HC Deb 22 July 1959 vol 609 cc1436-44

Lords Amendment: In page 10, line 38, after second "of" insert "clean running."

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Iain Macleod

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

I think that I should say a word about this Amendment. Both in the Committee and on Report of the Bill we had some discussion of this Amendment, though then it was in another form. In another place Amendments were moved by members of the Opposition, to the adoption of which I agreed, so far as they are contained in this Lords Amendment and the next two in page 10, line 39.

That means—I think the House will welcome this—that the principle that factories should provide clean running water as part of the washing facilities for the workers is accepted. I think that this Amendment is better, because the clean running water must be "hot and cold or warm."

If, on this Amendment, I may refer to the Amendment in page 10, line 39, to insert the new subsection (2), I should like to make it clear that I do not intend this in any way as an escape clause. I said on Report that the difficulty I saw about putting in an absolute provision was that there are so many very small factories to which this operation, the installation of these facilities, might cost a good deal of money, and we have to remember that two-thirds of all factories employ 10 workers or fewer. Unless I were to put off far away into the future, and far further than the House would wish, the moment of time at which this provision would be brought in, I believe that it will be necessary for some time to have some exemptions which, I think, should depend on the number of persons at work.

What I intend to do is to have an inquiry made by the Factory Inspectorate to find out what the position is, to find out approximately how many factories do have washing facilities which would meet the requirements of this Clause. I intend then, when the regulations are made, to fix the figure as low as possible. What that figure will be I cannot prophesy to the House tonight.

I hope that the House will accept these three Amendments, which provide that factories should have clean running water. We want to see as many factories as possible make that provision as soon as possible, but I am bound to say in all fairness that if we tried to do that for all factories it would probably have to be put off so long that it seems to me the best way is to accept the principle and also to accept the third of the Amendments, to insert the new subsection (2).

Mr. Lee

We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for this Amendment to provide for clean, running water. As he said, we had considerable discussion of this matter before the Bill left the House. Some of us argued that merely to have water in a bucket would mean that the person who first reached the bucket would be able to wash his hands in clean water, while the rest would have to wash in the dirty water that he had left. We argued that it was, therefore, necessary to provide for "clean running" water.

My enthusiasm in welcoming those words is considerably diminished, however, by the second Amendment, in line 39, the new subsection. It gives the Minister powers to exempt from the provisions of the Clause a very considerable number of factories—indeed, I should have thought, the majority of factories. They give him power to exempt factories of the smaller type which do not employ large numbers of people. At this stage we do not know at what level the right hon. Gentleman will decide that he can exclude factories from the provisions of the Amendment in line 38.

This is a very wrong principle. I have never understood why it should be argued that if only six, seven or 10 people work in a factory it is for that reason less important to give them facilities to ensure cleanliness than it is if there is a large number of people working there. I imagine—and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) will argue this as well—that a large factory has better medical facilities, which would counter the lack of ability to obtain running water, than has a small factory. Therefore, there is all the more reason why the small factories should have adequate supplies of running water.

I feel, therefore, that the Amendment in line 39 cancels out to a great degree the Amendment in line 38. As I have said, we are as yet uninformed about where the right hon. Gentleman will set his level. A noble Friend of mine in another place pointed out that a large percentage of workers would be excluded from the provisions of the Amendment in line 38 if the right hon. Gentleman cast his level at 10 people per factory, and we should be legislating for a comparatively small minority of factory workers. Why should the right hon. Gentleman want to do this? There may be an odd instance of a factory, of any size, not being situated in proximity to a main water supply. I see that point, though I can hardly admire the sagacity of an employer who would have a factory in such a position. I can think of few industrial processes which do not require adequate supplies of running water, not for the purposes of cleanliness but to carry out the industrial operation itself.

I cannot believe, therefore, that there are many factories which would justify the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Amendment because they are not near a main supply of running water. If we exclude that consideration, why is this being done? It seems to me that the main reason is that we are saying to certain employers, "If you do not employ more than X number of people, we agree that the expenditure involved in providing running water is not justified in your case." We on this side of the House could not possibly accept an argument of that kind. I do not want to over-labour the point at this time of night, but I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he is vitiating a great deal of the benefits of the first of these Amendments by proposing to move agreement with the third Amendment. We have never accepted that the smallness of numbers in a factory is any reason for treating the employees less well than we would treat employees in a large factory.

I have tried to show that, on the physical aspects, I do not believe that the Amendment is necessary on any ground other than that of exempting an employer of a small number of people from incurring expenditure of £50 to £100. We could never accept that principle.

I have said that, on the whole, the Lords Amendments improve the Bill, but I feel that this Amendment is a retrograde step. The Minister is providing excuses for people who ought to be supplying running water for their employees. The vast majority of small employers who value the work of their men and want them to have decent conditions will supply running water no matter what the Bill provides, but is it fair that because of his decency and desire to give his men proper conditions such an employer should incur expenditure when others employing the same number of men and determined not to provide proper conditions can get out of such expenditure?

It is disgraceful. It is victimising the good employer by favouring the very bad employer. For this reason I hope that the Minister will not proceed with the Amendments to line 39 but will be content to insert the proposed words in line 38, for that would do an enormous amount of good. In the few cases where the expenditure is an impediment the employers concerned must be made to incur it, for only in that way shall we ensure decent hygiene and proper conditions for workers in small factories.

Mr. D. Jones

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee). This seems not to have been thought out at all. Nothing is said about the age of the factory, the existence in the factory already of running water or the kind of process undertaken in the factory irrespective of the number of employees.

What the Minister is saying is that if a factory employs x-plus men, and the process on which they are engaged is reasonably clean, the employer will be obliged to supply clean, running water. But if there are x-minus employees, and although the process may be a very filthy one, he will not, for some reason which he did not make quite clear, insist upon the provision of clean, running water.

The Minister said that one of his difficulties was that if he insisted upon this in all factories he would have to allow a long time before the regulations were brought into operation. Surely varying dates could be laid down? The Minister would not need to hold up the x-plus factories if he wanted to allow a little more time to the x-minus factories. As my hon. Friend said, the Amendment to line 39 seems to be an escape clause for the bad employer.

How many factories of reasonably modern construction do not have a supply of water for one purpose or another? There must be very few. All that is required is a branch from it run near the messroom so that the men can wash in clean, running water. Whether there is water in the factory or not, whether water is within 100 yards or not, as long as less than a given number—which the Minister has not defined—are employed, he is not going to insist on this hygienic provision. I hope that he will have second thoughts. After all, the Bill will be improved by inserting the words, "clean, running water". To make this exemption seems to be undoing all the good he has previously done.

11.0 p.m.

Dr. Stross

The ideal, of course, is to have clean, running water, hot, warm and cold, wherever people work, whether there is one worker or more. I recognise that if we demanded that and said it should be done at once we could not physically succeed in doing so. I was very disappointed to hear the right hon. Gentleman speak of using the powers he has in relation to the numbers of persons employed. That is to say, he would judge whether he would impose the provision for clean running water on the larger units rather than on the smaller and, if exemptions are made, they must be made for the smaller ones.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) was absolutely right on medical grounds in asking the Minister to bear in mind the kind of work rather than the numbers employed. A few people at risk with a substance which is an irritant to their skins is surely the kind of case where soap and water is desirable rather than a place where the work is entirely clean.

In another place the point was argued fully, vividly and strongly by a former colleague who used to sit for Barnet. He made a learned and carefully documented speech on Second Reading and also in Committee when this Amendment was debated. He has had great experience in these matters. Mine is very much more limited, but I assure the Minister that he should give consideration to a time factor. The first part of subsection (2) refers to powers he has whereby he can provide exemption for factories from any of the requirements of Section 42 of the principal Act. If he said that after a year, or two years, running water must be in every factory, I do not think he would be imposing hardship on anybody.

The question of cost has been mentioned. It was mentioned by the Minister en passant. If it is very costly, because water is not anywhere near and cannot be brought to a factory, a shed, or a farm in the heart of the country, the Minister could exempt that under the powers he has. If, however, water is nearby and laid on already, the cost cannot be appreciable. It means extending a small pipe to bring it to an appropriate point in the shed or factory, and then the use of some method of heating the water, either gas or electricity.

I presume that it is very rare that there would be a place of work without some kind of illumination, either gas or electricity, and by the expenditure of about £30 there could be provided the apparatus to give hot. warm or cold water at will and at almost a moment's notice. It is, therefore, wrong to emphasise the question of cost.

We know that the majority of our factories are small. The figures have already been given. About 85 per cent. of them have 25 workers or fewer, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman told us that 69 or 70 per cent. have 10 workers or fewer. The Minister thinks in terms of using a numerical basis for exemption, but I wonder whether, in doing so, he might not be exempting I million, or 2 million, or 2½ million workers and depriving them of a chance to wash themselves, using soap and water when they need to do so.

The cost of ill-health, certainly from skin diseases, is very high. I do not know how high. The total cost of ill-health as a result of industrial processes plus accidents is tremendously high, between £750 million and £1,000 million a year. Dermatitis is expensive to the conntry, because once a man has contracted it, he tends to contract it again and again afterwards, even from working with slight irritants.

Therefore, I ask the Minister to think very carefully about this provision and to see whether he can find some method of seeing that after a limited time, say, one or two years, he will not use his exemption powers, so that we shall be able to say that wherever men work they can be clean when they have finished work and can wash when they wish to do so.

Mr. MacDermot

On both sides of the House we are agreed that we want the Bill to be as effective as we can and to provide the Minister with the powers which he reasonably requires. However, there has been considerable concern about the power of exemption which the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to take.

All I would add to what has been said is to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will tell us the sort of practical difficulties which he envisages as possibly arising in small factories, and why his existing powers of exemption would not have been sufficient. We can see that if there were to be written into factory legislation a provision that there must be a supply of clean, running hot and cold water, that would be a provision which could not be enforced until, for example, there was a supply of running water available.

But the right hon. Gentleman does not require exemption powers for that purpose, because he already has them under Section 42 (3) of the principal Act which gives the Minister power to make exemptions in any case where, by reason of the difficulty of obtaining an adequate supply of water, or the fact that accommodation is restricted and adequate and suitable washing facilities are otherwise conveniently available, or such other special circumstances as may be specified in the regulations, the application of the requirement would in his opinion be unreasonable. It is those powers of exemption which he proposes to keep alive in the opening words of his Amendment. Surely those powers would be sufficient to meet the case where there was not an adequate supply of running water. If there is an adequate supply of running water, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) pointed out, it would be practicable in all cases to make that a supply of running hot and cold water, because there must be a supply of gas or electricity to any factory premises in these days and there would be no difficulty about heating the water. Eventually, that would be covered by the reference to "such other special circumstances".

If there is a real reason why these powers of exemption are required to make the legislation practicable I am sure that my hon. Friends will be only too willing that the Minister should have them, but, at the moment, we do not understand the need for them.

Mr. Iain Macleod

With the leave of the House, perhaps I may explain. The reason why Section 42 (3) of the parent Act is not adequate for the purposes of Section 18 of the Act, as it now is, is that that subsection (3) of the 1937 Act means that exemptions have to be made for each factory. That, of course, would put a very great burden indeed on the Factory Inspectorate, which is one of the things that we are anxious not to do. That is why it is necessary to have this power of exemption, and what I seek, of course, is progressively to narrow the size of the factories covered by the exemption.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) is quite right. If we tried to do this tomorrow it would not be practicable, and it would not be fair on thousands of factories. We must re mind ourselves that two-thirds of all factories employ 10 or fewer workers. When the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) talks of factories of seven and eight workers that is quite true, but it is also a factory if it employs two people, and I am sure that this provision is, in fact, the shortest road to where we want to get——

Mr. Lee

Would the Minister express his views on the level of exemptions? We know that he is thinking in numerical terms. Could he give an indication of the level?

Mr. Macleod

No, not yet, because although the investigations to which I referred which the factory inspectors are carrying out will be done as soon as possible I have not got the result yet. But I am sure that if we make the regulation quickly, take into consideration the point made about time, and then progressively narrow down the exemptions until they disappear altogether it is by far the quickest way of getting clean, running water into the factories.

The other point, with which I think I have dealt, shows that my powers under Section 42 of the 1937 Act are not adequate for the purpose I have in mind.

Question put and agreed to.

Remaining Lords Amendments agreed to.