HC Deb 18 March 1963 vol 674 cc20-2
26. Mrs. Hart

asked the Minister of Health how many prosecutions have been instituted against employers allowing a woman or girl to be employed within four weeks of giving birth to a child, under the Factory and Works Act, 1901, and the Public Health Act, 1936.

Mr. Braine

I regret this information is not available.

Mrs. Hart

If the Government cannot discover this information, how do they know that there is a need to consolidate this legislation in terms of the Private Member's Bill which the Government support? Will the Parliamentary Secretary urge his right hon. Friend to look again at the question of providing this information before any further steps are taken in regard to this Private Member's Bill?

Mr. Braine

The information is not kept centrally. The only way to get it would to ask the local authorities which are the enforcing authorities to search their records as far back as 1901. I think that it would be rash to assume, whether or not there have been a large number of prosecutions, that women employed in factories have not secured adequate protection as a result of the legislation passed all those years ago. The hon. Lady should reflect that in asking that power should not be taken to protect women in offices and shops in the same way as women have been protected in factories, she is in effect asking us to repeal the law protecting women in factories.

Lord Balniel

Would my hon. Friend not agree that the number of prosecutions under an Act is no indication of the social worth of the piece of legislation? Would he not agree that these Acts, which take no account of a doctor's recommendation, could be improved?

Mr. Braine

Yes, indeed, and I hope that the Bill we have before the House will receive sympathetic support on that count. But I think that there has been a great deal of misunderstanding on this point. The Minister's regulations likely to be made under that Bill, if it is enacted, will take into account modern conditions and the necessity of providing for special circumstances in varying employments in the interests of all women workers.

Mrs. Hart

Will the Parliamentary Secretary take note of two points; firstly, if the legislation already existing is dead in the sense that no one takes any notice of it and there are no prosecutions under it, then the new Bill cannot be said to be a consolidating Measure and it is, therefore, introducing a new principle which should be fully argued and debated in the House. Secondly, would he not agree that the Minister, in a long reply, introduced the principle of the Bill? Would the Parliamentary Secretary not agree that in the view of many hon. Members it should be a matter for trade union negotiation to establish the same kind of excellent conditions for women who are employed both during and after the period of childbirth?

Mr. Speaker

We shall not make the progress demanded of me if we have supplementary questions of that length.

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