HC Deb 26 July 1963 vol 681 cc1983-7

Lords Amendment: In page 4, line 42, at end insert: and in determining, for the purposes of this subsection, whether any such room is so over- crowded as aforesaid, regard shall be had (amongst other things) not only to the number of persons who may be expected to be working in the room at any time but also to the space in the room occupied by furniture, furnishings, fittings, machinery, plant, equipment, appliances and other things (whether similar to any of those aforesaid or not)".

Mr. Hare

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

During the Committee stage there was considerable discussion on an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) which would have required inspectors to take into account space occupied by furniture, furnishings, fittings and machines in determining whether the standard of 40 sq. ft. per employee was satisfied. A similar Amendment was moved in another place and was resisted for the same reason—because it would have required inspectors to spend a lot of time with a tape measure. We have, however, looked again at the matter and tried to meet the point.

The Government tabled the Amendment which I am now moving and the Amendment will make clear that in determining whether a room is overcrowded under the provisions of Clause 5(1), an inspector must have regard not only to the number of persons working in the room but also to the space occupied by such things as furniture and machinery. This, I hope the House will agree, is a useful strengthening of the provision and provides a practical contribution to deal with the problem of excessive amounts of furniture and machinery without requiring inspectors to undertake detailed measurements in every case.

Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

I am happy that the Minister has found it possible to make some reference in the Bill to the undeniable Pact that the amount of working space is dependent not only on the actual dimensions of the room, the distance between the walls, but the space which is uncluttered by furniture, machinery, and so on.

I made the point in Committee that under the provisions in the Bill, theoretically, it would be possible to have 10 people working in a room, but practically impossible to get even one person into the room if the quantity of furniture in it were excessive. I welcome the fact that this is recognised in the circumstances of subsection (1). But, to be frank, this does not meet the point which was contested during the Committee stage, because it does not apply to the standard which ultimately—a long time from now—will apply generally, the standard of 40 sq. ft., or 400 cu. ft.

I regret very much that the Minister has not found it possible to make some provision with regard to the other subsections of this Clause. Even at this late stage I should have been willing to move an Amendment which would have extended the provision to the whole of the Clause. I did not do so because I do not wish to prejudice the passing of the Bill into law at the earliest possible opportunity. My union, the Clerical and Administrative Workers' Union, and its predecessor, the National Union of Clerks, has campaigned for this legislation over a number of years and we do not wish at any time during the passage of this Bill to press any point so far as might result in delaying the very welcome enactment of this legislation.

I hope that we shall see it on the Statute Book next week.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I do not wish to discuss the merits of this Amendment, which deals with the question of cluttering up rooms. I wish to refer to the "cluttering up" of the Amendment itself by the use of unnecessary words. During the Committee stage I was told on many occasions by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that words in Amendments which I was proposing were unnecessary and that we ought not to have unnecessary words in Amendments.

In this Amendment we have the words, "other things" occurring twice. It states: regard shall have (amongst other things) …. And the Amendment finishes by talking about, "appliances and other things…".

Surely we do not need the words other things" cluttering up this Amendment as well as the rooms and making not the practical contribution to the Bill which was referred to by my right hon. Friend, but I am afraid, a most confusing and impracticable one.

Mr. R. E. Prentice (East Ham, North)

I welcome the Amendment in the same sense as did my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) because it seems to recognise a principle to which we attach some importance; although we would rather it were tacked on to subsection (2) where we think it would have had much more effect. We consider that the tape measure to which the Minister referred ought to be in use on some occasions when it is clear that there is overcrowding with furniture.

What has been said by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) seems to confirm doubts which I have in my mind about the practical effect that this Amendment will have. It seems to me that as the Clause is drafted an inspector has to take account of overcrowding to the extent that it might cause risk of injury to health of persons working therein. If the room were overcrowded with big articles of furniture, I assume that the inspector would have to take into account the furniture in deciding whether the overcrowding was such as to cause injury to health.

I have a rather sceptical view about this. I support it because I hope that, in a Clause which is vaguely worded in any case, the addition of these extra words may, indirectly, lead to higher standards. It seems to me that this is a tremendously important part of the Bill and one in. respect of which a lot of premises fall short even of the modest standards which are proposed.

12 noon.

I am strengthened on that point by a document reporting a survey of offices. The survey was done recently by an organisation known as Personnel Management and Methods and Initial Services Ltd., which studied the position in 256 small firms employing up to 200 employees. About 14 per cent. of the premises fell short of the standards in the Clause dealing with overcrowding. It was also clear from the attitude of some employers that they have what I think all of us, including the right hon. Gentleman, would consider a very reactionary view. One manager said that his private office was 20 sq. ft. and much too large and that he often apologized to clients for the waste of space.

This sort of attitude is very difficult to understand. I quote it to indicate the considerable task that the offices inspectorate under this Clause will face in bringing these places up to the standards which we on this side of the House still regard as too low. We hope that the Amendment will make a practical difference to the way in which the Clause is enforced and will lead to some higher standards. We believe that it would have been clearer had it been tacked on to the end of subsection (2), but as far as it goes we hope that it will have the effect that the Minister has in mind.

Question put and agreed to.