroom and lavatory, approximately 6 ft. by 10 ft. divided into two compartments and one of these houses the lavatory pan. The door of this, too, is left open when not in use in order to provide additional floor space.
The lady goes on with descriptions of this character. She says that all the washbasins were impossible to keep clean and were generally in a filthy condition. She adds, as a postcript, the significant words:On the directorate of this company are some well-known personalities whose public statements are most high-minded and public-spirited.I have another letter from a gentleman in Barnet giving a record of his experiences in a series of offices. He describes a Gray's Inn office where there was no daylight at all and where in fact the disgusting practice was perpetrated of the male staff, for sanitary purposes, having to rely on a chamber pot kept in a cupboard and emptied into a sink which was customarily used by the woman who made the tea for the staff. One could go on reciting examples of this kind from many letters which I and other hon. Members have received.
Major W. Hicks Beach (Cheltenham)
I am very interested in the observations of the hon. Gentleman about Gray's Inn, because it was totally demolished during the war and has been almost entirely rebuilt since then.
§ Mr. Redhead
I have not the precise address, but I shall be happy to discuss the matter with the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
I also am very interested in this matter because, although I am not a member of Gray's Inn, I am a member of another Inn. I know that Gray's Inn is almost entirely of post-war construction, having been almost entirely destroyed in the war. If the hon. Gentleman will send me the address in such confidence as he likes to put on that letter, I personally undertake that the matter will be taken up by the Benchers of that Inn who, I am sure, will be horrified at such conditions. I have never heard of such conditions in any of the Inns of Court.
Major Hicks Beach
As the hon. Gentleman is critcising insurance companies perhaps again, under complete confidential cover, he will let me have the address of the premises to which he refers. I happen to be a director of an insurance company and I should like to be able to find out if these allegations are true. I do not know the date of the correspondence, but I have an uneasy feeling that it is some time ago.
§ Mr. Redhead
I am happy to see the degree of interest and concern which has been shown by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I shall be very happy to supply such information as I can. Indeed, I will seek to validate in a further degree the inadequacy of the information I have regarding the precise addresses of the cases which I have quoted.
If the hon. Gentlemen feel so keenly about it that they are prepared to exert any influence which they feel they may have, I applaud their good intentions; but they will recognise that their personal influence will be limited. They must remember that there are undeniable cases of shocking conditions of this kind existing in many small commercial firms, and that the only way in which they can be redressed is by legislation of the kind which is at present before the House. I hope that they will carry their good intentions into effect at the end of this debate.
§ Mr. Doughty
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman understood me. I asked for the information, because I do not believe that one word of it is true.
§ Mr. Redhead
In that case, I shall be very happy to explore with my informant the possibility of communicating with the hon. and learned Gentleman in confidence the address and the details so that he may test it.
I have spent most of my adult life as an office worker and I know, from personal experience in Government employment, what it is to work in a slum office. I remember working at one stage in a building which was a work-house before the First World War and which was condemned as unsuitable for that purpose before the First World War broke out. Subsequently—
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is an hon. Member outside the Bar of the House who is making a speech. I do not know the name of his constituency, but he has a rasping voice. I think that he represents one of the Leeds Divisions. I hope that he will keep quiet so that we may hear the contribution from the hon. Member who has the Floor.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I certainly apologise to the House if I said anything which disturbed the proceedings. But there is a great deal of noise going on on the back benches on the Government side of the House, and the hon Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) is a notorious filibuster who only laughs when we complain of disorderly conduct of this kind. As a matter of fact, it is the uneasy consciences of hon. Gentlemen opposite which seem to be rumbling in their stomachs.
§ Mr. Speaker
I hold the view, and I hope that the House will share it, that. pleasant as these personal exchanges may be, we should get on with our business better without them.
§ Mr. Redhead
I was referring to my own experiences, having once worked, when in Government employ, in a disused workhouse which had been condemned as unsuitable to be used for that purpose before the First World War, but which was considered eminently suitable as a Government office t hereafter.
It was bug-infested, to the considerable annoyance of the staff. It had 926 rotten flooring to such a degree that when office machinery was introduced into the building it could not be placed at any higher level than the ground floor. The sanitation left much to be desired and on one occasion I had the distinction of leading a sit-down strike of three hours in protest against the inadequate heating arrangements which had broken down for the third successive time in the midst of a cold winter. Having first informed us that nothing could be done, on the threat of a complete walk out by the staff under my leadership, the Ministry of Works put the matter right in a couple of hours. There may be a lesson in that experience which could be applied in other offices. Eventually that building was vacated, but it was still used in recent times as offices, at least in part, by a commercial concern. That is an example of a condition of affairs which could be duplicated within the knowledge of many lion. Members.
It must be recognised that conditions of this kind have a serious deleterious effect on the health of those concerned. I do not wish to weary the House with statistics, but it can be said without a shadow of doubt that the incidence of tuberculosis, rheumatism, respiratory diseases and bronchitis is much greater among clerical workers than in any other vocation. Surely it is time that something was done to rescue those who have had to endure these conditions for far too long.
A modest start to remedy the situation was made in earlier Bills by seeking to lay down precise minimum standards within a Statute. It has been argued that those Measures were too wide, too rigid and drastic in their draftsmanship. In his Bill my hon. Friend has tried to meet that objection. There is hound to he an objection to delegated legislation, but if objection is taken to rigid standards in a Statute, some other way must he found. This debate provides an opportunity for the Government spokesman to say that if it is considered desirable to deal with the problem in this form, as has been expressed in the past, he will seize the opportunity provided by this Bill.
In drafting his Bill in this way my hon. Friend has afforded the Government a 927 degree of latitude which displays a remarkable amount of trust in the good intentions of the Government. I do not deny that there are difficulties. Of course there are difficulties, but they are not insurmountable. That is demonstrated by the fact that the Government, under pressure from the Civil Service trade unions, where the organisation is much stronger than in many other spheres, have agreed with the staff side of the Whitley Council on standards of office accommodation which, although they have not been fully implemented, represent a considerable advance.
On the occasion of the Second Reading of the Offices Regulation Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates) on 24th January, 1958, the Government spokesman, the hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton), as Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, resisted the Bill on two main grounds. First, he said that the necessary consultations following the Gowers Committee's Report had not yet been completed, nine years after the Report was published and six or seven years after my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields had given assurances that preparations were actively in hand. That argument will no longer suffice as an excuse for further evasion. I hope it will not be advanced.
The second reason advanced on that occasion by the hon. and learned Gentleman was that a Private Member's Measure was not an appropriate way to legislate in a matter of this kind. It was noteworthy that, notwithstanding the pressure exerted on him, the hon. and learned Gentleman steadfastly refused to give any assurance of Government legislation to meet the need. I hope that today the Government spokesman will not rely upon any such argument. If he does, it will be wholly unacceptable, unless he is prepared to give most definite assurances of early Government legislation. If he resists this Bill on these or any other grounds of evasion and if, as I suspect, he is inclined to marshal his forces in the Division Lobbies against the Bill, I hope that the blackcoated workers will realise the significance of that fact. I hope that the last vestiges of respectability which still cling to them will be something they feel they can sacri- 928 fice; that they will take a leaf out of the worker's book by organising themselves and exercising and exerting the maximum pressure, realising where are their real friends on this issue.
I warmly commend my hon. Friend's Bill to the attention of hon. Members. I hope that at long last the House will be persuaded to make a start on dealing with a problem which has been sadly neglected for far too long.
§ 12.9 p.m.
§ Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)
I crave the customary indulgence of the House for a maiden speech, and I also must declare an interest as part-owner and manager of office property.
I find myself in a measure of agreement with the hon. Member for Walthamstow. West (Mr. Redhead) that there is very much of a similarity between this subject and slum clearance. We had to build more houses, 300,000 houses a year, before we could come to our slum clearance plan. With offices, also, I think it would have been wrong to have implemented the principles enunciated in the Gowers Report immediately, when there was an appalling lack of offices.
In recent years, there has been a great deal of office building. I was glad to hear hon. Members opposite welcome the building of new offices, because I believe that it has made a tremendous difference. In the City of London now there is a vast amount of new and modern office accommodation and, therefore, at last the Dickensian offices are on the way out.
I wish to follow the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) in one point he made. In my view, the health and happiness of office workers depends very much indeed upon their travelling arrangements. Even if they are working in the most palatial offices in London, if they have, at the same time, an appalling drag to and from those offices they find life rather miserable. I make the plea, therefore, that, when offices are closed down, firms should consider opening fresh offices outside London.
In Hemel Hempstead, we have been pioneers in this endeavour. Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons Ltd. was the first large commercial firm to open a headquarters in our new town, and this company has proved that it is perfectly possible for workers to come to places 929 outside London arid to live outside London. They are able to live near their place of work, and what a joy that is.
In my constituency, there are 71,000 very intelligent electors—they sent me here—but many of them commute to London daily. They suffer either the appalling difficulties of travel by British Railways or they go by car and get stuck in traffic jams. In fact, it is quicker now, by courtesy of M.1, to go to Birmingham from my constituency than it is to travel to Londona remarkable comment on the times in which we live. How much better it would be if firms would move out of London and give their office workers the chance of living in beautiful surroundings. We have beautiful surroundings at Hemel Hempstead, wonderful countryside, vast areas of National Trust land just outside our new town, and, in addition, many pretty villages where people love to live in genuinely rural surroundings though not much more than twenty miles from London.
The great reluctance of people to leave London is really extraordinary. Government Departments are an example of this. For many years, I have worked in offices and I have experienced the greatest difficulty in persuading people to move away from London. A 'Government Department, perhaps, may wish to send some of its staff out of London, where they are working in unsuitable accommodation and, perhaps, even living in unsatisfactory accommodation, but it is amazing to find how much officials love their Ministers. I do not think that Ministers fully realise how enormous is the number of Government officials who are so fond of them that they simply will not he parted from them. Incidentally, there are other attractions sometimes in London offices. I remember that one office in which I worked was opposite an hotel. The bathrooms in the hotel had been fitted with the sort of glass one can see through one way but not the other. Unfortunately—or fortunately—the glass had been fitted the wrong way round. It was remarkable the inspiration which officials managed to draw from gazing out of their windows.
People do not like to leave London, but I hope that, as the old type of miserable office is swept away, people will no longer wish to continue to work all 930 their lives in London. It is perfectly possible and very pleasant indeed to work outside London.
I am not certain that all the recommendations in the Gowers Report should be implemented, although a great many of them should. There is an interesting point made about lighting, to which 1 should like to direct attention. In paragraph 38, the Gowers Committee says:We think that if, in the ordinary course of their duties, the enforcement authority's inspectorate were from time to time to take light-readings of the premises that they visit, and, with the standards required by the Factories Act in mind, were to make friendly recommendations to employers, improvements would soon be apparent. An approach on these lines is preferable to an attempt to impose at once a minimum standard, necessarily couched in language difficult to understand, and capable of enforcement only by employing technical tests which, because of their unfamiliarity, are unlikely to gain the respect of those who might normally be expected to cooperate.I hope that some Measure will he brought forward. I shall listen with keen interest to this debate, but I am not at all certain that this Bill is the best means of bringing about what we want to see. I am, however, quite certain that the time has come when it is possible, reasonable and practical to put the necessary recommendations of the Gowers Report into force. As I say, I am not certain that this is the best means of doing it, but I hope that we shall have from the Government Front Bench today some good news for office workers.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
It is a very agreeable duty for me to congratulate the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) on his maiden speech and on choosing to speak on a subject of this character which will probably not receive the same measure of publicity as, for instance, did our debates earlier this week. We were very impressed by the powerful plea the hon. Gentleman made on behalf of his own constituency—one might almost say that it amounted to advertising—and there was a good deal of force in what he said, namely, that in planning office development one should not look only to the centres of our great cities. The House will look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman on other occasions. 931 The hon. Gentleman very faithfully observed the requirement that a maiden speech should be non-controversial, so much so that he left me in complete ignorance as to how he will vote if a vote is taken today. Since this is a Private Member's Bill, that is a very proper attitude, I suggest, and I hope that all hon. Members who have not yet studied the subject will approach it with the same open-mindedness as that displayed by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead.
I congratulate, also, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) both on his extreme good fortune—I might have thought that he came from a certain R.A.F. station—in drawing the first place in his very first attempt in our Ballot and, more than that, on the subject he chose and the admirable manner in which he presented it to us.
My union, the Clerical and Administrative Workers' Union, has been concerned to secure legislation such as this for about fifty years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) said, there have been many Bills on the subject. I make it fifteen and differ from his suggestion that there have been sixteen. Since 1923, this matter has occupied the House on many occasions, but this is the first time that we have had the opportunity of a full day's debate. I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, and, in view of the admirable speeches made by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, there is no need for me to make a case for the need for this kind of legislation.
It should be clearly understood that a number of the amenities which would be of great value to office workers would not involve new building or great expense. It is merely a matter of different attitudes of mind on the part of employers. Rest rooms could be provided, and certainly first-aid equipment, places to eat meals and the provision of water and proper sanitary arrangements would not involve the building of large new office buildings to the detriment of other building programmes. It is, however, conceded that quite considerable expense will be involved for employers.
The point was well made by my hon. Friend that in office work mechanical and electronic devices are increasingly 932 employed, and it is quite absurd that much simpler versions of certain machines are subject to control under the Factories Acts in some buildings but when moved into the office part of a building there is no protection at all for the workers. Many accidents, not of a major but a minor character, happen to office workers today. The point is that if there are, as my union and I know from personal experience, deplorable office conditions, we in this House should do something to deal with them. If, as many hon. Members may say, they are the exception rather than the rule, surely that is an additional reason for passing the Bill because then there would be no undue difficulty in implementation. I think that either way there is a strong case for this legislation.
Undoubtedly, before we get much further, there will be some complaints about the drafting of the Bill. I think that, whichever way a private Member drafts a Bill, he is liable to get into trouble. I have had some experience myself in this matter. A Bill which I had the opportunity to present and which was most expertly drafted was talked out on the sole ground that it was badly drafted. Whether my hon. Friend chose to put so much faith in the Government and to depend wholly on regulations, or whether he took the opposite course and attempted in the Bill to lay down the standards which we want, he would be wrong, I am sure, in the eyes of the Minister. If, as I fear, although I am a little optimistic that we shall have a favourable reply, the Government are against the Bill, undoubtedly they will make a great deal of the drafting point.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows that many Bills follow a similar form to that followed in the Bill before us. I particularly call to mind that the Lead Paint (Protection against Poisoning) Act, 1926, which was in a very similar form, and a number of other Bills on factory and social matters, laid down only the subject matter on which the regulations should be made, and left it to the Minister to promote appropriate regulations. Even if it is an insuperable difficulty, the Minister will surely recall—it is only a few years ago and it was a Bill concerning his Department—that a private Member was successful in getting a Bill passed through all its 933 stages in which only the word "that" remained of the Bill as it was originally presented to the House for Second Reading.
It would be possible, if the Minister has an alternative Bill, to get rid of the text of this Bill in Committee and to substitute the Minister's text. Whatever view may be taken of the Bill, I hope that it will not be rejected on drafting grounds or matters of form.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
If the Minister wants any further advice, may I suggest that my hon. Friend should look up the reply of the right hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood), when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour? On a Private Member's Bill which the Government wanted to adopt, he also said that Clause I was useless and should be removed in Committee and that Clause 2 would go down naturally, but that at least the Title would be left.
§ Mr. Mulley
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. I am sure that if, as I hope, we reach Committee, we shall profit greatly from his good counsel.
On the question of regulations, my union takes the view that the Gowers Committee's recommendations are modest rather than generous, and we wish in a number of particular points to see the standard in the regulations rather higher than the recommendations of the Gowers Committee. I understand—we should like a reply on this point from the Minister—that higher standards have been agreed between the unions concerned and the officials at the Home Office. I believe that, if political good will were exercised, it would not be difficult for the Home Department to produce either a Bill or regulations very quickly. I rather suspect that they may already be in the pigeon holes of the Home Office, because, as the House knows, consultations have been going on over many years, and, from the trade union point of view, I understand that satisfactory agreement on the principal points has already been reached.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West said, deputation after deputation has been to the Home Office, and they have all been given assurances that legislation would be 934 forthcoming. We in this House have had similar assurances. I will not repeat all the details so admirably dealt with by my hon. Friend, but I recall that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, in replying to a debate on 1st April, 1955, said:We intend to introduce legislation just as soon as we can."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st April, 1955; Vol. 539, c. 756.]On that day the House passed a Bill covering the whole range of the Gowers Committee's recommendations, the Second Reading of which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. H. Davies), without opposition. Those of us who were present know that opposition was not forthcoming only because on a quick check the Patronage Secretary decided that it would be unwise to risk putting his troops on the battlefield. Judging from reading the debate, it was not because the Bill on that occasion had the blessing of the Government. The Bill, of course, was destroyed in Committee. Can we accept what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said then, or must we draw our own conclusion from the date, 1st April—that it was another all fools trick produced by the Government?
The Home Secretary, on 23rd June, 1957, said:I have indicated that the ideals which inspired the Gowers Committee remain our own.In replying to the debate, the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr), who was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, said:The Government are committed to seeing that progress is made as quickly as is practicable in improving working conditions in the spirit of the Gowers Report."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 25th June, 1957; Vol. 572, c. 59, 162.]In 1955, the then Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Tenby, in reply to a Question of mine, said that legislation was in course of preparation. Over and over again, the Government have committed themselves in this House and outside to saying that they want this legislation. Why has it not been forthcoming? It is one of the outstanding cases of political treachery of our time that time and again we have had these assurances which have proved to be worthless. 935 If there are good and sufficient reasons why the Government should not proceed with legislation or support the several initiatives of private Members to get legislation in this sector, at least let them be honest and give the House the reasons. Let them say that it would be putting too great a burden on the employers to provide these modest working conditions. Let them at least tackle the issue on an honest basis and not come along with another dose of promises which are not worth the paper in HANSARD on which they are printed.
Today, we have to make it quite clear, as my hon. Friends have already made clear, that while this is not a subject that we would want to promote on the basis of party politics and which we would like to get through on a nonpolitical basis, if today the Government produce yet another formula for Members opposite to vote against rather than for the Bill, we must declare that the Government are against the interests of all the millions of people who would be affected by a Bill of this nature and also, of course, the shopkeepers, whose interests must be tied to the Government's attitude to the Bill.
This is not a question simply of slum offices or the very old offices that have been going since the days of Dickens. It also affects new buildings too, because many new buildings are being produced without giving the standards that even the Gowers Report laid down. I have a number of examples of this, but one should suffice. I refer to a building which will be familiar to most hon. Members, the Queen's Building, at London Airport.
That building was built by the Ministry of Transport, and yet in 1955 the general secretary of my union, Miss Godwin, said:It appears that a number of our members are being housed in boxes devoid of light and air, both of which have subsequently been introduced at considerable expense.After the building was completed, the Government had to put pressure on the Airways Corporations, although I do not think it was their fault. There was no consultation with the workers—in fact, there was very little consultation at all. The Ministry of Transport simply went ahead with its plan.
936 After the building was put up, £40,000 of public money had to be spent on introducing artificial ventilation and an air conditioning scheme. There was a strike extending over a number of weeks because the workers refused to use the office accommodation that was provided. I understand that disputes are still going on between the workers, the Airways Corporations and the Ministry of Transport on these matters. Had there been regulations of the kind that we envisage in the Bill, surely a major error involving a large sum of Government money could not have been made. The same thing applies to a number of new office buildings put up for private industry.
I hope, therefore, that not only shall we get at least an honest answer from the Government today, but that hon. Members opposite, many of whom over the years will have committed themselves in replies to constituents and in public declarations—many of them have done so to members of my union in replies in which they have expressed their support for the principle of the Bill—will take the courage in both hands and, if necessary, come into the Lobby with us this afternoon and at least, after fifty years, give the office worker the beginnings of a future and give him the understanding that we in this House are interested in him as well as in the manual worker.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
The House is right in congratulating the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) on his exceptional luck in drawing first place in the Ballot almost on the first day he entered the House of Commons and also on his good intentions. I congratulate him on the extremely agreeable manner in which he moved the Second Reading of his Bill and on the almost precocious Parliamentary skill which he displayed, a skill that is not lost upon me, having sat through debates on this subject before. I am well aware of the political considerations weighing in the hon. Member's mind, and I thought his speech was a masterpiece of advocacy. We on this side ought especially to congratulate the hon. Member in having, as he boasted, no doubt rightly, discovered a topic on which he could unite his party. If he follows that path much longer, he will soon be sitting on the Front Bench, be- 937 cause his party obviously is looking for someone like him.
When all is said and done, we must address ourselves to whether we will give a Second Reading to the Bill as it stands. There are two questions which we must consider. First, accepting for the sake of argument that the purpose of the Bill is a good one, we must ask ourselves whether its purpose can be achieved by a Private Member's Bill, which, as the hon. Member for Greenwich knows, is subject to crippling limitations. We sympathise with him in that, and it is not fair to blame him for it. The House is, however, bound to have regard not only to certain minor defects, which one does not want to press too far, but also to certain major defects in the Bill. As we have to decide whether the Bill should be given a Second Reading, I hope the hon. Member will not consider one unfair in drawing attention to those considerations.
The second question which the House has to decide is whether, if the House does not feel that the Bill should have a Second Reading as it is, my right hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department should say on behalf of the Government that he will either take over the Bill as it is or undertake to introduce legislation to achieve its purpose. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) suggested that my right hon. Friend could take over the Bill, cross it all out and rewrite it in Committee. Procedurally, that might be possible, but it is not a desirable way for this House to proceed. The House would be buying a pig in a poke. We would be giving a Second Reading to a Bill for the whole subject matter of which, apart from the Title, something new was to be substituted in Committee, probably upstairs. The House, therefore, would not have been able to consider the substance of the Bill and in consequence would have removed from its purview certain questions of principle which must be written into the Bill.
§ Mr. Mulley
Surely, what we are concerned with today is the principle of the Bill as contained in the Long Title—that isto make further and better provisions for health, welfare and safety in offices; and for purposes connected therewith.938 What we have to do today is to declare whether we feel that such provision should be made. In any event it is not unknown for the form and shape of major Government Bills—the Betting and Gaming Bill will be one example—to undergo many changes. Subsequently, there are Report and Third Reading, when the House can declare itself and, if need be, vote. The hon. Member should not put the difficulties as high as he does. If a Financial Resolution is required, the Government could give my hon. Friend that, too.
§ Mr. Iremonger
That is a perfectly honest difference of opinion. I would not be prepared to give a Second Reading to a Bill which has very wide implications of principle simply on the strength of the Long and Short Titles. I do not think it would be in the best interest of the House to do so.
I shall be coming to certain questions of principle raised by the Bill because I think that we should have those questions before us on the Floor of the House during the Second Reading debate. First, however, I have two points of minor criticism. I do not want to introduce any note of levity, but in looking at Clauses 1 (b) and 6 it occurred to me that they would mean writing into a Statute the duty of an employer to make his office boy wash behind his ears, in default of which the office boy would be liable to a fine not exceeding £50, and £5 a day thereafter. If the hon. Member will look at those two Clauses, he will see that he has provided that it shall be an offence for people not to use the things provided for them. I do not want to be flippant on this point, but if the hon. Member succeeds in obtaining a Second Reading for the Bill he might agree to amend these provisions in the interests of junior employees, realising that he has perhaps not considered some of their implications.
§ Mr. Iremonger
If the hon. Member heard them, perhaps he did not follow my opening remarks. I said that we had 939 to ask two questions. The first was whether to give a Second Reading to the Bill as it is, and I said in regard to that that there were a few minor criticisms which I would not wish to press too far but that there were other major defects which I would come to later.
I put the minor criticism first, because I am referring in ascending order to my objections to the Bill. I mention this particular minor criticism only in case the hon. Member wishes to prepare his list of Amendments for the Committee stage.
§ Mr. W. E. Padley (Ogmore)
Is the hon. Member aware that the proposals which the present Lord Chancellor placed before trade unions in May, 1953, were such that if they formed the subject matter of regulations introduced under Clause 1 (b) there would be no question of the office boy suffering any penalty whether or not he washed behind his ears? In that case, would not the hon. Member agree that it is not a fair point to put against my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am afraid that I cannot follow the hon. Member's argument. We may be able to clarify the point by way of a probing Amendment in Committee.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
Does that mean that the hon. Member will support the Second Reading?
§ Mr. Iremonger
That will become clear as I proceed. Hon. Members opposite cannot have it both ways. An hon. Member is entitled to decide how he should present his argument, and I think it is fairer to the House to take the trivial points first.
My second minor criticism is in no way a light or slight one. Regulations to be made under the Bill will become effective six months after the commencement of its operation, which I believe is to be on 1st July, 1960. I do not feel that that will allow enough time for structural alterations which may be required to be made under the Bill. Before these alterations can even be envisaged by the people who have to make them, the regulations will have to be drafted and they will then have to be published and made subject to a public inquiry, under the procedure laid down in Clause 940 3, as for special regulations under the Factories Act, 1937. That is a minor point, but the hon. Member may regard it as a fair one to make.
But there are four major defects in the Bill as it stands. The first concerns the definition of the word "office", which is the key to the whole Bill. The definition contained in Clause 5 is highly dubious. As I read it, it brings into the ambit of the Bill garages where the garage owner's wife has a little cubbyhole in which she helps him out and answers the telephone, and very small branch offices of estate agents in a town or in the outlying districts of a town. If the Bill is to proceed, it might be better to introduce some limitation to the definition by way of the number of employes in offices to which the Bill is to apply. Otherwise the Bill is going to do as much good as harm. There is little guidance or help on this point of definition in the Gowers Report. The definition of an office, which will have to be put into the Bill in the end, will tax the resources of the most experienced Parliamentary draftsmen, and I doubt whether this point can be properly remedied in Committee. It is so fundamental that it goes to the roots of the Bill.
The second and remaining major defects of the Bill arise from the difficulties inherent in any Private Member's Bill. I accept what has been said by hon. Members opposite, that if it is not possible to carry out such far-reaching legislation by way of a Private Member's Bill, the Government should undertake to do something, but at the moment we have to decide whether we shall give this Bill a Second Reading.
This second defect is that, because a Private Member's Bill cannot provide for expenditure from public funds, there cannot be a centralised inspectorate to see that the provisions of the Bill are carried out. That means that there cannot be any uniformity of standards throughout the country. The effectiveness of the Bill will therefore depend upon the initiative of individual local authorities, and on this point two considerations arise which have to be borne in mind. The first concerns the question whether the burden we shall be placing upon local authorities is acceptable to them. I have no doubt that some hon. Members opposite are informed of 941 the negotiations that have taken place in preparing the Bill, and hon. Members on this side of the House are entitled to be informed of the reactions expressed to the Bill by responsible bodies of local authorities. Is it generally welcomed by local authorities that they should be subjected to this very serious extension of their duties without, as far as I can see—unless the general grant is to be further supplemented—any further aid from central funds? Are they content with the fact that it will involve a call upon their ratepayers? The other consideration relating to local authorities providing the inspectorate is that it is fair to argue that, if adequate effect can he given to the Bill by local authorities, those local authorities could in any case achieve the purposes of the Bill by using powers which they already possess under their byelaws, and by the use of their existing inspectors.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The hon. Member says "No." If he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, perhaps he will enlarge upon that point, because it is one upon which hon. Members would like to he satisfied.
§ Mr. Pannell
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) spoke not only as an ex-president of the Federation of Professional Workers but from a lifelong experience of local government, and he made that specific point. I am a vice-president of the Association of Municipal Corporations, and I have had about thirty years' experience of local government. I confirm that the 1937 Act does not cover the point.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The House will be obliged to the hon. Member for that information. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will be able to give us his interpretation of the existing position, because it is a matter which the House should have in mind.
§ Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the Gowers Report makes that rather clear. That is the reason why the Committee made its recommendations, because existing legislation does not make that possible?
§ Mr. Iremonger
The hon. Member is defeating his own case, because I am pointing out that his hon. Friend, who has introduced the Bill, had to put this upon the local authorities, and he cannot say that the local authorities are adequate to do the job, and then turn round and say that they cannot do it under their present powers.
§ Mr. Marsh
I am sorry to interrupt so frequently, but there seems to be some confusion here. I understand that the hon. Member is saying that the Public Health Acts carry sufficient powers to enable these inspections to be carried out, whereas we on this side of the House say that they do not. There is no reason whatever, in our opinion, why the Bill should not invest the local authority health inspector with the powers which he does not have under the provisions of the Public Health Acts. The only criticism which we have received from public health inspectors through their national association was that this Bill did not make it obligatory on the public health inspector to perform that task. I do not think that, generally speaking, there is any body of opinion which feels that this job could be done by any body other than the local authority, and there is the additional argument that they cannot do it under present legislation.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that clear. We are still left with the situation that we have no centralised inspectorate, and will have to rely on something haphazard, as it may well be, if it is left with the local authorities. Personally, I am a strong supporter of local initiative. as opposed to too much centralisation, and this suggestion of the hon. Member is the very opposite of the case that was deployed on the Local Government Bill. as opposed in Committee upstairs, by hon. Friends of the hon. Member.
§ Colonel Richard H. Glyn (Dorset, North)
Perhaps I may say, as a member of a local authority—and I declare at once that I have a vested interest in this matter—that in my district, not only that of my own local authority, but in a much wider area, the present inspectorate is quite fully employed. This Bill, with which many of us have a great deal of sympathy, drafted in the way it is would 943 bring about a marked increase in the work of the inspectors employed by local authorities, the greater part of which extra expense would have to be borne by the rates. I wish to emphasise that point, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) has already indicated.
§ Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire) rose—
§ Mr. Iremonger
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I think that perhaps I may have the indulgence of the House if I do not give way on this point any further. I am sure that the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Baxter) will be able to enlighten the House if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye later. I am much obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Colonel Glyn).
Perhaps I may now turn to the next point I want to make. I should now like to turn to the third major defect in the Bill as a Private Member's Bill. It is that responsibility is not allocated as between the owner and the occupier of any building, and no provision is made as to how these responsibilities shall be properly allocated. It will have to be done in the regulations to be made under the Bill. In the Bill responsibility is placed on the owners, as in Sections 101 and 102 of the Factories Act, 1937. Only a minority of factories are tenanted factories, whereas the majority of office buildings are occupied by many occupiers and sometimes none are the owners. Even Sections 101 and 102 of the Factories Act, 1937, had to be amended in the recent Factories Act, 1959, and even now, as I think all lawyers would agree, the position is not entirely clear, and therefore not entirely satisfactory.
This major question of how that allocation of responsibility between one party and the other is to be made is one which ought to be discussed and decided by the House. It is not satisfactory to leave it to be decided under regulations which are to be made under the provisions of the Bill administratively in the Departments, and not subject to the possibility of Amendment in the House.
That brings me to the fourth major defect of a Private Member's Bill as an instrument for this purpose—the defect 944 of too much delegated legislation. I believe that delegated legislation is highly undesirable, and, therefore, as this subject requires its main purpose to be carried out by delegated legislation, that the subject is not suitable for a Private Member's Bill. I do not believe that so much detailed legislation which affects the interests of so many people should be outside the influence of this House. It may well be possible for an Amendment to be tabled in Committee seeking to make the regulations subject to affirmative Resolution of this House. I quite agree, but it would not allow the House to amend the regulations. Although I think the defect is understandable, because it would have been beyond the resources of any Private Member to draft a Bill entirely covering the recommendations of the Gowers Report without the advice of a Law Officer and the experience of a Department it constitutes a fundamental and insuperable obstacle to the Bill as presented to the House.
Therefore, we have to turn to the second main question which should occupy the House, and that is whether the Government should take over the Bill. I should like to preface my remarks on this question with a reference to what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park said, and it is a point about which considerable play was made on the other side of the House, about the Gowers Report the record of the Government in regard to its recommendations, as compared with the Government's avowed sympathy for them. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park dramatised the situation by his reference to the "treachery" of the Government, implying that the Government said that they would take action upon the Gowers Report and then did not do so. I accept everything that may be said about the Shops Bill. I was one of those who opposed the introduction of the Shops Bill, for reasons which it would be out of order for me to enlarge upon now, but I think hon. Members opposite ought to recognise that the Gowers Report was not a Report which dealt with offices or with shops alone and exclusively. It was a Report which dealt with a wide variety of matters, and we are entitled to remind the House that the Gowers Committee's recommendations in regard to provisions for people 945 in agricultural employment were put into effect in the Act passed by the Government of this party in 1956, and that in 1959 the Factories Act, also passed by this Government, implemented the recommendations of the Gowers Committee in regard to railway workshops. Therefore, it is possible to pitch just a little too high the argument with which so much play has been made on the other side of the House.
But all that is merely prefatory. We still have the question whether the Government should take over the Bill. Personally, I would want to be persuaded authoritatively, with due respect to the evidence from the other side, that the legislation was necessary. I think it is a very sound principle that if it is not absolutely necessary to legislate, it is absolutely necessary not to legislate, as I am fundamentally opposed to legislation. If I felt that legislation could create universal virtue, I should be in favour of a vast enabling Bill being introduced by the Government forthwith, but in the world as it is, we want to have the minimum possible legislation. Therefore, I think that the onus of proof is always on those who want the legislation to prove that their measure is absolutely necessary. That is a statement of political principle, with which, of course, anyone can agree or disagree.
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
How does the hon. Gentleman expect to remedy the shocking and appalling conditions which have been described except by legislation?
§ Mr. Iremonger
That is a fair point. If the conditions are indeed shocking and appalling, I would say that it is necessary to legislate. But I should like an authoritative assurance that they are. With due respect, we have had statements of opinion which might convince me if authoritatively supported, but which, at the moment, I accept with a certain amount of reservation.
I am bound to feel on this point that office workers are an articulate body of people. They are articulate at their places of work and they certainly are politically articulate as far as I am concerned. Probably, I represent in the House as many white-collar office workers as any hon. Member. Whether it is indicative of anything, I do not 946 know, but I am bound to take note of the fact that at no time since I have represented them in the House has any constituent of mine or any body of constituents, with one exception, made any representations to me on this score, and we have just had an opportunity to assess the feelings of the electorate on these matters. I could tell hon. Members what matters do trouble my constituents, but not one constituent—with one exception I have mentioned—has ever made a suggestion that this legislation was necessary. It may be a chance omission, but I am bound to take note of it.
It is also fair for the House to recognise that at present the office worker is on a seller's market. He is in a position in which he can say, "The conditions here are intolerable and I know perfectly well that I can get the same money or more down the road ". The economic pressure is upon the employer rather than the employee, and it operates to make him better these conditions, because the employee is capable of improving his position on a seller's market. It is possible, of course, that we may have the kind of evidence that could persuade me otherwise. I should be very willing to accept it if it is produced.
I should also like to know from my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary something of the facts on which this legislation ought to be based. What is the true nature of offices where there are very low standards? Are they not offices run in a small way by small people making small profits? I have a feeling that we might well achieve a purpose by the Bill which is not in the minds of its promoters. May we not be putting on the owner and employer in a small office a burden which might well make him say, "Very well, I shall carry on my business in my own house." Then he would be removed from the purview of the Bill, by its definition clause, and thus might defeat the object of this Measure.
The House also, in the larger perspective, should have regard to the Bill in the light of the national economy as a whole.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The hon. Member does less than justice to himself if he 947 objects to this. One must always look at legislation from the point of view of the national economy—not from the point of view of £ s. d., which are only symbols of the economy—but from the point of view that we should be using our economic resources in labour and materials to the best advantage. Short-term investment of this kind in what are very largely old properties would be a waste if looked at from an economic point of view. Hon. Members are entitled to say that it is a consideration which weighs nothing in the balance. Nevertheless, it is a consideration.
We ought to remember that the Gowers Committee was reporting on circumstances which prevailed twelve years ago. A great deal has happened since then and it may well be that events have made the Committee's recommendations irrelevant.
§ Mr. Iremonger
That is the point I am making. Twelve years ago the Gowers Committee was looking at a fairly dismal scene. If it were making its recommendations today, it would not be looking at anything like such a dismal scene.
§ Mr. Monslow
How has the scene changed, inasmuch as the Gowers Report has not yet been implemented?
§ Mr. Iremonger
I do not follow the hon. Member. The Gowers recommendations on office buildings have not been implemented. Therefore, we have to look at the scene today and ask whether if the Committee were reporting on present-day conditions any change would be called for. I wonder whether it would. With the enormous increase in office buildings and the enormous growth in prosperity we might well find that the health and safety of office workers, which have always been comparatively good compared with those in more arduous occupations, may well not be in the jeopardy they were in twelve years ago. Perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary has made inquiries about that and will inform the House.
I am worried not so much by what has been done or not been done and 948 ought to be done in the kind of buildings which the Gowers Committee were looking at twelve years ago, but by whether we can be satisfied that the spirit of the Gowers Report has been put into effect in the new office buildings erected in the recent past. I am not at all sure that proper requirements for sanitary and health conditions in office buildings which are now being erected are adequately met. Are we creating in these new offices the slum conditions on which the Gowers Committee made its Report? The Government, in indicating their intentions towards the Bill and towards this problem, ought to answer the question of how far new office buildings will cause this problem to arise again.
There may well be a case for effective and well-conceived legislation. If so, the debate will have served a useful purpose in stimulating the Government to action. But, with all the good will in the world, I cannot feel that the purpose of the Bill can be achieved by the Bill as it is now presented to the House. Therefore, I hope that hon. and right hon. Members, in their wisdom, will see fit not to give it a Second Reading.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Warrington)
The hon. Member has made a most astonishing statement for a Member who has had so much experience of social legislation in the House. He said that one reason why he could not support the Bill or encourage the Government to support it was that one could not create universal virtue by legislation. But does he not agree that all social measures of this kind never attempt to do that? They presuppose that there are large numbers of good employers and all they attempt to do is to bring into line the minority who do not do their duty towards their employees.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am glad of the opportunity of clearing up for the second time what I said. I said "If it is not necessary to legislate—and I am willing to be convinced that it is necessary—it is necessary not to legislate", because one does not want a lot of unnecessary legislation. If a good case is made out that an undesirable state of affairs can be remedied effectively by legislation, I will support legislation for that purpose.
§ 1.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)
We have listened to a most extraordinary speech from the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger). In the first place, the hon. Member in effect asks, "What is the good of anything?" and he answers "Nothing." He not only objects to the Bill but also to the Government's taking it over. On the assumption that a private Member can act only within the limits that the House has imposed on him, it does injustice to a private Member to suggest that he cannot promote a Bill which is effective in any real sense. We have to depend on the Government.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned centralisation. When I introduced a similar Bill nearly two years ago I was asked how could we exclude Government offices? We have no power in a Private Member's Bill to impose expenditure on the Government, so we can only plead with the Government to accept the principles we are putting forward, in the hope that they will recognise their responsibility and do something themselves to include all offices.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The hon. Gentleman is making my point, that if there is a case for the object of this Bill, it cannot be achieved by this Bill, and therefore the Bill cannot be acceptable.
§ Mr. Yates
The hon. Gentleman is saying in effect that no Private Member's Bill can achieve anything, and that is why I say he has done a grave injustice to the private Member in this House, who can propose a Bill only within the limits the House has imposed upon him. The hon. Gentleman made another point which interested me. He said that the white-collared workers were not articulate—
§ Mr. Yates
As my right hon. Friend says, what hope would they have? I can 950 well imagine that the clerical workers in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, knowing his outlook, dare not put questions to him. How could they, knowing how unsympathetic he is about anything concerned with their welfare?
§ Mr. Yates
If I put my personal experience against that of the hon. Gentleman, I can tell him that I have been a member of the Clerical and Administrative Workers' Union for thirty-six years. When I first went into an office in Birmingham I worked from 8.30 in the morning until 8 o'clock at night and I was not allowed to go out at midday for some fresh air. I have seen similar restrictions imposed upon clerical workers in shops and offices. I have seen the difficulties experienced in my own trade union when it has pleaded for the clerical workers, and I could give the hon. Gentleman many examples of injustice to them.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the local authorities. Of course we have to ask them to undertake the task, because we have no power to impose expenditure upon the Government which would be involved in a central inspectorate. If the hon. Gentleman will read the Report of the Gowers Committee he will see that in page 12 it refers to the shortcomings of the existing law. It goes on to say in paragraph 17:These arguments are reinforced in the case of London by the fact that it is doubtful whether under the Public Health (London) Act routine inspection of offices (as distinct from inspections based on specific complaints), can legally be carried out.That is one reason why we want action.
When I had the honour to present my Bill, which was on similar lines to this one, although my hon. Friend has concentrated more on giving the Minister the power of delegated legislation, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, in replying to my case, said:A major exercise of that kind involves various things. First and foremost, it involves consultations between Government Departments, local and other public authorities and representatives of trade unions and employers' organisations.951 That was almost two years ago. At that time it must have been known by the Joint Under-Secretary that there had been widespread consultations between all those bodies. The Trades Union Congress had not only met representatives of the Home Office and had thrashed out the question, but had reached agreement with the Home Office on minimum standards. I asked for a copy of the recommendations, which was given to me by the Home Office, so I knew that there had been consultations. Therefore, although the Joint Under-Secretary went on to say—The first reason is that there have not been the necessary full consultations which I mention."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th January, 1958; Vol. 580, c. 1480–2]I say quite frankly that it is not correct. In support of my statement I shall refer to a lecture given by Mr. F. G. Davies, Chief Public Health Inspector of the County Borough of Exeter. This lecture was given at the sixty-third annual conference of the Sanitary Inspectors Association held at Bournemouth from 18th to 21st September, 1956. Mr. Davies said in his remarkable lecture:The Home Secretary circulated his proposals to the various interested organisations in 1953 and when he later addressed us at Morecambe he expressed the view that 'by clearing the ground now, we will reduce to a minimum the time which must expire before legislation is brought into operation'.I ask the Joint Under-Secretary to put this point to the Minister: if those consultations were not sufficient, there was an opportunity in the following two years for further conversations. The Trades Union Congress has sent deputations to two or three Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries on the matter, so something could have been done.
We must not assume that because new buildings are being erected the problem will be solved. For instance, I said two years ago that information and figures given to me by the London authority showed definitely that within two years from that date it could replace only 50 per cent. of the buildings destroyed in the war. So there is no question of adequately replacing the buildings destroyed. In the centre of London, around Throgmorton Street and other streets, we can find men and women working in crowded offices and in base- 952 ments. Furthermore, I wonder what the journalists would say about the conditions in their offices. I have received a letter from the Birmingham branch of the National Union of Journalists in which the writers point out to me that although most of their members are fortunate enough to work in buildings whose office accommodation is reasonable, they are concerned that their colleagues who are less lucky should be able to secure the benefits which the successful passage of this Bill will bring.
If the journalists who may be listening to us now or the other members of the Press all over the country could tell us the truth about the conditions in Press offices, I am sure that there would be many cases about which we should be shocked. This applies not only to London. It applies also to Birmingham and Manchester. The secretary of the Birmingham branch of the Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsmen writes to me:My trade union, which caters for some 60,000 odd drawing office workers including draughtsmen, designers, calculators, estimators, planning engineers and tracers, has been desirous for many years for the implementation of the recommendations of the 1949 Gowers Report.The letter goes on:We can say with pride that there are many engineering firms up and down the country who have provided really first-class conditions in which our members work. However, despite this excellent voluntary response there are still far too many engineering establishments in both the City of Birmingham and the Black Country/West Midlands area where conditions reminiscent of Dickens' 'Christmas Carol' still exist in 1959. The old concept of an office in some squalid corner of a factory or over an entry still unfortunately exists. Bad lighting, bad ventilation and the like are the consequence of allowing no minimum standards to be effectively imposed by law on such firms.We have enough evidence from throughout the country to show how unfair it is that the white-collared worker should be placed in conditions where there can be no limitation whatsoever upon the employer as to the conditions that he may impose. These persons may be compelled to work in overcrowded conditions without adequate light and air and without proper heating or washing facilities.
This is not a party matter; it is a matter which affects the life of the people. Surely every party ought to be willing 953 to examine the problem with a view to legislation being brought forward at the earliest possible moment to provide the prescribing of minimum standards which our clerical workers feel they have a right to expect. I was a clerical worker before I came to this House, and I have always felt how unfair it was that the incidence of sickness among clerical and sedentary workers was so much higher than among industrial workers.
§ Mr. Yates
The hon. Member says "rubbish", but what I say is true. I pointed out to the House two years ago that official records show that the incidence of tuberculosis among clerical workers is far higher than it is among agricultural workers and factory workers. The records show that this also applies to the incidence of anaemia and heart troubles.
§ Mr. Yates
It applies to nervous conditions in particular, and also to eye strain. In some London offices mirrors are required to reflect the light from outside. As a clerk, and as one who has studied the conditions in which my fellow beings have had to live, I have felt that it was unfair that their health should be jeopardised because they were given no real protection by this House.
If the Minister says that the Bill is unsatisfactory, that it represents too much delegated legislation, that it is too big or that it involves too much Government expenditure, surely the Government ought to give its provisions the fullest consideration so that something better may be presented to the House.
I appeal to hon. Members opposite to give the black-coated workers some hope of a charter such as factory workers have. I urge them not to turn the Bill down because there is something in it which they do not like. All such matters can he remedied. 1 am sure that my hon. Friends would almost be glad to withdraw the Bill if the Government would promise to bring in legislation which would offer some hope to clerical workers. Let us have a Measure which will cover workers in every factory and every office. Such a Measure is overdue, although there has been plenty of opportunity to provide one. This is a grand opportunity, 954 and the Government should take it. It would be not only for the good of the Government but for the everlasting good of the country if the Government would do as I have suggested.
§ 1.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)
Listening to the debate, one gains an impression of tremendous extremes in offices, on the one hand, offices which are perfect and in which people are anxious to work, and, on the other hand, offices in which people work in conditions similar to those in the mines a hundred years ago. If one believes the case which has been put forward by hon. Members opposite, the office worker today is the member of the employed community who is in the worst position.
We have, in fact, made tremendous progress over the last hundred years in the protective legislation which has been introduced to look after people doing jobs of all sorts. Each year we have seen certain advances. Because of the advances year by year, one is inclined to look back and think that the conditions of, say, only thirty years ago were impossible and insufferable. I should he extremely disappointed if in another thirty years' time we did not look back and think that the present working conditions in offices and so on were antiquated and disgraceful. If we do not do so, it will mean that we shall have made no progress at all.
We have in the last decade made our meed of progress. We had the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954, and then we had the Agriculture (Safety, Health and Welfare Provisions) Act, 1956, which directly carried out some of the recommendations of the Gowers Committee Report. This year we have had not a big piece of legislation but a useful piece of legislation, another Factories Act.
I recognise that the Bill which has been introduced by the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) is an attempt to fill in part of the protective mechanism which is necessary for a large group of the working community. I have been trying to find out how many people are employed in offices in the United Kingdom. It is extremely difficult to do so, because a clerk employed in a brewery, for instance, is regarded as being employed in brewing rather than 955 in clerical work. Although their conditions are probably fairly good, administrators, directors and managers are not regarded as being office workers.
However, as far as I can tell, about 10.5 per cent. of the working population of England and Wales are employed in offices. The Scots must be a much more vigorous outside crowd, because in Scotland the figure is only 9.2 per cent. The interesting thing is that over the twenty years from 1931 to 1951—these latter being the years from which I have taken my figures—the numbers working in offices rose from 6.9 per cent. to 10.5 per cent. It seems that the trend is for more people to work in offices, which makes legislation of this kind of growing importance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) spoke of the people who are not included in the figures which I have given. He quoted an example of a woman employed in the cash desk of the garage or a petrol station. He thought that it would be very serious to interefere with that type of accommodation. I wholeheartily disagree with him. Some small offices, those for tally clerks in mills and so on, are the very sort of places with which we want to deal, as well as with the big office accommodation in the cities and towns.
I am obviously very fortunate in the office conditions to be found in my constituency. I have had a number of letters asking me to support the Bill, and one of them came from the local secretary of the National Union of Bank Employees, representing all the bank employees in Essex. He told me of some of the disgraceful conditions in which bank employees had to work. Another letter come from the local branch secretary of N.A.L.G.O., covering a large part of Essex. But both writers made it clear that the offices in the locality in which they worked, the part of Essex in my constituency, were sound and healthy. It was offices in other parts of Essex which needed improvement.
Now that so much new building is taking place, it is time that legislation was introduced to lay down minimum standards. It is all very well to talk about the tremendous cost of the office improvement in the Queen' Building at London Airport, but if there had been 956 basic regulations, that additional cost would not have arisen. I am not sure whether there is a case for immediately enforcing new regulations for old office buildings, especially those liable to be pulled down in the next decade or so, but there is the strongest possible case for legislation in respect of new buildings. I hope that we shall get more than sympathetic noises from my hon. and learned Friend and that if he recommends the rejection of the Bill, he will say that the Government will introduce provisions at least to deal with conditions in new buildings.
It would not be a bad idea to study and then to do something about conditions in old offices in some of the big cities, if necessary, doing so over ten or fifteen years. However, having said that, and although in all sincerity I support the ideals of the Bill, I cannot support some of its details, although I shall certainly not vote against the Second Reading. I have read the debate on the other Offices Bill and the Government's criticism of it. That Bill did not propose to proceed by delegated legislation and this does. I am not sufficiently skilful to argue the case one way or the other. However, I think that the time limit involved is much too short, and there are other details which I cannot bring myself to support.
Nevertheless, something ought to be done and done now about implementing some of the recommendations in the Gowers Report so that we ensure that conditions in new office buildings are of a good standard. The Government have been much too long in considering this matter and in chopping and changing their minds over the years they have been in office. By now, they could have introduced the first steps of this sort of legislation. While I cannot vote for the Bill, I think that something must be done, and I shall certainly not vote against it.
§ 1.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Creech Jones (Wakefield)
Before the war, I had the privilege, I think in 1935, of introducing a similar Bill. At that time, the arguments against the Bill were the very arguments which have been used today. The promise of the years has not been fulfilled; the Government have not introduced the legislation which they then undertook to provide.
957 I recall that at that time it was urged that this problem should be left to local authorities. There was a promise of provision in further health legislation. The years have gone by, but nothing of importance has happened. I urge the Government to fulfil their promises and meet the demand that is being made now for something to be done.
I was surprised to hear one hon. Member say that he had not received any requests from his constituents to support the Bill. I have received requests from a variety of bodies in my constituency urging me to support it. I have had requests from Administrative Workers Unions, the National Union of Journalists, the National Association of Local Government Officers, and the Transport and General Workers Union. They urge the Government to bring in legislation to deal with the protection of office workers.
In his report, published in November this year, the chief public health officer in my constituency says that in Wakefield there is a desperate need for action to remedy the position. He says that it has become the established practice to take old dwelling houses that are unfit for human habitation and convert them into offices. He adds that defects such as rising and penetrating dampness, lack of lighting and ventilation, which, would not be tolerated in houses where people live, are permitted in buildings where clerical people work.
The Government should now take effective action. For thirty or forty years Governments of the day have been pressed to improve office conditions of employment. Surely these improvements should now be made.
We are concerned with overcrowding and with intolerable conditions. We want legislation for an increasingly important section of the community. Clerical work plays an increasingly important part in the economic life of the country, and clerical workers are entitled to the best conditions of work that can be provided for them.
There may be defects in the drafting of the Bill, but those defects could be made good with the assistance of the Government. I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading and that in 958 Committee there will be the fullest cooperation by them in obtaining legislation of the kind which is being asked for.
§ 1.44 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dennis Vosper)
I think it might help the House if I explained the Government's attitude to the Bill. The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) told us that this was not his maiden speech. I was aware of that because I heard his maiden speech. May I congratulate him on his eloquence and persuasiveness today, as I did on the previous occasion? I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on winning the top place in the Ballot. I admire his courage as a newcomer to this House in introducing a Bill of a type which has foundered on more than one occasion—on fifteen or sixteen occasions we have been told.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is deeply concerned with the issues underlying the Bill. If I differ from him in his method of dealing with them I hope that he will accept that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I are no less concerned to see the difficulties resolved.
I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) on his maiden speech, and say that I have noted his remarks about the attractions of Hemel Hempstead and about the members of the Home Office staff who he says are wedded to their Minister. I will point out to them the attractions of moving to Hemel Hempstead.
The Government are anxious that office workers who make a vital contribution to our economy should receive treatment no less considerate than that received by any other section of the community. I am particularly interested in doing that because I spent a few years of my life working in offices which at that time did not come up to the desired standards of health. During my short stay at the Ministry of Health I appreciated the importance of good working conditions.
Speaking in the debate on 25th June, 1957, my right hon. Friend the Home 959 Secretary said that the objective of the Gowers Committee:… was to ensure that no worker in non-industrial employment should be compelled by force of economic circumstances to put up with working conditions which were dangerous to life or limb or to general health or which"—and my right hon. Friend said that these were his own words—were in any way inconsistent with human decency or dignity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th June, 1957; Vol. 572, c. 45.]Those are still the aims of the Government—and at that time my right hon. Friend added that we had gone a great way to carrying them out.
Since that speech more than two years' ago new factory legislation has been enacted to include railway workshops as recommended in the Gowers Committee Report. There has also been a big development in office building. I shall draw attention to that later.
The House is not in dispute about this aim, but the question to which right hon. and hon. Members have largely devoted their arguments is whether it should be achieved by some form of legislation involving minimum conditions, such as the Gowers Committee suggested, or whether by encouraging capital investment and high standards of working conditions we can achieve our objective more rapidly. This is the divide between hon. Members who have spoken today, but I emphasise again that there is no dispute in principle.
The Bill raises three questions. First, is legislation which was thought to be necessary a decade ago advisable today? Secondly, is the Bill before the House today suitable for this purpose? Thirdly, is it a matter which can be dealt with satisfactorily in private Members' time? I propose to deal with those three questions in turn.
The hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) was a member of the Gowers Committee. In its second Report the Committee made extensive proposals for prescribed minimum conditions of health, welfare and safety in a wide range of industrial employments. It did so at a time when restrictions were inevitable in many aspects of our life and it was not able to visualise the enormous expansion and development in office buildings which was to take place 960 a few years later. Not unnaturally, the Committee was attracted to the model of the Factories Acts and did not differentiate to any great extent between health, welfare and safety in industrial settings on the one hand, and non-industrial settings on the other hand.
It was in the light of this Report that discussions took place between Government Departments, principally the Home Office, and other interested bodies. Although legislative effect was later given to the agricultural provisions, no agreement was reached about offices. The trade unions—the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) is well aware of this—felt that the Gowers' recommendations did not go far enough. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) made that point today. The employers, for their part, felt that while the standards were in accordance with the best modern practice, the effect of the suggested legislation would be to create much difficulty for the small man in business who, from the practical point of view, could improve conditions only as new buildings became available. One of the employers' organisations, at least, thought that a voluntary code of conduct would be preferable to legislation. I should make it quite clear that although proposals were circulated and discussions of considerable length took place, no agreement was ever reached and no draft Bill is in existence, or ever has been in existence, in the Home Office.
One difficulty in dealing with the problem is the lack of information. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have made this point. I have no idea of the number of offices which would fall to be dealt with under the Bill, but it must be at least 1 million. The true extent and nature of the deficiencies are not known. In its Report, the Gowers Committee was not able to consider the existing conditions in offices in any detail. I think the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East will corroborate that. It seems to me that any legislation affecting conditions must have regard to the existing circumstances, and that is not possible in this case.
§ Mr. Mulley
The right hon. Gentleman is making a very serious statement when he speaks of lack of information. Since this matter has been discussed and has been the subject of negotiation between 961 his officials and other interested parties over the last nine years, can he say what the Home Office is doing to provide this information?
§ Mr. Vosper
If the hon. Member will let me develop my speech, I will deal with that point. At the moment, there is a lack of information, which is admitted on all sides of the House.
We are concerned in this proposed legislation with three factors—health, safety and welfare. I should like to say a word about each of them. Both in this debate and in earlier debates, but particularly in earlier debates, hon. Members have argued that office workers are more prone to certain diseases than are other categories of workers. The hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) made that point today. I do not deny that working conditions are an important contributory factor towards the health of the workers, but I suggest that the figures used are somewhat selective. It is true, as the hon. Member said, that there is a high mortality rate among office workers from tuberculosis, coronary diseases and rheumatic heart disease. On the other hand, deaths as assigned to cancer, respiratory diseases in general and other heart diseases are considerably fewer than would be expected on the basis of the all-male death rates in England and Wales.
Another important aspect is that high mortality rates do not always arise from adverse circumstances directly associated with the occupation itself. Other factors are the standard of living of those engaged in the occupation, their housing, clothing, education, dietary habits and attitudes towards healthy living. I make this point in all seriousness: often these determine the mortality rates of people in these occupations much more than does the occupation itself.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
I apologise for unavoidably being late for the debate. I had a particular interest in this subject some years ago when I introduced a Private Bill on the Gowers' Report. I do not want to delay the House, but I must point out that the right hon. Gentleman's speech is a great retreat from the replies which were given to me some years ago. This is an amazing retreat. The Minister has come to the 962 House unprepared seriously to answer the case for the Bill.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)
Order. The hon. Member has not been called to make a speech. Interventions should be short.
§ Mr. Davies
I apologise for being out of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but one can be excused for being out of order because of one's reaction to a speech such as that being given by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Vosper
The hon. Gentleman must let me proceed with my speech. It is important to put on record some of the facts concerning the health aspect in case people outside the House draw the wrong conclusion.
§ Mr. Vosper
They are facts, drawn from the records made available to me.
One other factor which I want to put before the House is that for many occupations there is a minimum standard of fitness, with the result that those who are unable to make the grade on account of health will naturally gravitate to work requiring little physical effort, as is often the case with office work.
Hon. Members have also dealt with the safety aspect. I wish that I could put before the House accurate and up-to-date figures in this respect. It has been alleged that the accident rate in non-industrial employment is higher than that in industry and that safety considerations alone justify legislation of this kind. I do not for a moment deny that safety considerations are important, but such information as I can obtain on this point does not point to this conclusion and does not suggest that the accident rate in offices is in itself sufficient to justify legislation.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I am particularly interested in this subject, because I have been Minister of National Insurance. The Ministry of National Insurance covers practically everybody in the country in respect of sickness, while industrial injuries are covered by the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act. The right hon. Gentleman is giving what he describes as facts about the 963 health and safety of workers in this occupation. Are these substantiated by the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, which is the only Ministry with complete records on this subject?
§ Mr. Vosper
That is indeed my difficulty. The classification of workers does not fit exactly into the classification adopted in the Bill, and I am therefore unable to put before the House any figures which might not lead to false deductions. I am saying that the safety argument, important though it is, in our opinion is not in itself conclusive evidence for legislation.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The Minister has been very dogmatic about this. I, too, have been Minister of National Insurance, and I took a great interest in this subject. I am astonished that the Minister is using this argument, in view of the fact that 50 per cent. of the beds in this country are occupied by people suffering from nervous conditions. Obviously, conditions in an overcrowded office are precisely those which contribute towards such a nervous condition. The right hon. Gentleman has so far not mentioned nervous conditions.
§ Mr. Vosper
I do not want to dispute what the right hon. Lady said. I have merely put before the House the fact that safety in itself—and I was dealing with safety, not health—does not make a case for legislation.
I turn to the question of welfare, on which many hon. Members have spoken.
§ Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the safety aspect, may I point out that he has not yet dealt with the question of fire and means of escape from fire? All this is part of the safety aspect. Will he not deal with it?
§ Mr. Vosper
I know that my hon. Friend is anxious to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I am sure that he will make his speech when he succeeds in doing so. I was about to deal with the question of welfare. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] Those who have spoken so far and who have pressed for the introduction of legislation have done so more on the grounds of welfare and amenity than on the grounds of health and safety, which are possibly more applicable to factories.
964 My right hon. Friend and I are well aware that the welfare conditions in some offices leave much to be desired, but in the light of changing social and economic conditions it is questionable, to say the least, whether better conditions will result from legislation of this nature or from a positive and more competitive desire of employers to provide better conditions for their people. While there are obviously exceptions, it is my experience that in recent years employers have been anxious to provide better conditions for their workers, partly because good office workers are none too plentiful and employers naturally wish to provide conditions which will enable them to retain their good workers, and partly because, at a time when conditions are improving out of recognition in other fields, the employer has no desire to be left behind.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
Would not the logic of the Minister's argument, that we can rely on competition between employers, lead him to conclude that we should get rid of the Factories Acts?
§ Mr. Vosper
I shall be coming in due course to the differences, as I believe them to be, between the Factories Acts and this legislation. In fact, my next point is to refer to those hon. Members who have argued that all this idea that employers will take care of better conditions was argued in the early days of the Factories Acts but that minimum conditions under those Acts have been responsible for much of the improvement effected.
I think that there is a considerable difference in that health and safety are now the primary conditions in factory legislation and that Government intervention in the form of the Factory Inspectorate is quite right if risks are to be avoided and if the best practices are to become uniform.
In offices, I believe that welfare predominates and that the particular risks and hazards to which people in industry are exposed do not in general apply. Whilst much of the factory improvement would no doubt have occurred in any case, the Factory Inspectorate has done a wonderful job, but one not necessarily applicable to the very different pattern of office accommodation. 965 It is certainly arguable whether legislation of this nature—legislation which attempts to make an employer a good employer—would be effective. It may well be, as one or two of my hon. Friends have already argued, that the only practical effect would be to place a considerable burden upon a large number of small employers, most of whom are anxious to provide better conditions in their own way. If the provisions were strictly and immediately enforced, many small employers would no doubt be put out of business, which, I am sure, is something not desired by those who promoted the Bill.
Capital investment, which I believe would be better employed in urban redevelopment and in providing new office accommodation would be diverted to what would be a more temporary expedient. Enforcement—and I do not think that hon. Members opposite have really addressed themselves to this point—would present enormous difficulties and an office inspectorate would have to be established and suitably instructed in its task.
It would, I think, inevitably be a long lime before local inspection and follow-up action began to make their contribution towards the solution of what may well be a diminishing problem. If it takes 400 factory inspectors to inspect a quarter of a million factories once every four years, the House can calculate for itself the size of the inspectorate which would be necessary to inspect over 1 million offices. Many of my hon. Friends have stresed this aspect, and I do not wish to say any more about it.
§ Mr. Marsh
Before the Minister leaves this point, I would point out to him that I believe that what he has said represents a complete reversal of the facts. What he is saying is that there is now no need for legislative provision to maintain the standards in offices. The right hon. Gentleman also said at the beginning that he had no statistics of the number of bad offices in the country. This is a very serious matter. The Government have told hon. Members on this side on at least three occasions that the only thing they had against their Bills was the matter of drafting and so forth. Now the right hon. Gentleman is saying that the Government are not in favour of legislation on this issue, although he pre- 966 faces this by saying that he has no facts or figures to substantiate in any way what he claims to be the position. Will he give the House some more information?
§ Mr. Vosper
If the hon. Gentleman will let me finish my speech he will find that I will answer his point in due course.
The Government believe that a positive approach to the problem lies in the redevelopment of the central areas of cities and towns in which most office accommodation is situated, and it must be evident to all that it is proceeding apace at the present time. Indeed, it has been the constant criticism of right hon. Members opposite—in particular, I think, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson)—that too much capital resources have been devoted in recent years to office building.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
On a point of order. We are now listening, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to a complete reversal of Government policy within a few weeks of the General Election. May I call your attention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to the fact that the Minister is responsible for letting the country know what the Government's policy is. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is sitting outside the Chamber. May he be invited in to tell the House and the country that the Government are now reversing their policy?
§ Mr. Vosper
I was saying that there has been constant complaint from right hon. and hon. Members opposite that too much capital resources have been devoted to office building in recent years. I must take it from their attitude to the Bill that that situation no longer applies.
I wish to put before the House some information in respect of this development. My information is that in London, for example, 21½ million square feet of new office building were completed between the end of the war and June, 1959. Another 9 million square feet are in course of construction and a further 5½, million square feet have received planning permission. In many provincial cities there has been extensive develop- 967 ment, although I think it would be fair to say possibly not on quite the same scale as in London.
No precise figures have been collected about expenditure on office building, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works estimates that about £45 million was spent in office building in Great Britain in 1955 and that this figure will rise to about £70 million in the current year. These are very large figures and it surely must be clear to hon. Members on both sides of the House that great changes have been taking place in office conditions during the last four or five years, and, given another ten years, I believe that there will be few offices which do not measure up to the spirit of the Gowers Committee's recommendations. This is a point that hon. Members opposite must consider.
It is very doubtful if legislation on the lines proposed could make it any quicker. I have already argued that the detailed application of regulations laying down minimum conditions could well delay the much greater development which can flow from economic expansion and from the desire of employers to provide better conditions.
§ Mr. Mulley
I raised a point to which the hon. Gentleman has not replied. It was that in new buildings, including the Government's own new building, Queen's Building at London Airport, in 1945, minimum standards were not observed. What steps does he intend to take to see that new buildings conform to minimum standards?
§ Mr. Vosper
I am coming to that point too.
Because of this development in new building and because we believe that considerable changes have taken place in the last few years, no pledge was inserted in the election manifesto at the last election. I personally was not aware at the time of the election of any great pressure to impose this legislation in contrast to the more positive philosophy of providing better conditions through expansion. Furthermore, other changes in our way of life make the Gowers recommendations less applicable than was the case ten years ago.
The Government are not anxious at this stage to codify standards which 968 might retard this process of expansion, in which case the formal minimum of the Gowers standards might well become the maximum. I believe that, given expansion, we can do better than the standards laid down in the Report ten years ago. On this aspect, therefore, the Government feel that the arguments for introducing legislation of this kind are not so strong as they were some years ago, but this does not mean that they are indifferent to the raising of standards. The Government's policy has been to encourage all those elements which will contribute towards these higher standards.
I cannot help but feel that in these days we shall achieve as much by education, encouragement and propaganda to make good employers than we shall do by legislation in this particular field.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
Is not the Minister aware of one or two points, the first of which is that rents for office premises have increased three or four times in the last few years? The increase in rents has been very heavy and it makes employers concentrate a larger number of people in a given space. If the hon. Gentleman wants an example of that, may I point out to him that immediately beneath where he is now standing there are some eight or nine people working in the Transport Office of the House of Commons in conditions of most gross overcrowding? If we cannot do anything here and if the hon. Gentleman wants figures—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will confine himself to an intervention and not make a speech.
§ Mr. Hale
I will, of course, Mr. Deputy-Speaker confine myself to an intervention. I was about to say that the right hon. Gentleman could get a lot of relevant facts from the Palace of Westminster itself, and if he wants to consider the incidence of industrial disease in overcrowded places he will find that the relative death rate among M.P.s is rather higher than that of any other occupation in the world.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
Before the hon. Gentleman replies, may I point out that the Secretaries' Room has been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead). I have made inquiries, and 969 I am informed that there are only thirty-nine secretaries in the room and not the number which he stated.
§ Mr. Vosper
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) has made his point. I have not been arguing that there are no exceptions to the general advance in accommodation. I have been addressing my argument to the point that progress and development may well come better through expansion than through the imposition of legislation of this nature.
I want to examine the actual contents of the Bill. The hon. Member for Greenwich, quite rightly, asked hon. Members not merely to address their arguments against the Bill. In the last Parliament, the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West introduced a Bill setting out rigid minimum requirements. In this Bill the hon. Member for Greenwich, as he himself admits, goes to the other extreme in that he leaves everything to be done by regulations. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] May I be allowed to continue? I appreciate his intention and attitude of moderation, but there is a wide body of opinion, and it has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House today, that we would not wish to see so much left to delegated legislation.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Would the Minister have a look at the Coal Mines Act, passed by the last Government in the last Parliament, and see the number of regulations providing for all these things to be done by regulations?
§ Mr. Vosper
I have looked up all the regulations dealing with health, welfare and safety, and that is my reason for putting this point in respect of the Bill because I believe that regulations once made are final. For the Executive to be given such wide powers is surely something that Parliament would not wish to approve. That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). If he will look at the other Acts dealing with health, welfare and safety, he will find that the general basis is to lay down the general requirements in the Statute and to empower the Minister to fill in the details by regulations. I know that the hon. Member for Greenwich feels that he has done 970 this, but if he will examine preceding Statutes he will see the force of my point.
The proposals to which hon. Members referred, which were discussed in earlier years, followed the procedure of the earlier Statutes, and had a Bill been introduced by the Government it would have been a very different Bill from the one now before the House. I believe that this is much more than a Committee point. If the House were of the opinion that it wished to proceed with this legislation, a very different Bill would be needed, and I would very much doubt if it would be practicable to amend this Bill on those lines in Committee. I think that this is particularly so when the Bill is sponsored by a private Member, and. with all due respect to the hon. Member for Greenwich, I do not think that in the limited time available for Private Members' Bills in Committee it would be possible to make this into a workable Measure. I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the lack of draftsmen to assist him. That is a point put before the House by the recent Report of the Select Committee on Procedure.
Clause 2 requires that regulations shall become effective not later than six months after the commencement of the Act. This seems to me to be quite unrealistic. It will be practically impossible to ensure within this short time that the regulations in this new field will be as adequate and practical as they ought to be. Moreover, there is no provision for a period of grace before regulations which might entail structural alterations in some premises come into effect. This was a positive recommendation of the Gowers Committee.
Clause 3 sets out an elaborate procedure involving publication in the London Gazette and elsewhere of intention to make regulations. Quite apart from the question as to how all this is to be done within the time limit, I am advised that this procedure is not necessary for the sort of regulations which would he made under the Bill. This procedure is applicable to the special regulations under the Factories Acts, but not appropriate to the type of general legislation involved in the Bill. The procedure is applicable to the special regulations under the Factories Acts, particularly where an extension of the 971 basic requirements of the law is concerned, but does not operate where the purpose of the regulations is to fill in detailed requirements on matters where the general intention is already laid down in the Act itself.
Clause 8 leaves my right hon. Friend to decide as to who shall be the enforcement authorities. It may be that the hon. Gentleman feels that at this stage of the Bill he cannot be more specific about this. I would not have thought that it was the general wish of the House to leave a matter like this to the Executive and it is certainly contrary to all comparable legislation.
Clause 10 raises considerable problems regarding the relationship of the occupier and the landlord. The Government do not wish to rest their apprehensions about the Bill merely upon these and other defects, which could no doubt be put right if not in this Bill then in another Bill. Nevertheless, they are of sufficient importance for me to say that on this aspect alone the Bill should not receive a Second Reading.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
The hon. Gentleman has made a number of technical criticisms of the Bill and has suggested that the Bill could not be improved in Committee. Does he not remember that his hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) introduced the Clean Air Bill, and that the Government made devastating technical criticism of it? They took out practically the whole of the Bill in Committee, and were able to produce an excellent Measure. If the Government really accept the principle of this Bill, would it not be possible to do that?
§ Mr. Vosper
I have said that it would be difficult in my opinion for the Bill to be amended sufficiently within the scope of private Members' time. I was coming to this point. The Government do not wish to rest their apprehensions about the Bill merely upon these and other defects which could be put right in another Bill, but nevertheless they are of sufficient importance for me to suggest that the Bill should not proceed.
The House will wish to decide whether they think that there is any genuine need for legislation such as that proposed in the Gowers Committee's Report. We all 972 want new premises to measure up to the intention and standard set out in the Report.
The Government have every confidence of this being achieved on the basis of competition, fair dealing and enlightened self-interest, without the need for legislation. I am well aware that hon. Members have mentioned in this and previous debates one or two instances where this is not the case. I have no evidence to suggest that these are anything but exceptions to the general practice in new building.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
Surely in all these matters relating to safety and conditions we legislate and argue for the exception?
§ Mr. Vosper
I note that point. The question that the House has to decide is whether legislation in respect of new buildings—and I was dealing with that at the moment—is necessary for the few exceptions to which hon. Members have referred in recent years.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
Are we now to understand, and to tell those constituents who have written to us asking us to support the Bill, that the Minister is saying that the Government from now on see no further reason for any legislation whatsoever to improve the conditions of office workers?
§ Mr. Vosper
I have not said that and I have not concluded my remarks which are very pertinent to the point raised by the hon. Gentleman. My first point was in respect of new buildings. Secondly, it may be that those concerned most intimately with this problem. the employers and the trade unions, might reconsider the possibility of establishing a code of practice which, with the added force of persuasion and propaganda, would enable existing premises to he improved.
§ Mr. Vosper
Thirdly, it is the Government's intention and desire that encouragement should be given to investment in redeveloping office premises in the belief that this is the best way of solving the problem. The Government feel that progress along these lines, rather than by the form of legislation 973 suggested in this Bill, would best serve the interests of those who share in a desire to ensure that office workers share in the rapidly improving social and economic conditions which the people of this country enjoy at present. Nevertheless, there will be those, like my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), who consider that there remains a need for further action.
It is nearly eleven years since the Cowers Committee completed its work. Apart from what has been said in this debate, there is little specific evidence about the conditions in offices in general. As a matter of course, the Government will study what has been said in the debate today. In addition, however, they feel that further up-to-date information is required about office conditions and they propose therefore to ask selected local authorities to report on the situation as they see it today. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why selected authorities?"] We think it would be reasonable to ask selected local authorities in Great Britain to report on the present state of office accommodation in their areas and to supply more detailed material which is not now available. The lack of such information makes it difficult to assess the real need.
The hon. Member for Greenwich mentioned the evidence collected by Liverpool. We will consider that and take account of the submissions of other local authorities regarding new buildings. My belief—this is in answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) is that there is no serious ground for complaint about modern office accommodation, in the light of the Gowers Committee recommendations, but the opportunity will also be taken to check on this. We shall seek the co-operation of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government in this respect.
If, as the Government hope, the local authorities are willing to co-operate in the task, this inquiry will be instituted as soon as possible and, in the light of the information received, the Government will decide whether further or additional action is required. The Government feel that this Bill should not proceed and that the House should await the results of the inquiry.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, South-East)
I wish to add my congratulations to those already extended to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) on introducing this Bill. Indeed, after hearing the speech of the Minister, we are more than ever grateful to my hon. Friend, because had we not had this debate we should have gone on in the false belief that the Government intended to do something about the conditions of office workers.
§ Miss Bacon
I wish I could congratulate the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department on his speech, but I believe it to be the most defeatist and the most deplorable speech which we have heard from the Government Front Bench for a long time. We might be forgiven for thinking that this is 1859, and not 1959, although if more enlightened speeches had not been made in this House in 1859, and at about that time, we should not have the protective legislation which we have today. We should have had no factory legislation whatsoever.
I gather from the right hon. Gentleman that he has today thrown overboard everything said on this matter by Conservative Governments ever since the Conservative Party came to office in 1951; and indeed, as I shall show later in my speech, what they said in 1954 and in 1958. Hon. Members should mark that 1954 and 1958 come just before 1955 and 1959, and what the Government say today is very different from what they said before the election this year. Today the right hon. Gentleman, as I say, has completely destroyed the hope of any legislation on this subject. Instead, he proposes some kind of further inquiry. Here I must say that I have a special interest in this problem. as the right hon. Gentleman recognises, because I was a member of the Gowers Committee and it is on the Report of that Committee that this Bill is based.
The Gowers Committee sat from 1st January. 1946, until April, 1949, and I was a member of it for two years and four months. During some period of the work of the Committee, two of the right 975 hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends were members. The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) and the hon. Member for Banff (Sir W. Duthie). First, we considered shop closing hours, and then we went on to consider the health, welfare and safety of those in industrial employment and the working hours of young people. It took the Committee two years of frequent sittings to consider that part of its terms of reference with which we are dealing today—two whole years during which the Committee sat in some weeks during the whole of Thursday and Friday. Now we are being told, ten years afterwards, that we are to have another committee of inquiry.
We took evidence from ninety-eight organisations and oral evidence—which took some considerable time—from over fifty representative organisations, including, I might add, organisations of local authorities to whom the right hon. Gentleman now proposes to appeal to see what is happening. Over the years we received a great many tributes to our work. I think I should be speaking for all the members of the Gowers Committee if I said that rather than receiving tributes to our work we would prefer some action by the Government. That would be the best possible thanks for the work which we put in.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten the people whom we should be considering this afternoon. The Gowers Committee dealt with a forgotten army of about 10 million people who are completely outside the scope of any protective legislation. It is true that we have the Public Health Acts, but they were designed less to protect workers in employment than the general public. Who are these 10 million people? They are the workers in shops and offices, in the distributive trades, in theatres and cinemas, on the railways, in domestic employment and in agriculture.
Many of these people work under the most appalling conditions. Those of us who sat on the Gowers Committee and heard representations from the unions and other bodies concerned know how deplorable are these conditions. Today we have heard about offices and office workers, because this Bill refers specifically to offices, but there are many other 976 categories of workers. There are the workers in theatres and cinemas, and the deplorable conditions which exist backstage have to be seen to be believed.
On more than one occasion during this debate it has been said that some of these establishments are small, thereby suggesting that because of their size they might be difficult to deal with. But if there are small establishments, that is all the more reason why there should be legislation to protect those who work in them. I wish to emphasise that the Gowers Committee, which was composed of responsible people and which sat for three years, came to the conclusion that not only was it desirable to protect these people but, more important, that legislation should be produced which it would be practicable to enforce. The Gowers Committee set great store by the fact that the Factories Acts required a factories inspectorate and thought that if only we had some legislation and an inspectorate of some kind in this matter, that in itself would go a long way towards improving conditions.
There are probably between 5 million and 6 million workers who work in offices of some kind or another. As I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) will remind us, if he has the opportunity, the offices in which many people work are part of some distributive establishment, shops, warehouses, and so forth. But these 5 million or 6 million white-collared workers have, to this day, been completely neglected by the Government, and, as we have heard this afternoon, the neglect is to continue.
The right hon. Gentleman said that we had no evidence. We have heard evidence this afternoon. The information which came from Liverpool, which has been quoted today, was given at a meeting of the Royal Society of Health where the public health officer of Liverpool and I were asked to speak on the Gowers Report. This was only a few months ago. The audience, drawn together by the Royal Society of Health, was composed principally of public health officers from local authorities in many parts of the country. If the right hon. Gentleman wants any information or evidence, I can tell him at once that that meeting of public health officers 977 was strongly of opinion that there should be some protective legislation of this kind.
There are many industrial workers whose conditions could be much better than they are, but, by and large, the industrial worker has gone ahead in improvements in health, welfare and safety, while there has been very little improvement for the non-industrial worker. We have heard today of the incidence of disease among office workers, and I was very sorry to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that he did not pay any attention to this.
During the course of our debate, we have a little lost sight of the actual provisions in the Bill. There have been criticisms from the benches opposite about the way in which the Bill has been drawn, but my hon. Friend deliberately drew the Bill in this way in the hope and belief that it would be easier for the Government to accept it, and he did so, I understand, after seeing the right hon. Gentleman himself.
The Bill does not ask for the moon. First, it requires that there should be adequate sanitary accommodation in every office, with separate conveniences for each sex. This is extremely important. Many office workers today are young girls and women between the ages of 15 and 25 and, surely, in this age of sputniks and rockets to the moon, it is not too much to ask the Government to introduce legislation to ensure that, where young girls and women work, there shall be separate sanitary conveniences for them. The Bill calls for adequate and suitable washing facilities. Many office workers cannot afford to go out of their offices for a midday meal and they take their meals where they work. Yet, in many offices, there is insufficient washing accommodation.
I will not go into the rest of the Bill. It deals with ventilation, safety, space, and so forth. About space, I will make the comment that, although my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich said that, in measuring whether the space in an office is adequate, reference should be had not only to the size of the office but to the number of people in it, there is another factor also which is important. Whether the space is really sufficient depends upon the number of objects in the office also. Very often, the cubic 978 capacity of an office may appear to be quite sufficient, but a great deal of that cubic capacity is taken up by cupboards, filing cabinets, and so forth. The Bill does not ask for a great deal. It requires merely that there should be reasonable standards for the millions who work in offices.
What has been the Government's attitude to office workers during the last few years? What they said in 1954 and 1958 is very different from what they have said this afternoon. Since 1951, we have heard various excuses, not reasons, which have varied according to the terms of the Bill which the Government wished to oppose. In 1954, my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) introduced a Bill which had its Second Reading on 1st April, 1954. At that time—I ask the House again to note this is just before the election of 1955—the present Chancellor of the Exchequer said: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.Later, he said:When I used to be an employer myself, I was very conscious of the need of further provision in this field.Again, he said:… I want to say straight away that we arc in entire agreement with the general object of the Bill …. 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 ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st April, 1955; Vol. 539, c. 749–50.]That was said in 1954, just before the General Election in 1955.
§ Miss Bacon
The Bill received a Second Reading and then it was withdrawn because my hon. Friend the Member for Leek understood that a further Bill was to follow.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
It went upstairs to Committee, and we were promised that the Government would introduce legislation to give effect to the proposals in it. It was on that understanding that we withdrew the Bill upstairs.
§ Miss Bacon
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) for that reminder.
In 1958, a Bill was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates). The Second Reading was on 24th January, 1958. On this occasion, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who has been with us during most of our debate today, said:We are all familiar with this problem. I suppose that at some time or another nearly all of us have had to work in offices, good or bad. … It goes without saying that the Government support the objects of the Bill. We are, indeed, in general favour … with the recommendations of the Gowers Committee." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th January, 1958; Vol. 580, c. 1480.]The right hon. Gentleman today has tried to imply that, because it is a decade since the Gowers Committee reported, its Report may now be out of date. The speech I have just quoted was made last year, when the spokesmen of the Government said that the Government werein general favour … with the recommendations of the Gowers Committee.We also saw, as has been said, what happened to the Shops Bill. After the Bill had been introduced in the House of Lords, the Home Secretary came down here and withdrew the Bill under pressure from his own back bench Members. This again was a recommendation of the Gowers Committee. Today, we have put forward reasons and not excuses. I rather expected that the right hon. Gentleman would promise legislation, and I understand that some of his hon. Friends expected it, too. Because of that, some of them have been going round looking for pairs in order that they may absent themselves from the debate. They really thought that their own Government would produce a Bill of this kind.
What we have been told time and time again is that the Government have not time to bring in legislation. I have in my hand a document headed:Shops, offices, catering establishments, road vehicle depots and dental mechanics workrooms.This is an outline of a Bill which could be put into operation covering most of 980 the Gowers Committee's recommendations. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has seen it, but it is the Home Office's own recommendations. I have a further document headed "Administration and enforcement" which shows that it would be possible to administer and to enforce these recommendations. These proposals were put to the T.U.C. in 1953. The T.U.C. was asked for its comments, and in 1954 it saw Lord Tenby, who at that time was Home Secretary. He said that all the necessary preliminary work was being done and that the only matter to be settled was whether parliamentary time could be made available in the near future. We have plenty of time now, and have had since 1954. We have had plenty of time to think about the office workers instead of, for instance, introducing the Rent Act.
Perhaps it might well be argued that at present the Home Office has not time. Some of us, including the right hon. Gentleman, are condemned to sit upstairs in Committee on the Betting and Gaming Bill, not only for many weeks but probably for some months. It seems to me that the Government have their priorities all wrong. I know that the betting and gaming laws are antiquated and need revision, but, if there is a choice between the Home Office turning its attention to betting and gaming or to improving the lot of office workers, I think that the office workers should come first. The Government ought to put the bookkeepers before the bookmakers. It seems to me that the will is lacking. It is clear that what the Government said in the past has been mere excuses.
We on this side have a free vote. We always have a free vote on Private Members' Bills.
§ Mr. Martin Maddan (Hitch in) indicated assent.
§ Miss Bacon
I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman nodding his head. I shall be glad to see some hon. Members opposite in the Lobby with my hon. Friend, but it is a fact that many hon. Members and Ladies opposite have spent a lot of time this week seeking pairs so that they could be away today because they have been told that they must have a pair before they could absent themselves from the House.
§ Mr. Maddan
One has a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Lady is saying, but I cannot accept that there has been any improper pressure, or in fact any pressure, put upon hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ Miss Bacon
I am glad to hear that, but it is in the knowledge of many of my hon. Friends that hon. Members opposite have been told, perhaps not by an official Whip, that if they absented themselves today they must get a pair.
§ Mr. Shepherd
What the hon. Lady is saying is quite wrong, and she is doing damage to her case. I shall vote for the Bill, and I assure the hon. Lady that no pressure has been put upon me to change my mind. She must not misrepresent the position on this side of the House.
§ Miss Bacon
I am glad to hear that and we shall welcome hon. Members opposite in the Lobby.
I hope that my hon. Friend will take the Bill to a vote. I hope that he will do so more than ever now after hearing the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. As I say, we on this side have a free vote. In the light of my experience as a member of the Gowers Committee, I fully intend to vote with my hon. Friends in support of the Bill.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. F. W. Bishop (Harrow, Central)
I should like to confirm the fact that we on this side have an absolutely free vote on the Bill. I intend to exercise my judgment in the Lobby quite freely, although I am afraid that I cannot give a pledge that that will lead me into the Lobby in support of the Bill.
A great deal has been said in the debate about promises and assurances of one kind or another and statements of policy that may have been made in the past. Speaking for myself, on a Friday afternoon on Private Members' day, I do not regard myself as in any way bound by any assurances given, or supposed to have been given, on behalf of the Government. I shall exercise by own judgment, which I am entitled to do.
The problem causing me some difficulty is not whether a great deal of office accommodation, especially in our big cities and towns, is inadequate and ought to be improved, but whether a Bill of 982 this kind would be an effective method towards improving it. I have been an office worker in a great variety of spheres for more than 40 years—from the office junior more or less up to the top—and I know something about office conditions. One hon. Member mentioned the Inns of Court. I shall deal with them in a moment, but I confess that the worst conditions from which I have ever suffered, although I did not regard it at the time as serious suffering, obtained while I was in chambers in the Temple many years ago.
I believe that there are bad conditions which need improving, although I think that they have been exaggerated in the debate today. They have been exaggerated because isolated instances have been taken out of the proper context. For instance, I think it was the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) who referred to a secretaries' room upstairs in which, he said, there were 39 secretaries with only two lavatories. On the face of it, that sounds rather bad, but it must be taken in relation to the building as a whole. We could make out an alarming case which would shock the public if we stated something which is equally true, namely, that 630 Members work in the House of Commons with only two lavatories available to them, one in each of the Lobbies, and none at all for Lady Members. That would be an analogous case and it would be strictly as true as the other. We all know, however, that it would be totally misleading, because we have easy access to many other facilities within easy reach in the building.
The most shocking instance to be quoted in this debate was given by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead), who referred to an office in Gray's Inn. I have had the honour of being a member of Gray's Inn for many years. The hon. Member said that he had had a complaint that a number of men in the office had as a sanitary convenience nothing but a chamber pot, which then was emptied down a lavatory bowl where the woman was accustomed to make the afternoon tea. I am sorry to trouble the House once again with such a shocking instance, but it is necessary to do so.
The hon. Member should not have presented a case of that kind to the 983 House. [An HON. MEMBER: "Somebody needs to do it."] Surely, on a little reflection, the hon. Member must have realised that however inadequate the accommodation in that office might have been, it is in an area and in a place where ample accommodation is easily available within reach and nothing but pure laziness can explain such action on behalf of the people concerned.
§ Mr. Redhead
Will the hon. Member bear in mind that what I said was that this was the information of a correspondent who listed it as one of his experiences? When challenged subsequently, I said that I was not possessed of the address and I could not say whether this was currently the position; but it certainly was within the experience, on the record, of my informant. In reply to the hon. Member's later comments, I would add that the same writer stated that in another instance elsewhere in the same vicinity, there was no sanitary accommodation at all and it was the custom to require the staff to go out into the street and use public conveniences. If the hon. Member feels that that is completely satisfactory, I do not share his view.
§ Mr. Bishop
Of course, I do not feel that that is completely satisfactory. [HON. MEMBERS: "Most unsatisfactory."] I remind the House, however, and the hon. Member in particular, that in the days when those beautiful buildings of Gray's Inn were originally set up, there were no such things as sanitary conveniences. As was said today by one of my hon. Friends, we have made enormous progress. In the last few years, the benchers of Gray's Inn, who are very good landlords indeed, have rebuilt almost the whole of the Inn on completely modern lines and with modern conveniences.
Whether some things are still lacking, I do not know; I should think it very likely. Indeed, we all know that there are many office buildings throughout the country which do not yet come up to modern requirements in all these matters. We want to get that put right as quickly as we can, but, surely, we are misleading the public and the office workers themselves if we give the impression that to pass an Act which lays down a minimum standard of require- 984 ments for office accommodation will, in itself, do anything to bring about that result. It is a practical problem and not a theoretical one.
Another instance that was mentioned during the debate was that in many cases local authorities are very much to blame in the standard of the office accommodation that they provide for their staffs. I know that to be true. It is true of my own local authority, the Harrow Borough Council, whose offices are spread about the district in all sorts of buildings which the council recognises to be quite unsuitable. The council has, however, prepared plans and for years has been seeking permission to get on with the job of building suitable accommodation for its staff. If an inspector were sent, would he be one of the council's own inspectors? I do not know. I think that under the Bill, the intention is that the local authorities should be the enforcing authorities. To send an inspector to draw the attention of the Harrow Borough Council to the fact that it is exposing itself to penalties under the Bill for the inadequacy of its accommodation, would appear to the council simply to be adding insult to injury.
It is a good thing that a minimum standard should be established, as indeed is set forth in the Gowers Report, but whether it is a good thing to give such a standard the force of law and to expose anybody to a penalty who is not able to measure up to it when it is physically impossible to do so, is another matter.
For some of the reasons which have already been given, I do not think I can support the Bill. I do not like delegated legislation. On the other hand, a point which has not been mentioned and which I regard as even more serious is that the regulations that would be made by the Home Secretary under the Bill would be made by Statutory Instrument. They would necessarily be long and immensely detailed regulations and, if made by Statutory Instrument, they could not be amended by the House. They could not even be fully debated by the House, so limited are our rules on these matters. The House would simply have to accept or reject them as a whole. I would regard that as quite unsatisfactory. 985 Another provision in the Bill which, perhaps, is the most satisfactory from a theoretical point of view, although the oddest from a practical point of view, is the provision requiring the employees in an office where facilities are provided for them to make use of them. It makes it mandatory on the man who is provided with drinking water and a glass from which to drink, to have a drink, I suppose, when he goes into the lavatory or to use the cake of soap that is provided by his employer instead of taking his own. [Interruption.] It may be that hat is reducing the thing to an absurdity. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It may be that a provision of that nature could be taken out of the Bill, as, I think, even the promoter of the Bill himself, the hon. Member for Greenwich, would agree, it would have to be taken out, in Committee.
My major objection is one that cannot be dealt with in Committee. It has already been said that the Bill is not the way to do the job that its promoters quite rightly want to do. If the job is to be done at all, it should be taken over by the Government and the essential provisions should be included in a Bill and not in regulations. I will not take any more of the time of the House in listing other matters which seem to me to be practical objections to the Bill. Let us get on to the best of our ability with the job which has been going on, and very successfully, in the past ten Years of creating the practical conditions in which these minimum standards for office workers can be realised.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. William Whitlock (Nottingham, North)
I know that this House extends to all new Members every consideration for the strain imposed in the making of a maiden speech. I ask the indulgence of the House at this point when I cease to be merely an enervating shade voicelessly haunting this Chamber. Like all new Members, I find that on my entry to this House my life has been vastly changed.
On the day I became a Member I ceased to be a trade union official and, shortly after the recent election. I was informed that on the day that I ceased to be a trade union official I had become an honorary vice-president of two employers' organisations. I find that some- 986 what unexpected and precipitate metamorphosis not nearly as disturbing as I might have imagined; perhaps the ease of transformation is indicative of our democratic way of life or illustrates that the endless struggles of the legendary figure of Robin Hood, in my constituency, against the equally endless machinations of the Sheriff of Nottingham, have a much more useful purpose than merely to provide material for the gaps between one I.T.V. commercial and another.
I represent part of the City of Nottingham—a city which has a history of industrial enterprise, of inventiveness and of radicalism. Yet, for all that it is an industrial city, it is nevertheless clean, bright and attractive. I wish that those three adjectives could be applied to all the offices in this country.
I had wanted to say many things in the course of my speech, but I have not yet mastered the air of complete originality in saying something that has already been said at least six times in the course of the debate. It may be true to say that some office workers have never had it so good, because they now work in modern, palatial and airy offices, with all the amenities that this Bill seeks to establish for all office workers, but there are still many who toil in conditions which have not radically changed for a century or more.
It seems to me that because office workers are not productive workers they are often looked upon as a necessary but burdensome evil—not worthy of consideration for improved conditions when those of other workers are being discussed. All too often managements and other classes of workers regard them as little more than office furniture, and more thought seems to be given to the maintenance of office equipment than to the comfort and welfare of those who have to use it. I have frequently heard office staff referred to, with all the contempt in the world, as "the chairborne division", or "the shiny bottoms", although that last descriptive term was usually couched in language a little less Parliamentary than the words I have used.
An hon. Member of this House, seated previously on the Front Bench below the Gangway, said that office workers are remarkably articulate, and can put up a good case for an improvement in their position. I do not agree with him. All 987 too often clerical workers have meekly accepted the Cinderella treatment that has been meted out to them. They have seldom shown enough righteous indignation about the kind of conditions they have to put up with. I have seen office staffs working in badly-lit, ill-ventilated, overcrowded rabbit hutches, with all the horrifying details attached to them of which we have heard from other hon. Members today.
It has always amazed me that they have put up with these conditions without any apparent resentment of the manner in which these conditions were undermining their general health and their sight. I know one office which is situated below a dental surgery. The drains in that dental surgery very frequently become defective, and from time to time coagulated blood and spittle seeps through the floor into the office below, and, until recently, the office workers had long put up with these disgusting conditions, and then complained bitterly against the conditions in which they were working. Even if these people are not always sufficiently vocal about these conditions, I welcome this Bill, which will bring much needed justice to a section of the working community who for too long have put up with these Cinderella conditions.
§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Mr. John Harvey (Walthamstow, East)
I should like to pay a tribute, which I am sure every hon. Member on this side of the House would like to have the privilege of extending, to the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock). It is not so many years since I made my own maiden speech, and heard an hon. Gentleman opposite saying that he hoped he would hear me again. How far he meant it, I do not know, but I feel very kindly disposed towards the hon. Member for Nottingham, North, because I feel well disposed towards his city, in that I married a Nottingham lass and have no reason to regret it.
I would hope that, from the maiden speech of the hon. Gentleman today, his constituents will feel no reason to regret having sent him here to represent their interests. Certainly, we shall look forward to hearing him again from time to time, assuming, of course, that our 988 Scottish friends enable any of us to say very much. Indeed, I am astounded to see that at least one of them has got himself left over on a Friday. We will assume that there is no Whip on either side on this Bill.
I should like to say that I am not prepared to vote for this Bill today. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I am equally not going to vote against it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am not prepared to vote for it because I believe in all sincerity that it is not the right way of trying to deal with an undoubted problem.
§ Mr. Harvey
The hon. Member says that nobody else has tried. The weakest part of the argument which some hon. Members opposite have put forward this afternoon about the attempts which have been made during the years to do something about this matter is that nobody else has tried to do it. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues had six years in which they could have tried while occupying these benches, but they did not do it.
§ Miss Bacon rose—
§ Mr. Harvey
Perhaps the hon. Lady will allow me to continue. As hon. Gentlemen opposite says that nobody else has tried, and another hon. Gentleman says that the Gowers Report came out only in 1949, but an important part of the case which some hon. Gentleman tried to make is that Bills have been presented since long before the war from that side of the House. All these things did not start and end with the Gowers Report.
I believe that it is a matter for the Government of the day to tackle this problem. I accept that the present Government have said on a number of occasions that they are prepared to tackle it. I am not, therefore, prepared to vote against the Bill because the Government today have not held out this hope of doing something positive. I think that the Government ought to do something positive and I do not think that calling a meeting of selected local authorities is going far enough; but if it is said that calling the local authorities together is not going far enough, I 989 ask hon. Members opposite to try to understand certain aspects of this matter. The hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South (Miss Bacon) made a speech that perhaps would have endeared some of us less to the Bill than a speech from some other Members. It was such a cold and methodical speech, if I may say so without wanting to be unduly unkind.
The hon. Lady sought to imply that 5 million or 6 million office workers all suffered from appalling conditions, which is very far from the truth. I would say that by far the great majority are fairly well accommodated. One has only to look at the advertisements in the newspapers extolling the virtues of working for certain firms and the facilities they will provide if a person will go and work for them to show that offering good office accommodation and good working conditions can be a greatly competitive business.
A great deal has already been achieved in the way we on this side of the House want to see it achieved—in the natural process of evolution rather than by dictation, stipulation and regulation which too many hon. Members opposite seem to think are the only ways of achieving anything. But I think that we on this side of the House need to bear in mind that, while so much has already been achieved, it is not in every city and every town in the Kingdom that the great new blocks of offices have gone up. It is very largely in London and in other cities and towns which had the misfortune during the war to be heavily blitzed and have had to start building anew. Those towns which undoubtedly in other ways had the better fortune to escape the ravages of war are left with the oldest type of accommodation. Therefore, we ought not, on either side, to try to postulate too precisely about this. There is no golden rule.
If we tried to define precise rules for deciding what the accommodation should be, it would not be possible in a great many buildings in the older towns and cities to conform with the sort of law we might try to pass. It would not be possible without masses of new buildings, and certainly it would not be possible in six months or even in a year or two. Therefore. I think that the Bill has most serious limitations and drawbacks when 990 one tries to compare it with reality. But that is no good reason for doing nothing. Certainly it is no good reason for appearing on this side of the House not sufficiently to understand the problems that face a good many office workers.
We have to move on a little with this. It is all very well to say that new blocks of offices have gone up and a great many workers are better accommodated than they ever were before and that that is the way things will continue to go. So they will, but there are many types of employment which are not conditioned by the competitive sector of the economy. Many of us know only too well that the moment that Government Departments or local government departments try to provide better accommodation and therefore have to spend more money, they are doing it against exhortations not to spend more and to be careful about what they are spending the money on.
I have a living example of this in the borough of Wanstead and Woodford where I live and pay my rates. The local authority there has a strong case for housing its staff in better conditions, but the moment that the council proposes to build new municipal offices there is a great agitation among the ratepayers against it. We cannot have it both ways. Therefore, I think a strong case exists for considering the position of those office workers who have not benefited from the undoubted improvements that have taken place over a large sector of the economy during the last few years.
Let us face the point fairly and squarely that the Government stand pledged to do something about it. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] The Government have said that legislation should be introduced. I believe that the legislation proposed this afternoon is not realistic and is not relevant to the whole of the problem because it does not take account of what has been done already. Also it does not take account of the undoubted difficulty of doing some of the things that need to be done in cities and towns where new office blocks have not been built and where they cannot come quickly into existence over the next few years.
At the same time I think there is a case for the Government holding out a much more immediate prospect of legis- 991 lation; or if not legislation, at least a much more detailed inquiry. It is no use referring to the Gowers Committee in this context because its report is a few years old and there has been considerable economic development during those few years. So the case that might have appeared urgent to the Gowers Committee then is not necessarily so urgent today.
However, there is the danger of appearing to be satisfied with the position and there are more hon. Members on this side of the House who are dissatisfied with it than hon. Gentlemen opposite seem aware. For instance, those of us who are good employers, or are associated with companies which are good employers, would like to see the same high standards in other organisations. So, in so far as the Government can urge this over a wider sector of the economy, by legislation if need be; or can show decisively that there is no case for futher legislation, that should be done. However, in view of the commitments into which the Government have entered in the past in this connection, I believe they should have given a more positive lead to the House this afternoon and so, although I will not support the Bill, I am not in all these circumstances prepared to vote against it.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
In the first place, I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) on having brought the Bill before the House. In spite of what has been said from the Government Front Bench and from other benches on that side of the House, I also congratulate him on his skill in drafting, because I understand that he had no official draftsman to help him. My hon. Friend has managed to do something which may perhaps be one advantage of not having a professional drafsman; he has made the points so clear that everybody has been able to deal with the remotest and most obscure details in the Bill. I also wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock) on his speech, for I think it indicated that in him we have a recruit, both to the House of Commons and to this party, who will play a worthy part in the controversies that lie immediately ahead of us.
992 I appear with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) as joint principal mourners on this occasion, for it is clear that we have witnessed a funeral this afternoon. We have witnessed the funeral of the Tory Party as the exponent of the views of Ashley, afterwards Lord Shaftesbury. All the things said against this Bill today were said by the Whigs in the first half of the 19th century against the efforts of the landed gentry of the Tory Party—of whom we see very few nowadays; in fact, the only one left so far as I can discover is the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke)—to impose proper conditions on the workpeople employed by Whig manufacturers.
My hon. Friend was appointed by me as a member of the Gowers Committee. Tribute has always hitherto been paid from the Government benches on these occasions to the work of the Gowers Committee. Now we are told that somehow or other, it does not fit into the new conditions, that it was never imagined that we should have to deal with the new buildings which were to be erected. The hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. J. Harvey), in a speech which was, after all, partly an artillery barrage under which the Government could withdraw from the untenable position which the right hon. Gentleman took up, confessed that there are large numbers of offices in the country which do not measure up to any standard that we ought to expect. That is precisely what used to be said by Lord Shaftesbury, and the Whigs used to reply, "After all, we are not all bad. Do not legislate. Just rely on public feeling".
§ Mr. Ede
I do not think they had invented that word in those days. They relied on precisely the same things that the hon. Gentlemen who now represent a somewhat decadent Tory Party are telling us this afternoon.
The right hon. Gentleman is a Minister for whom I have hitherto had very considerable admiration. I believed that he was among the more enlightened, or perhaps among the less unenlightened, of the occupants of the Government Front 993 Bench. He has been left this afternoon to sit there alone. His colleague, the Joint Under-Secretary, who spoke on a similar Bill last year, forsook him and fled as soon as he rose. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster came here and from below the Bar watched the agony through which he was going. Until today I believed that the right hon. Gentleman possessed great political courage, but when he was given the brief to read to the House today—how well he read it; how plainly he showed all of us that he was reading it rather than appearing to exercise any personal influence over the speech that he was making—he should have handed it back to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and said, "This is so utter a repudiation of everything for which we have stood that if you want this speech made you must go and make it yourself". His right hon. Friend would have replied, "You must go and do it. You are the best Under-Secretary we have got".
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin Maddan (Hitchin)
We are today confronted with the problem of whether legislation will help in this problem or not. I do not think that on Second Reading we really want to go into the details of the Bill. I was always brought up to believe that on Second Reading one discussed and voted on the principles of a Bill. I cannot believe that if the Bill is unworkable—as it may be; I do not know—it cannot be adequately amended in Committee. We have all seen Bills in which practically every word after the first "Whereas" has been changed by the time it has come back to the House. I cannot accept the argument that the Bill should be rejected on this ground.
Nor can I believe that it should be rejected because there is no need for legislation to improve the present conditions of many office workers. The new buildings and the improvements being made to old buildings are of great value, but there are still many thousands, if not millions, of office workers working in conditions which are shameful. They would not be working in those conditions if they had a powerful union effectively able to act for them with their employers. I shall not argue whether such a union should be encouraged. I accept the fact that there 994 is not such a union and that the rights and needs of these workers must be covered in another way.
Another advantage which could flow from this legislation is that those who exercise indirect influence over office conditions—local authorities, for instance, in the granting or withholding of planning permissions—would be en-encouraged to help to improve matters. If a local authority withholds permission for an extension, an employer and his employees may be condemned to go on working in cramped offices, because it might be impracticable for the firm to move to other premises.
There is far too blind an acceptance of second-rate conditions, not only by employers and employees, but by others whose decisions impinge on the matter. The overcrowding in old offices which has been described has come as a great surprise to me. I did not know that such bad conditions existed. The firm with which I am connected has many difficulties and the conditions in which we work may not be very good, but they are paradise compared with some of those which have been described today.
Despite all the new building and the efforts being made to improve old offices, unless a standard is laid down, such is the structure of office employment and the lack of organisation of office workers, that not sufficient will be done to bring about the standards which we all want to see.
Following on what I said about planning permission: the new towns, of which we are all proud, are in dire need of offices being established in them. One of the reasons why this is not happening is that planning control is not sufficiently effective, so that planning permissions for office buildings in the central areas of London are granted, whereas if standards were raised, the offices would be dispersed. One side benefit which might flow from the Bill would be the dispersal of offices from central London to the new towns.
I regret to say that I was not at all impressed with my right hon. Friend's statistics about health. He said that for some diseases the rate among office workers was lower than the average but for other diseases it was higher. He implied that it was therefore all right. I cannot understand that argument.
§ Mr. Maddan
My right hon. Friend says that I am wrong. I am sorry that I misunderstood him. I thought the implication of his argument was that as railway drivers may not suffer very heavily from influenza it would not matter if they got burnt shins.
In Germany, where my firm also has interests, there has been a long tradition of legislation to protect the standards of office workers. The standards of office workers in Germany are far higher than what is typical in this country. Some may wonder whether legislation will work, but one can see from the example of Germany that it does. It has worked there for a long time.
The right course for anybody who holds my views is to vote for the Bill this afternoon. By doing so pressure will be brought on the Home Office either to amend the Bill into a form which it believes to be workable, and no doubt it can be improved, or to give a categorical undertaking that it will itself speedily and by a given date bring in its own Bill.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. W. E. Padley (Ogmore)
A longstanding custom of this House is to say: "I do not intend to follow the hon. Gentleman in his remarks." I am glad that this afternoon I am able to follow the hon. Member for Hitchen (Mr. Maddan) in his remarks, because I feel more strongly than he does about the way in which Britain has lagged behind the advanced countries of Europe and the world.
The last time I made a long speech in this House on the Gowers Committee's Report I had just returned from the trade section conference of the International Federation of Commercial, Clerical and Technical Employees. In Munich it was my duty to preside over the conference. I heard the British Government attacked consistently about hygiene and weekly rest periods for shop and office workers. Norwegians, Danes and Dutchmen normally look to Britain for leadership. When I heard them complaining about the attitude of the British Government I was ashamed.
996 My hon. Friends reminded the Government of their pledges, but they forgot the most important pledge. In 1955 the Government issued a White Paper accepting with reservations, the recommendation of the International Labour Office about hygiene in shops and offices. The White Paper pledged that the Government intended to introduce legislation on that subject. This afternoon the right hon. Gentleman has broken not only pledges given by the Lord Chancellor when he was Home Secretary and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1958, but the solemn undertaking given to the British people in the White Paper to which I have referred.
It goes further than that. Many of my hon. Friends have quoted Government pledges but there is one point which should be made above all others. When my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) did such a magnificent job for all the workers in non-industrial employment in the early part of 1955, he wrote a part of the Tory Party's General Election programme. The Tory Party General Election programme in 1955, on which the right hon. Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department fought his own campaign, included these words:Legislation will be passed to promote a steady improvement of conditions for workers, including those in transport and in farming, in offices and in shops.I challenge the consciences of hon. Gentlemen opposite who fought the General Election in 1955 on a solemn pledge to implement Gowers in respect of offices and shops, as well as of farming and transport.
I share the sense of grievance expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that the Home Secretary is not here today. It is well known that the Home Secretary is the principal draftsman of the Tory Pary election manifesto, and I therefore assume that he can claim more responsibility for this specific pledge than can the Prime Minister or anyone else. It is a long and shameful story.
§ Mr. Iremonger
If we are talking about election manifestoes, I seem to remember that the Labour Party put the nationalisation of the sugar and cement 997 industries in one manifesto and left it out of the next.
§ Mr. Padley
I can only say that the hon. Member had better address that kind of flippant remark to the office workers in his constituency.
I join in the general congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) on introducing the Bill, although the Government's attitude to it is shocking. I ask him not to be dismayed, whatever happens in the Division Lobby. This has been a long and bitter fight. The arguments deployed by the right hon. Gentleman and by those who sit behind him were used way back in the 1890s when Sir Charles Dilke introduced the first Shops Bill. They were deployed against the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) when, as Liberal Home Secretary, he was piloting the first Shops Act through the House. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones) first came into the House, his maiden speech was made in introducing a Bill on this very subject. Whatever happens in the Division Lobbies today, the struggle will go on.
The opposition to the Bill from the Conservative back benches has been mainly on the ground that a Private Member's Bill is not the right way to tackle this problem. As my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich painted out, the time is long overdue when success in the Ballot should carry with it technical assistance, and I hope that those hon. Members who have criticised the drafting of the Bill will in future be active to see that that technical assistance is forthcoming. Although no doubt the Bill has its defects, I can see no defect in it which could not be simply remedied in Standing Committee. We must realise that, in the long history of this subject, all the basic work of a Bill and regulations under the Bill has been done.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields describe themselves as the principal mourners, I would remind them that I spent many mornings in the Home Office between 1952 and 1955 discussing proposals by the Home Office. Indeed, I sometimes felt as a good trade unionist that I ought to become a mem- 998 ber of one of the Civil Service trade unions. Any technical defects in the Bill can easily be remedied.
I am glad to see the hon. and gallant Member for Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) in his place. When we discussed the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek, the hon. and gallant Gentleman followed me in the debate and made what I thought was a good and sincere speech. In contrast to several other speakers—but since the author of one of the speeches has left the Chamber I will not refer to him by name—the hon. and gallant Gentleman expressed himself as appalled at the documentary evidence which I produced from the files of my union on conditions in shops and offices. He made a sincere plea that my hon. Friend's Bill should be accepted in principle.
I know that everything from farming to dental technicians' workshops was not the way to proceed. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the subject must be broken down item by item. The Offices Bill is, in a sense, a response to the plea made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
Of course, when my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates) introduced an Offices Bill which contained minimum standards to he enforced with regard to health, welfare, and safety, hon. Gentlemen opposite said that it was all wrong and that my hon. Friend was seeking to do the Minister's work and write the regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich acted on the advice Liven at that time, and today we have had the clever lawyers—the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), for example—arguing that the whole case against the Bill is the case against delegated legislation.
I think I have said enough to show that this objection to the subject being tackled by a Private Member's Bill is simply a technical objection in order to deceive the hon. Gentleman's constituents. The real reason for all these technical objections—there are some exceptions; I made one in the case of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely in 1955—is to cover up the political content of Government policy which the right hon. Gentleman gave us this afternoon. It is true that he, too, 999 raised the question of whether a Private Member's Bill was suitable and whether this particular Bill was suitable. But, coming after his frontal attack on the whole conception of legislation to deal with health, welfare and safety of office workers, that part of his speech could surely have been put into the wastepaper basket and the House spared being bored by his reading it.
The Minister asked whether legislation was necessary. He pretended that development in recent years makes it unnecessary. It is true, of course, that there has been new office building since the war and also an enormous increase in the number of workers in clerical occupations and in the distributive trades. If we take the professional services and the distributive trades alone, the increase is over 1 million.
If the right hon. Gentleman will produce as an official White Paper the policy statement which he made this afternoon we can get to work to nail the false statements made with regard to this revolution in office workers' conditions. I suspect that the rate of new office building has, in fact, been slower and not quicker than the growth in clerical employment since the war. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) intervened, he anticipated one of the points of which I had made a note. The logic of the right hon. Gentleman's case is that the Factories Acts, too, should be scrapped.
I pay tribute to the courage of the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd)—and I am sorry that I have to make an attack which will appear to be a party attack upon him—and the hon. Member for Hitchin on deciding that they will come into the Lobby with us today. I ask them to understand that it is only the long record of broken promises, not only to this House but to the British people in the elections, which makes it necessary for me to speak in terms of recrimination.
The logic of the right hon. Gentleman's case is that the Factories Acts should be scrapped and even the present inadequate Shops Act can be scrapped. The hon. Member for Cheadle said that the sole purpose of a statutory provision is to enforce minimum standards on those who would otherwise fail to observe 1000 them. If it can be argued that, because many large employers of office workers provide conditions equal or superior to those recommended by the Gowers Committee legislation is not necessary, so it can be argued that the Factories Acts and the present inadequate Shops Act can be disregarded.
The right hon. Gentleman also gave what I consider to be a completely distorted picture of health, safety and welfare. I wish that he would come with me into the benefits office of any of the large trade unions which administer provident benefits, including sickness benefits, because I think that he would agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summer-skill) that nervous debility is an occupational disorder of office workers. Without doubt the facts adduced with regard to tuberculosis, bronchitis and so on can also be sustained.
When the Minister suggested that the essential difference between industry covered by the Factories Acts and offices was that there was not so much danger from machinery in the latter, he failed to reply to the points which the sponsor of the Bill made with regard to the new fangled guillotines which are finding their way into offices. I speak with feeling on this because the right hon. Gentleman's pronouncements seem to me to spell death to a health, welfare and safety Measure for shop workers as a whole. Let us make no mistake—fingers and thumbs of young lassies are still being cut off by bacon-slicing machines in the shops of Britain. The shocking thing is that it is usually girls of 15, 16 or 17 who are given the job of cleaning these lethal weapons. The fact that some industrial machinery is more dangerous than guillotines in offices and bacon-slicing machines in shops is surely no reason for failing to have statutory provision for the proper fencing of such machinery and the prohibition of juveniles doing certain work in connection with it.
The Minister also said that the problem of the inspection of 1 million offices in Britain would be enormous. I am sorry that he did not call upon the substantial experience of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. There are between 500,000 and 750,000 shops and other establishments covered by the retail 1001 wages councils. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Ministry of Labour has not found it necessary to employ vast regiments and battalions of inspectors in order to enforce the law. Everyone recognises that once industrial legislation is passed, the inspectors can conduct sample checks only on the observance of the law. But it means that trade unionists and members of professional organisations and, indeed, citizens who may be sufficiently ill-informed not to belong to a trade union or a professional organisation, always have the remedy of making a report to the inspector's department. It is not the number of inspectors that matters but the existence of statutory provisions laying down minimum standards.
The right hon. Gentleman made two suggestions to try to cover up this shameful betrayal of the non-industrial workers of Britain. One was a code of practice. This is a sphere in which a code of practice would not be worth the paper on which it was written. There are certain circumstances where there might be strong organisations both of the employers and of the workers, where a code of practice, agreed by both sides of industry, might have something approaching compelling force. But in the case of office workers and the multitude of trades and industries which have offices, there is a lack of strong organisation on either side and such organisation as there is is split up into hundreds of separate bodies.
The right hon. Gentleman's second proposal was that his Department should call for reports from selected local authorities. Needless to say I welcome any effort to get information on this subject. But it is rather late in the day to do that. In reply to me at 4 o'clock in the morning on 18th November, 1952, during the first great battle on the Gowers Committee's Report, when 550 hon. Members went into the Division Lobbies, the present Lord Chancellor gave an undertaking regarding the implementation of the Gowers Report recommendations in relation to this matter. It is clear that today that undertaking has "gone west."
Proposals were circulated to the trade unions. We had repeated meetings in Whitehall. We had a categorical 1002 promise from Sir Anthony Eden when he was Prime Minister and the pledge to the British people in the Conservative Party Election Manifesto in 1955. We had the pledges given by the Under-Secretary of State during the discussions in the Standing Committee on the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies). We had the pledges of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer given last year in relation to the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood. After all that, the Home Secretary, who failed to come to this House himself, has asked his Joint Under-Secretary of State to offer us a report from selected local authorities.
Throughout this sad history of the Gowers Committee's Report, whether relating to shop closing hours and other similar matters, or the health, welfare and safety and the employment of juveniles, we have had nothing but double thinking and double speaking from the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) was justified when he denounced this as political treachery.
I ask all hon. Members to go into the Division Lobbies and end this long struggle to obtain statutory provisions for the health, welfare and safety of office workers. Let no one believe that this is a case of asking for the moon in the second half of the twentieth century. Will it bankrupt British employers to provide one lavatory for each fifteen or twenty-five persons of either sex? Will it really bankrupt Britain in the 1950s, or ruin a large number of employers, if proper washing facilities with hot and cold running water have to be provided?
Everyone in the House knows that the pleas made by the right hon. Gentleman are useless. The truth, which came out during the earlier part of his speech, is that there are powerful vested interests in some of the employers' organisations which put their private interests above the welfare of the workers. I am glad to say, with the hon. Member for Cheadle, that this does not apply to all employers or to all employers' organisations. But it is the explanation of the Government's attitude. 1003 Following its defeat in 1945, the Tory Party made an appearance of change. It maintained that appearance of change during its first period of power after the war, but, this afternoon, we have witnessed a reversion to some of the arrogance we knew from the Tory Party in days gone by, and more from the Front Bench than from the back benches. I warn hon. Members opposite, in terms of Greek mythology, that Hubris is usually followed by Nemesis, or, in the language of the Celts of my constituency, overweaning arrogance is followed by retribution.
That in the second half of the twentieth century about 10 million workers in shops, offices and similar places of work should be denied the elementary decencies of civilised life is a grave reflection on the Government of the day. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite will go into the Lobby this afternoon and send this Bill up to a Standing Committee. While I have been speaking, the Chamber has been gathering numbers—
§ Mr. Padley
Yes, the Home Secretary has not come. At the time that the Shops Bill was drafted, and I used the word "ominous" about future legislation for health, safety and welfare, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that I was attacking his personal honour. Certainly, he has more responsibility than anyone else in the House, as I have demonstrated this afternoon.
I appeal to hon. Members opposite to remember that, quite apart from what
was said by any of my right hon. and hon. Friends at that time, every Conservative candidate in the 1955 General Election went to the British people on a programme which said that
legislation will be passed to promote a steady improvement of conditions for other workers, including those in transport, in farming, in offices and in shops.
They should fulfil that pledge to the British people by going into the Division Lobby to support us now.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
There are many hon. Members, Mr. Speaker, who have not had an opportunity to speak.
§ Mr. Marsh rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House proceeded to a Division—
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
(seated and covered): On a point of order. I understand, Mr. Speaker, that hon. Members were passing out of one of the Lobbies and being counted by the Tellers before the doors had been locked and you had made the second call. In this case, can you tell me whether they are valid votes that will be counted, or ought we not, perhaps, to have the Division called again to put the matter in order?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. The only thing to do is to start the Division over again.
§ The House proceeded again to a Division: Ayes 129, Noes 76.1005
|Division No. 20.]||AYES||[4.4 p.m.|
|Albu, Austen||Cliffe, Michael||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)|
|Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.)||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)|
|Beaney, Alan||Darling, George||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hamilton, William (West Fife)|
|Boardman, H.||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics. S.W.)||Deer, George||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)|
|Bowles, Frank||Driberg, Tom||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John||Holman, Percy|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Ede, Rt. Hon. Chuter||Holt, Arthur|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Edwards, Robert (Bliston)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Edwards, Walter (Stepney)||Hunter, A. E.|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Evans, Albert||Hynd, H. (Accrington)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Finch, Harold||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)|
|Callaghan, James||Fitch, Alan||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Fletcher, Eric||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)|
|Chapman, Donald||Foot, Dingle||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas|
|Chetwynd, George||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Jeger, George|
|Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Parker, John (Dagenham)||Stross, Dr.Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent,C.)|
|Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Parkin, B. T. (Paddington, N.)||Summerskill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech(Wakefield)||Pavitt, Laurence||Swain, Thomas|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Peart, Frederick||Swingler, Stephen|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Lawson, George||Prentice, R. E.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Loughlin, Charles||Prior, J. M. L.||Tomney, Frank|
|Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Probert, Arthur||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|MacColl, James||Proctor, W. T.||Warbey, William|
|McLeavy, Frank||Randall, Harry||Weitzman, David|
|MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Rankin, John||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Maddan, Martin||Redhead, E. C.||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Mahon, Simon||Reid, William||Whitlock, William|
|Mapp, Charles||Reynolds, G. W.||Willey, Frederick|
|Marsh, Richard||Robens, Rt. Hon. Alfred||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Mayhew, Christopher||Robertson, Sir David||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Mellish, R. J.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras,N.)||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Mendelson, J. J.||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Millan, Bruce||Shepherd, William||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Monslow, Walter||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Moyle, Arthur||Skeffington, Arthur||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Mulley, Frederick||Sorensen, R. W.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Oram, A. E.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Oswald, Thomas||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Owen, Will||Steele, Thomas||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Padley, W. E.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Mr. C. Pannell and Mr. Hannan.|
|Pargiter, G. A.||Stonehouse, John|
|Aitken, W. T.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Price, H. A. (Lewisham, W.)|
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Hay, John||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Barber, Anthony||Hicks Beach, Maj. W.||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Bell, Ronald (S. Bucks)||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Rees, Hugh|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hobson, John||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Bishop, F. P.||Holland, Philip||Rippon, Geoffrey|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Holland-Martin, Christopher||Roots, William|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Royle, Anthony (Richmond, Surrey)|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Iremonger, T. L.||Russell, Ronald|
|Braine, Bernard||Irv'ne, Bryant Godman(Rye)||Sharples, Richard|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||James, David||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'rd & Chiswick)|
|Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Linstead, Sir Hugh||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Longden, Gilbert||Storey, S.|
|Chataway, Christopher||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Costain, A. P.||McLaren, Martin||Thomas, Peter (Conway)|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||McMaster, Stanley||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Cunningham, Knox||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Dance, James||Noble, Michael||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis|
|Drayson, G. B.||Orr-Ewing, C. Ian||Watts, James|
|Finlay, Graeme||Osborn, John (Hallam)||Whitelaw, William|
|Fisher, Nigel||Partridge, E.||Williams, Dudley (Exeter)|
|Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Richard|
|Glyn, Col. Richard H. (Dorset, N.)||Peel, John|
|Goodhew, Victor||Peyton, John||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gurden, Harold||Pott, Percivall||Sir H. Studholme and Mr. Doughty|
|Hare, Rt. Hon. John|
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No.38 (Committal of Bills).
§ While the Division was in progress—
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton) (seated and covered)
On a point of order. I understand that when the vote was taking place the door in the Noes Lobby was opened too soon and that some hon. Members passed through 1006 without their votes being counted. No doubt they subsequently left the precincts of the Chamber and went home before the second vote was called, so that many people who thought they had voted will find tomorrow that they have not been counted. As this may affect the result of the vote, I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether under, those circumstances, the second vote is valid.