HC Deb 06 March 1963 vol 673 cc596-603

Amendments made: In page 51, line 27, at end insert: fish" includes mulluscs and crustaceans. In line 27, at end insert: fuel storage premises" has the meaning assigned 4o it by section 1 (3) (a) (v) of this Act". In page 52, line 18, at end insert: place of public entertainment" means—

  1. (a) any premises used mainly for public music and dancing in respect of which there is in force a licence granted under the Disorderly Houses Act 1751;
  2. (b) any premises in respect of which there is in force a licence granted under the Cinematograph Acts 1909 and 1952;
  3. (c) a place of public resort had or kept under the authority of letters patent from Her Majesty, Her heirs or successors, or predecessors, or a licence under the Theatres Act 1843, for the performance of stage plays as defined in that Act.
In page 52, leave out lines 29 to 33.

In line 33, at end insert: week" means the period between midnight on Saturday night and midnight on the succeeding Saturday night. In line 33, at end insert: 'young person' means a person who has not attained the age of eighteen".—[Mr. Whitelaw.]

Mr. Whitelaw

I beg to move, in page 52, line 40, after "premises", to insert: or at office premises occupied by the undertakers for the purposes of the railway undertaking carried on by them and situate in the immediate vicinity of the permanent way". It might be for the convenience of the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if we discussed at the same time the two remaining Amendments in line 41 and 43, which are consequential upon this one.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Yes, if that is agreed.

Mr. Whitelaw

The purpose of paragraph (a) of subsection (3) of the Clause is to bring what I might term the "outdoor" railwaymen within the ambit of the Bill. This is done by deeming them to be employed to work at the premises at which the general control of their work is exercised. These premises are simply defined as "railway premises" in line 40. If hon. Members examine the definition of "railway premises" in Clause 1 (4), they will find that "office premises" are specifically excluded. But the general control of the work of the "outdoor" men is, of course, usually exercised from office premises, and the first Amendment makes good this omission.

The second Amendment is purely consequential. The third Amendment extends the exclusion of minor railway premises in subsection (3, b) of the Clause to buildings which might be caught by the definition of office premises simply because some outdoor railway workers go into them on occasions to do some writing which is incidental to their main job. Of course, if persons are habitually employed in these buildings as office workers the premises will not be excluded by this Clause.

These three Amendments merely tidy up the definitions in Clause 77 (3). They do not have the effect of excluding any railway workers from the protection of the Bill. I hope that with that assurance the House will feel able to pass the Amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: page 52, line 41, eave out "there" and insert: in the premises at which the general control of the doing of their work is exercised". In line 43, leave out "railway premises shall not" and insert: neither railway premises nor such office premises as aforesaid shall".—[Mr. Whitelaw.]

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified]

12.38 a.m.

Mr. Hare

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am sure of the unanimous agreement of the House when I say that the Bill makes a major contribution to the corpus of social legislation of this country. More than 8 million people in offices, shops and railway premises will benefit from its provisions, which are set out in about 90 Clauses, taking into account what we have added today.

I think all of us take pleasure in the part, whether it has been large or small, which we have played in helping to improve the Bill on its passage through the House. I should like to express my appreciation of the consistently constructive approach of all hon. Members to the Measure. We spent only 13 mornings in Committee on Amendments which totalled more than 160, and if arguments had not been stated concisely and in a helpful manner, we might have spent at least double that time. I should like to say how grateful I am to all concerned, but would like to pay special tribute to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary who carried, on my behalf, the main burden of work in the Committee. Great credit is due to him. Most of the Government Amendments today have been the result of undertakings given by me or him.

Among the changes made since the Bill was first introduced, four stand out. First, the extension of the Bill to include coal depots; secondly, the provisions setting up a central inspectorate in order to secure uniform administration; thirdly, the requirement that all premises covered by the Bill should have adequate means of escape in case of fire; fourthly, provision for consulting employed persons concerned when applications for exemption certificates are made.

We have not yet completed our task of strengthening the Bill. We are still studying one or two provisions, minor in character, which we may include at a later stage. As soon as the Bill passes into law, we shall initiate discussions with the various interests concerned, with a view to setting up the necessary administrative framework in the shortest possible time. The Government yield to no one in their desire to see the Statute in force at the earliest possible moment.

12.41 a.m.

Mr. Prentice

It goes without saying that we on this side of the House welcome the Third Reading of this Bill. We have waited an awfully long time since the Gowers Report and have made many efforts to get its proposals on the Statute Book. Naturally we are glad that the process has been completed at last.

I agree that in Committee we had a pleasant and constructive time. We on our side tried to help to move the Bill forward quickly and at the same time to improve it. We can say, without being boastful, that we have improved it, that it is a better Bill now than it was when it was first introduced.

It was a singularly timid Measure then. It fell far short of the Gowers recommendations in many respects. It still does fall short of them in some respects, but it has been considerably improved and I should like to pay tribute to the excellent team work of my hon. Friends in this respect. We are glad that the Minister was able to meet us on a number of points.

Everything now depends on the way in which the Bill is implemented. In our view, the Bill needs to be followed up by rapid preparation of the regulations and by a decision on the date on which the Bill is to come into effect. That date should be as soon as possible. Whereas there may be some parts for which a date cannot be fixed, as the right hon. Gentleman said, for about a year from now because of administrative preparations, other parts can come into operation sooner. Clause 17 gives general powers for regulations on the health and welfare of workers and need not be long delayed.

The Bill's success will depend on the way it is enforced. From this side of the House we shall not lose side sight of all this. We shall be chasing him and putting down Questions about the implementation of the Bill. Perhaps it would be realistic to add, in view of the political situation, that very soon it will be his duty, and that of his hon. Friends, to chase us up on the way in which we implement the Bill.

We intend, when, shortly, we become the Government, to carry out the Bill as vigorously as we can. We intend to issue regulations to the fullest possible extent to set up a strong central inspectorate, and to see that the provisions are carried into effect in such a way that they make a genuine impact on the working lives of the eight million people involved.

A question mark will hang over the Bill when it is on the Statute Book. It can either remain merely a piece of window dressing or it can make a real impact on the lives on the working people concerned. Everything depends on the way it is enforced, and we take the view that it must be strictly enforced. It is an important piece of social legislation provided that it is properly carried out.

Since most people have to spend a very large proportion of their waking hours at work, it is essential in a civilised society that we should lay down minimum conditions regarding health, safety and welfare at places of work. These conditions have existed for a long time for factory workers and some other workers, but the workers in offices, shops and railway premises have had to wait a long time. It is a good thing that the Bill has reached its present stage, and that its provisions have been extended to the workers in coal depots, through pressure which hon. Members on this side of the House and trade unions put on the Government. It would have been better still if it had been extended to the other groups of workers which we tried to include in Committee, but they must wait for another occasion.

It is a step forward, provided it is implemented correctly, and it is our determination that it should be so implemented.

12.45 a.m.

Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)

The words just spoken by the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) were very necessary words, and I support them. The Minister is to be congratulated on seeing this piece of legislation through, but a great deal will depend on the speed with which its provisions are implemented once the Minister has made his regulations, and inevitably it will be some time before he can do so.

I ask my right hon. Friend to keep a very close eye on the way in which the Measure is implemented. I have in mind what has happened in the last three or four years since we had a major overhaul of factory legislation. Many of the provisions which are contained in the Bill have been taken almost lock, stock and barrel from the last Factories Act, but there are many workers in factories to whom the Act has still not yet been applied.

In passing a Bill of this kind and putting a tremendous responsibility on local authorities we are also giving them a vast amount of work to do, with which they scarcely have the staff to cope. It will be many years before the Factories Act is properly implemented, and I hope that it will not be as many years before we see this Bill fully implemented. Yet, with the staffs at present available to do the work, it must be a long time before all the offices which should be inspected and given certificates are in fact given them.

Everybody will have his own idea of what is the most important part of the Bill. It is no doubt important that offices should be clean and not overcrowded; that they should be at the right temperature and properly ventilated, and so on, but if these conditions do not exist it may or may not be prejudicial to the health of the workers. I therefore submit that the most important Clauses are the ones from Clause 25 to Clause 34, which deal with fire precautions. Every year some people are killed in offices as a result of fire breaking out—a form of death which can come very suddenly, but which happens regularly every year. But how long will it be before the fire precautions provided in the Bill are applied to the offices?

Once again, I remind the Minister that these precautions still do not apply in the case of factories, although we passed the relevant legislation some years ago. It will therefore depend on the pressure the Minister is able to maintain upon the appropriate local authorities, through the local authorities which are fire authorities and the factory inspectors, but it will also depend upon which department in a local authority is given the work to do. One would think that in the case of fire precautions the fire authority would give the work to the fire service, but in many cases it is given to other departments. This applies particularly in the case of the L.C.C., where the inspection of the moans of escape is carried out not by the fire service but by a special escape department.

These departments do good work, but sometimes they take a long time to get round to doing it. This, therefore, is a case where Ministerial pressure should constantly be applied. The Minister should constantly review the situation in order to make sure how many premises are still outstanding, and if he thinks that too much time is being taken I hope that he will take the appropriate action.

I congratulate the Minister once again on bringing in the Bill, and I hope that it will be only a short time before he puts its provisions into operation.

12.50 a.m.

Mr. MacDermot

The last occasion on which I had the pleasure of taking part in a debate on a Bill of this kind was in 1959, when we debated the Factories Bill. I believe that that was the last Bill in which I was engaged in Committee before I lost my seat. I feel more confident about my position this time. I have been looking at my Third Reading speech on that occasion, and I could make almost the same speech tonight, except that the hour is rather late for such a speech.

Those hon. Members who took part in the Committee stage proceedings found it a gratifying experience. I wish to join in the tribute paid by my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) about the helpful way in which the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary received our suggestions, proposals and Amendments. It is possible to spend a lot of time in this Chamber and in Standing Committees and feel frustrated. But sometimes one feels that such time has been well spent and that it has been a rewarding experience. I should like particularly to endorse the tribute paid to the Parliamentary Secretary. I think we all feel that the hon. Gentleman handled this matter with great tact and skill and treated our arguments with the respect that I hope they always deserve.

We on this side of the House have scored—if that be the right word to use—many successes in respect of this Bill. About eleven mew Clauses and about 20 substantive Government Amendments were designed to meet proposals which we put forward during the Committee stage discussions. I suffered a major disappointment today. But that does not rankle.

Everything now turns on the enforcement of the Measure and the first stage in the preparation of the necessary regulations by the Minister. I remember expressing doubts at the time of the 1959 Act which I am glad have been falsified in the event. We have seen speed and progress in connection with the production of regulations under the Factories Act since the amending legislation. I hope that we shall see the same in respect of this Measure. The scope of the Bill and the number of premises to which its provisions apply is so vast that enforcement will have to be carried out by the local authorities. I put it that way because we all recognise that had it been possible it would have been better to have had a central inspectorate. But that is not practicable. The trouble is that the local authorities will have a burden thrust upon them and it is unlikely that many of them will be able to recruit additional staff. So the authorities will require a lot of assistance from the Ministry and one of the most important Amendments provides for a central inspectorate and machinery at the Ministry.

I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that he will have an extensive publicity campaign to help to make known the provisions in the Bill. I am not referring to the publicity that will pour out of the Conservative Central Office about how much has been achieved for the workers. I hope that leaflets and booklets will be distributed to offices so that employers will be able to read in language that they can understand the duties which we are imposing on them. If we do that and get good co-operation our labours here will be rewarded and there will be a real improvement in the conditions of the workers.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.