HC Deb 06 March 1963 vol 673 cc422-32

(1) Where persons who are employed to work in office, shop or railway premises have, in the course of their work, reasonable opportunities for sitting, without detriment to it, there shall be provided for their use suitable facilities for sitting sufficient to enable them to take advantage of those opportunities.

{2) Where persons are employed to work in a room which comprises, or is comprised in or constitutes, shop premises, being a room whereto customers are invited to resort, and have in the course of their work, reasonable opportunities for sitting without detriment to it, the provision for their use of a number of seats such that that number and the number of the persons employed are not in less ratio than 1 to 3 shall be deemed to constitute compliance with the foregoing subsection.

(3) It shall be the duty of the employer of persons for whose use facilities are provided in pursuance of the foregoing provisions of this section to permit them to use them whenever the use thereof does not interfere with their work, and if he fails so to do he shall he guilty of an offence.—[Mr. Hare.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Hare

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

I think that it would be convenient to discuss at the same time the Amendment standing in my name, numbered 19 on the Order Paper, to page 8, line 15, to leave out Clause 13, since it is directly consequential.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If that is convenient.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

On a point of order. The Minister has moved a new Clause, which we are endeavouring to study. It is in substitution for the Clause which was never discussed in Standing Committee. Having done that, the right hon. Gentleman says, without notice and without anything to the effect of that intention on the Order Paper, that it will probably be convenient to the Committee to discuss something else at the same time—something, apparently, which we will find on an odd page under a new system by which the Amendments are numbered. I really have no idea of what the Minister wishes us to discuss along with the new Clause; in fact, I think that I have already forgotten the number of the Amendment with which we must also be concerned. I have attempted to ascertain what it is, and I must point out to the right hon. Gentleman that this is a highly important Clause.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I thought I heard the Minister say that it was Amendment No. 19 and that it was consequential.

Mr. Hale

If the Minister says that it is consequential, then I suppose that we shall find out if it is in due course.

Mr. Hare

I undertook in Standing Committee to replace the power in Clause 13 to make regulations about sitting facilities with substantive provisions. Hon. Members will remember that I said this. The new Clause, together with the new Clause entitled "Seats for sedentary work", fulfils the undertaking which I gave to the Committee. Subsection (1) is virtually the same as Section 60 (1) of the Factories Act, and subsections (2) and (3) are based on Section 37 of the Shops Act, 1950. These last two subsections represent an advance on the provisions in the Shops Act, because whereas Section 37 in that Act applies to female employees the provision in the Bill applies to both sexes. When the new Clause is brought into effect, Section 37 of the 1950 Act will be repealed.

Mr. W. E. Padley (Ogmore)

The new Clause, along with the Clause "Seats for sedentary work", which we shall be discussing, goes a good way towards meeting points which my hon. Friends put forcibly to the Minister in Standing Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), when he studies these complicated papers, will realise that this Clause is to be substituted for Clause 13 in the original Bill.

The battle to obtain seats for female shop assistants goes back in this House to 1899, and Section 37 of the Shops Act, 1950, contains one part enacted in 1912 and another enacted in 1934. I hope the Minister will realise that one of the difficulties as a result of the Government leaving out so much in the original draft of the Bill is that in the last few days virtually a new Bill has been put in the hands of hon. Members. Whereas I confess that on first reading I thought that the Minister in the second new Clause had gone all the way to meet my pleading in Committee, I now have some reservations.

Mr. Hale

So have I.

Mr. Padley

It is perfectly true that the Clause concedes to men what hitherto has been conceded only to women. It also extends the provisions from shops to offices and railway premises. Whereas Section 37 of the 1950 Act states that where a shop employs female assistants seats shall be provided and it is the duty of the employer in a prescribed form to notify the assistants that they may use the seats, subsection (1) of the first New Clause, which follows the Factories Act, uses the phrase: … reasonable opportunities for sitting without detriment to it … Some of my hon. Friends express the fear that in supermarkets, which are the dominant trend of the present revolution in retailing, it might possibly be argued that this form of words is not as satisfactory as that already existing in Section 37 of the 1950 Act. Therefore, whilst I thank the Minister for having gone this far to meet the case which I put in Standing Committee, I ask him not to be surprised if in another place yet another Amendment crops up and, having warned him, I hope that he and his advisers will give further consideration to the matter.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I appreciate that the new Clause does what the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) says it does. It makes necessary provisions for seats for males as well as for females. I hesitate to criticise at this stage any words of the drafting, but need we have "facilities for sitting"? Cannot we have "seats"? "Facilities for sitting" may mean sitting on the ground, and then one comes to the extraordinary statement: … reasonable opportunities for sitting without detriment to it … To what?

Mr. Hale

I always listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley), speaking on a matter like this, as one listening to an authority. As he was a member of the Standing Committee, I listened to him with even greater attention. I have not been able to dispel my own suspicion of the new Clause and the very curious alteration in the wording which has taken place between the original Clause 13, which was not challenged or discussed in Committee, and now. That original Clause was open to an objection which we have discussed so often that we can well understand members of the Committee thinking that it was a work of supererogation to discuss it again.

The original Clause 13 relied on the good motives of the Minister in this connection, and whilst I would not say anything to hurt the feelings of the right hon. Gentleman, I must say that the motives of Ministers in relation to the whole principle of the Gowers Report have never been honourable in the past.

The new Clause says: Where persons who are employed to work in office, shop or railway premises have, in the course of their work, reasonable opportunities for sitting without detriment to it … "It" means the work. I do not argue about that.

It is an extremely ugly and clumsy Clause in atrocious English, but we are always told that the Parliamentary draftsman, who is the great authority, has found it essential, for this, that and the other reason which we do not understand, to produce ugly, clumsy and revolting English. That conceivably may be true, but "without detriment to"? Who decides? What does it mean? The Clause goes on to say that There shall be provided for their use suitable facilities for sitting … After all, the good Lord has done that for everyone of us.

Mr. S. Silverman

May I be allowed to remind my hon. Friend that on this point he has the eloquent support of the late Dr. Johnson? He once attended a crowded reception and when his hostess came up to him and said, "Oh, Dr. Johnson, have you nothing to sit on?" he replied, "Yes, madam. I have plenty to sit on but nowhere to put it."

Mr. Hale

This really covers the point. If we had gone into the Common Market, however, that would not have been a sitting facility but something to pinch.

But what does it mean? What is a "sitting facility"? The curious thing, if I remember aright, is that in the original Clause 13 the word "seat" was used. Now it is not. Here … facilities are provided in pursuance of the foregoing provisions of this section … What is a sitting facility? People sit in astonishing positions. There was a time in the enlightened United States when pole-sitting was regarded as a form of sport which attracted almost sensational notice. People sit on bars, people sit on swings and all sorts and sizes of contraptions; but, seriously, a wooden box is a sitting facility in a shop.

Here again I am in the unhappy difficulty that we have about Amendments these days which wander around the Order Paper. One wants a chartered accountant and a computer to find them when one is doing one's homework. There were provisions in the original Section for foot-rests to be ordered in appropriate cases.

Mr. Winterbottom

There was a series of Amendments to propose that footrests should be provided.

Mr. Hale

There we are, and that has now been eliminated. The Minister was going to take power to provide for footrests in circumstances which seemed to him appropriate. I thought that he had got that power.

Let us see what the Clause says. The Clause says that where it can be done without detriment to one's work, it shall be the obligation of the employer to provide sitting facilities in the ratio of not less than one in three of the persons employed. The curious effect of the form of words in the Clause is that the harder a person has to work, the less need there is to establish that sitting facilities have been provided. If a girl is working in a shop every minute of the day and is working so hard that there is not a moment for her to sit down, the employer does not have to provide sitting facilities. The harder she works the lower the standard. This seems a very unfortunate form of words to use in that connection.

Who is to decide what a sitting facility is? It is obvious that packing cases are to hand in many shops and premises. The Clause is limited to people working in the premises. I had occasion a few weeks ago to travel by British Railways. It was, in fact, a misfortune to an extent, though I do not criticise British Railways for what happened in the extraordinarily bad weather. I think the workers on British Railways have earned the gratitude of almost all the travelling public for the extraordinary efforts that they made.

I had to travel from London to Manchester. At Marylebone the train came in looking exactly as if it had been six weeks in Siberia. It was frozen; twelve sleeping compartments were closed down as not being in working order. The water was frozen; there was no heating. It was certainly not a very happy method of travelling. The point I wish to make is that I was told that that train had arrived in perfect condition that morning. It had gone out to the railway sheds, to which this Clause refers. It had been given the necessary treatment, the provisioning of new sheets, the attention necessary to—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but surely he is straying a little from the Clause which is under discussion.

Mr. Hale

I am discussing whether sitting facilities have got to be provided for railway workers working outside railway sheds but who are normally employed inside railway sheds. I respectfully submit that nothing is more directly relevant to the Clause that we are considering, which applies to "shop or railway premises".

The question we are discussing is whether, if their work permits them, they shall have reasonable opportunities for sitting down. What is a reasonable opportunity for sitting down in that connection, walking up and down a railway carriage and repairing it? Are there sitting facilities available in the compartment, and are the workers to be entitled to use them if they have finished their work, or not? I may be wrong, but I was told that this train had been inside the sheds for cleaning, repairing and refurbishing that day, and people were working under those conditions. If they were working under those conditions, they must have been in serious danger of being frozen solid. This Clause relates particularly to railway premises—

Mr. Padley

Not railway running sheds.

Mr. Hale

That may be, but, with respect to my hon. Friend, is it not right that they should be included?

Mr. Padley

Largely because of the activities of a former colleague, who was the Member for The Hartlepools, railway running sheds to which my hon. Friend is referring are now included in the Factories Act.

Mr. Hale

I appreciate that. I also appreciate that one of the defences of the words proposed by the Minister in Committee was that these words are used also in the Factories Act. On the other hand, the hon. Member himself has taken a very active part in calling attention to some of the defects in the Factories Act and to the need for some amendment.

The Clause provides that sitting facilities of some sort, undefined, have got to be provided for one in three people if they are people so employed that they can be permitted to sit down at some time during the day without detriment to the work that they are called upon to perform. Last weekend, after thirty-odd years of married life, I took the "missus" to the pictures as a reward and we saw a small, detailed, constructive film on this very point. We were told that one of the great achievements of modern science was that by calling in work study people and so on, it had been found that a girl could sit down and produce in an assembly job about twice as much as she could when standing up. She had always stood up until experts, computers, graphs, mathematicians, surveyors and so on had drawn the number of operations she performed; and then they decided—one would have thought it was fairly obvious to start with—that if she had everything a bit nearer to her, and if she did not have to walk from one end of the factory to another to get the various things, she would achieve greater production.

We now have the position that in the modern factory sitting is provided, but in the bad factory the girl cannot sit down without detriment to her work. So long as a factory has not adopted modern conditions, she will not be allowed to sit down because she could not perform an assembly job without detriment to her work which involves walking round six or eight boxes, picking up the bits and dashing off to twist them in the required shape.

The wording which the Parliamentary draftsman has selected is highly suspect and it puts a premium on the bad employer. The good employer who provides better conditions is bound by the Clause, and so he should be, but the Clause does not operate in a bad factory where the conditions are bad. I do not know what court will decide the highly technical point—which I would willingly leave to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore to decide with his expertise—whether a person can, within the meaning of this Clause, sit down without detriment to her work if two persons out of the three are not occupying the one seat provided for three at the time that one of them can sit down without detriment to her work.

Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)

I do not want to pursue the discussion on these grammatical abortions in the Bill. Any party which can spend thousands of pounds on such literary gems as "You've never had it so good" and "Life is better under the Conservatives", without specifying what it is better than, is capable of proposing a Clause of this nature.

The objection to Clause 13, which is shared by all hon. Members on this side of the House, is that it is not specific in any way at all. It says that regulations may be made, but it does not say what the regulations are. The reason why so many of us were suspicious of that form of wording in Clause 13 was that there were very clear regulations on this specific point, and there have, in fact, been such provisions in our legislation since the Factories Act, 1937. Section 60 of the Factories Act, 1961 clearly specifies regulations providing for persons to sit down.

I should, therefore, like to hear from the Minister why, having been converted to the paths of righteousness to the extent that he has, to specify some form of legislation on sitting facilities, with the mass of legislation from which he has to choose, he chooses the most inadequate. Why did he not use in this Clause the wording in Section 60 of the Factories Act, 1961? It has worked clearly, though its major let-out is that it is not applicable unless the facilities can reasonably be enjoyed. We are entitled to know why the Minister has chosen the Shops Act form of words and rejected the Factories Act terms which have worked perfectly well in a much wider and more diverse field and which are quite specific.

5.0 p.m.

Why has the Minister chosen the extraordinary wording—I know where it comes from, but I do not understand why he repeats it—that seats shall be provided not in less ratio than 1 to 3 … to constitute compliance with the foregoing subsection". If it is possible for employees to sit down at their work, why is it assumed that, in some circumstances, only one out of every three need be given facilities for so doing? In a factory, if it is possible for an employee to sit down, without detriment to his work, Section 60 is quite clear that sitting facilities shall be provided. How does one justify a provision that says that, even if it is possible for an employee to sit down without any detriment whatever to his work, the employer is under an obligation only to provide sitting facilities for one out of every three? Why should the other two have to stand up, if, according to the Minister's own definition, it is perfectly practicable for them to sit down?

I should like to have an answer to these questions. The Minister has shown a willingness to pay regard to suggestions made by the Opposition. Indeed, he has almost rewritten this part of the Bill. We are grateful for that, but why has the right hon. Gentleman found it impossible to apply in this connection that part of the Factories Act which has been applicable ever since 1937 to about 8½ million manual workers?

Mr. Hare

By leave of the House, may I answer one or two of the points which have been put?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman does not require the leave of the House. He is entitled to reply.

Mr. Hare

I am much obliged, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

Some of the complaints which have been voiced by hon. Members arise from the fact that we went into the Bill very thoroughly in Committee, discussing it most carefully, I think, with a common desire to improve it. The new provisions now put upon the Notice Paper are the results of that work. It has, therefore, been difficult for some hon. Members who were not on the Committee to follow the very drastic changes which have been made. I quite understand the difficulty of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). He was not a Member of the Committee and, since we did so much during the Committee Stage, it is difficult for him, as it is for some others, to follow everything which has been done.

The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley)—I am grateful to him for it—said that I had gone a long way to meet the suggestions which he put to me. He has given me fair warning that, at another stage of the Bill's passage through the Houses of Parliament, there may be further Amendments put down, and I note that warning.

I was a little confused by some of the reasoning of the hon. Member for Oldham, West. He doubts the wording of the new Clause, and, also, he rather dislikes the drafting. The trouble here, as I said earlier, is that in subsection (1) we have used practically the same words as appear in Section 60 (1) of the Factories Act.

Mr. MacDermot

The Section to which the Minister referred uses the phrase "without detriment to their work", not "without detriment to it". Someone seems to have thought that that was an improvement. I do not know whether the Minister does.

Mr. Hare

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for calling attention to that.

I think that the point raised by the hon. Member for Oldham, West and the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) can be put in this way—Why did not we make more use of Section 60 of the Factories Act? Hon. Members will see that in the next new Clause, Seats for sedentary work, we have used practically the rest of Section 60 of the Factories Act. I think that that probably answers the question which they have in mind.

Mr. Hale

This was the point made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West. Why use the words "without detriment to"? Let us see how it will work in relation to one in three. In a shop, the time when one can sit down without detriment to one's work is when there are no customers in the shop. According to the new Clause, if a shop is empty and there are three assistants, only one will be able to sit down. It seems a fantastic provision, and I wondered why it appeared in that way. How is it to work?

Mr. Hare

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman has in mind. We have tried to follow the provisions of the Factories Act, and, generally speaking, I think that the Committee felt that this was reasonable. This is why I have moved the new Clause.

Mr. Marsh

I am becoming more and more puzzled by the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. The Factories Act does not provide for any ratio of one in three. As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman's new Clause provides that, if all the employees in a shop may sit down, the Bill will be complied with nevertheless if only one of them can sit down. The other two have to stand up. It seems quite unreasonable. If all factory workers are allowed to sit down, if that is possible, why should the words of the new Clause come from the Shops Act? Why is the Minister so committed to ensuring that, even though they can all sit down, only one is to be allowed to sit down, while the other stands?

Mr. Hare

I referred to the one in three in relation to the Shops Act, not the Factories Act. I have noted the points raised by both hon. Gentlemen. Doubtless, in another place, if anything can be done to help, it will be done. I cannot go further at this stage.

Question put and agreed to.

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