HL Deb 19 July 1883 vol 281 cc1865-74

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, "That the House do now resolve itself into Committee."—(The Earl Granville.)


said, that as the second reading of this Bill had been taken at an hour too late to permit of discussion, he hoped their Lordships would allow him, before they went into Committee, to call attention to the character of the measure. The two points to which he wished to direct the notice of their Lordships were—first, the persons to whom the Bill applied; and, secondly, the provisions of the Bill itself. This Bill went beyond the principle hitherto laid down in Acts of this nature. The one great principle of the Factory Acts, with which his noble Friend near him (the Earl of Shaftesbury) had so much to do, was that they gave protection to the weak—that was to say, to women, children, and young persons—and that they did not touch adult male labour in any form. The provisions of this Bill would apply not to women and children only—for they were excluded from the Bill—but to full-grown men and women. This was a new departure in legislation. Instead of being an advance in the right direction it was a retrograde step, for it was opposed to every economic principle, and went back to the time when the State interfered in every relation of life. The provisions of the Bill were practically all contained in the Schedule to the certificate, and were of a very minute character, dealing especially with persons employed at white lead works. Mr. Redgrave, the senior Inspector of Factories, had himself, in his first Report of April, 1882, expressed an opinion adverse to legislation on the subject. The conditions for obtaining a certificate were that the persons employed should have a means of frequently washing their hands and feet with a sufficient supply of hot and cold water, a supply of brushes, boots, gloves, and respirators, and that there should be accessible to all persons employed in the factory a sufficient supply of acidulated drink. He objected to legislation on all these minute points; they might as well introduce a provision requiring that every day or every second every one of the workmen should take a dose of Epsom salts. Was the noble Earl in charge of the Bill sure that these minute conditions were the best that could be laid down? Let them take the provision as to acidulated drink. There was no provision as to what the acidulated drink was to be. It was not said that the drink should not consist of a noxious acid. If the State interfered in the matter at all, it must go further, and say what kind of an acid was to be used. He had accordingly given Notice of his intention to move in Committee that this drink should, under no circumstances, contain sulphuric, hydrochloric, or other mineral acids, but should consist exclusively of a decoction of pure lime or lemon juice, called and known in the trade as lemon squash. If they were going to punish masters who did not provide these appliances for their workmen, there must also be a penalty for the workpeople who neglected to use them, and he had given Notice of an Amendment that every such omission should be punished by a fine not exceeding 20s. He was confident that it would be much better if these things were left to the free and independent action of the employers and the employed. He should always be ready to support measures likely to render the lives of the working classes less hard and more healthy. But he believed that the working classes did not need grandmotherly legislation, as they were able, by combining and uniting, to impose their own conditions on their employers. Legislators were too apt to accept the statements of trades unionists, who pretended to speak on behalf of working men generally. He had in his hand a letter from a representative working man, Mr. Bryson, a Northumbrian collier, who, speaking of the proposal made by Mr. Burt and the trades unionists to amend the Employers' Liability Act, said that he objected to the suggested alteration, on the ground of its enervating character, and because it would destroy the self-reliance of the people; and that view was proved to be the view generally entertained by the working classes in the mining districts of Northumberland. He held that the same objection applied to the present Bill; it was calculated to destroy national liberty and self-reliance. The Bill laid down special provisions for white lead manufactories; but were those manufactories the only unhealthy ones in the country? Were not saw grinding and dry metal grinding of all kinds also injurious? If once they should determine to legislate in detail for all cases of that kind, the time of Parliament would be wholly taken up with legislation which might almost be called ridiculous. The Bill proposed to prohibit all bakehouses that were not half above ground. But it did not necessarily follow, because the whole of a building was not above ground, that it was unhealthy. Most of their Lordships' kitchens were below the level of the ground, but they were not on that account unfit to live in. If the Bill were not altered in Committee he should oppose it on the third reading.


said, that he did not object to hear the noble Earl speaking in defence of liberty and political economy; but he could not help thinking that, in his opposition to the Bill, the noble Earl misapplied those great principles. His noble Friend said that the Factory Acts made the strongest distinction between adult and juvenile labour. He admitted that fact; but he did not see how the present Bill would, in the slightest degree, affect adult labour. In what part of the Bill were any restrictions imposed upon labour of that kind? All that was proposed to be done was to impose certain sanitary conditions, to apply, not only to juvenile workmen, but to adults also, and that was exactly what the Factory and Mining Acts did. Therefore, the great distinction between those Acts and the Bill fell to the ground. The noble Lord wished to leave the matter to employers and employed, because he said they would regulate it in the best possible way. He doubted that. He saw it stated the other day that while the regulations proposed in this Bill were adopted by the best employers, with respect to others the local sanitary officers complained that persons were turned into paupers by this lead-poisoning, and were made paralytic in mind and body, and frequent deaths occurred. He could not conceive that their Lordships would be of opinion that this was an interference with adult labour which ought not to be imposed on employers, or that in an occupation of such a deleterious character regulations should not be made merely for the security of life and health. The rules which the employers were to adopt were to be approved by the Home Office, and anybody disobeying those contained in the 7th clause, 3rd subsection, would be subject to a penalty. There was no question that affected the public health so much as the state of bakeries—it affected not only the working bakers themselves, but also all the produce which they supplied for public use. His noble Friend had stated that his own kitchen was underground, and said he presumed that his (Earl Granville's) kitchen was underground also. It happened that that argument ad hominem did not particularly touch him; and if his noble Friend would favour him with a call at No. 18, Carlton House Terrace, he would be happy to show him that his kitchen was above ground. With regard to the Amendment of which his noble Friend had given Notice, he ventured to think that it was unnecessary. His noble Friend would require that the drink should be made merely of certain acidulated ingredients. But the drinks proper in such cases were made of other materials, and an Amendment which would prevent such drinks being given was exactly in the direction of that over-legislation to which the noble Earl himself objected.


said, that the main objection which his noble Friend (the Earl of Wemyss) entertained was as to the Schedule. It was a very extraordinary thing to call on the House of Lords to legislate in that minute way. By the 3rd clause the Secretary of State might, by an Order under his hand, modify any of the regulations, so that their Lordships were asked to give absolute power to the Secretary of State tomorrow to modify that which they might have enacted. With respect to smoke, their Lordships did not lay down the rules by which the nuisance was to be abated, but merely said that the best means were to be adopted. But that their Lordships should lay down those minute rules was a thing which they were not qualified to do.


said, he rose to make some observations on the very interesting and animated speech of his noble Friend on the Cross Benches (the Earl of Wemyss). In the course of that speech his noble Friend referred to the Association of which he was the founder, and almost the head, and which had been started for the purpose of what was called the defence of liberty and property. To the list of the members of that Association he felt, last year, strong temptation to add his name, for he was one of those who thought that there was serious danger of over-minute legislation. He was tempted, therefore, to break a rule he had laid down never to join any political Association whatever, for this reason—that they almost always involved one idea, and that the members were under the constant temptation to ride that idea to death. On that account he had declined to join the Association; and, after the speech which the noble Earl had delivered to-night, he congratulated himself on having so declined. He must say the noble Earl, by the Amendment he intended to propose, was riding his idea to death. The legitimate province of legislation in a country such as ours was a subject to which he had often given attention, to see whether it would be possible to lay down any abstract principle as to what were matters upon which it was wise and proper to legislate. But the truth was, that human affairs were too complicated for the drawing up of any such formula. They must be guided by the circumstances of each particular case; but if there was one matter upon which it was competent and desirable for Parliament to enter upon legislation, it was the life and health of the population. It was a great mistake to liken this Bill to the Factory Acts. What were called Factory Acts were those which regulated and limited the hours of labour; and, with regard to the limitation of hours, Parliament had very wisely confined itself to the case of women and children. But with regard to the health of the country, Parliament had placed upon itself no such limitation. This was a Bill directed to save the life and health of working men, not to limit the hours of labour. Experience had taught us that, in the fierce competition of our social system, the working classes were either unable or unwilling to distinguish between those kinds of labour which were healthy and those which were injurious to health. They would engage, without hesitation, in forms of labour which would bring on them the most fatal and loathsome forms of disease. Competition was so keen that it overcame the desire of life and the fear of death. Let their Lordships look at the legislation for protecting the health of our soldiers and sailors. Let them look at the legislation promoted by Mr. Plimsoll for the purpose of saving life at sea. Why, only a few days ago, he saw in the papers a case which came before the Admiralty Court, and the Judge had said, in summing-up, that that was the third case in a few months in which it had been clearly proved that the total loss of a steamer, with every soul on board, resulted simply from overloading. No legislation could be objected to on the ground that it was for the sake of preserving health and life. He hoped that some of their Lordships had looked at the evidence upon which this Bill was founded. The manufacture of white lead was one of the most dangerous in which working men could be employed. It was most painful to read of the loathsome diseases consequent on working in those factories. With regard to one or two factories in the neighbourhood of St. Leonard's, Shoreditch, the medical officer of the infirmary in that quarter spoke of the great number of persons treated in the institution for periods varying from three or four weeks to six months, some of whom would probably remain paupers for life. The form of disease arising from this occupation was extremely painful, and often led to paralysis, especially paralysis of the hand. In another manufactory as many as 48 patients had to be sent to the infirmary in one year; and, of course, the expense of their treatment was thrown on the ratepayers. It being impossible for anyone not to see that this was a case for legislation, the next question was whether the proposed legislation was unreasonable. In his opinion there was nothing unreasonable in it. It stood on all fours not only with the Acts for saving life at sea, but with the Acts for regulating labour in mines. The principle of the Bill simply was that the manufacturers of white lead should afford to the working men and women an opportunity of changing their clothes, and of washing their persons, to get rid of the white lead. The principal point to which the noble Earl pointed his fun and chaff was the provision that acidulated drink should be supplied; but the reason for this provision was that a dilute preparation of sulphuric acid had been found very valuable for counteracting the poisonous effects of inhaling and swallowing the fumes of white lead. It appeared to him that Parliament had as much right to prescribe this precaution as to enforce the practice of vaccination. He hoped, therefore, that the House would go into Committee on the Bill, and would, at least, give itself the opportunity of making any Amendments that might be necessary.


said, he trusted that no one would think him indifferent to the necessity of sanitary legislation if he pointed out that this was sanitary legislation of an undesirable kind. It was one thing to insist on proper structural arrangements which the workmen themselves could not compel employers to make, and quite another thing to enact such details for men as the use of a particular drink. Nor could this Bill be justly compared with the laws as to vaccination; for while those laws were intended to prevent a national disaster in the shape of an epidemic, this Bill sought only to preserve the health of very few individuals. Minute legislation as to details was objectionable, partly because of its bad moral effect on the workmen, and partly because it tended to obstruct improvements and to stereotype certain processes and remedies, which the march of science and mechanical improvement might leave very far behind. Nearly 40 years ago, being a firm believer in political economy, he had divided the House on those parts of the Factory Bill which interfered with the labour of adult women, on the ground that if once such an interference were allowed it would be impossible to know where to stop. Experience had since fully verified his fears. In the present day the trades unions showed how well the workmen were able to take care of themselves, and how little they needed grandmotherly legislation.


said, he held that this was purely a sanitary question. The principle of our factory legislation was to protect health and to defend the weak, and that was the only principle contained in the Bill. It was true enough that workmen could, as a rule, protect themselves and assert their own rights; but the persons mentioned in the Bill were, so to speak, feeble folk, many of them women, who could not combine, and were so few in number that if they struck work to-morrow their places would immediately be filled by others. In all our legislation, even in the factory legislation, Parliament had great regard to considerations affecting life and limb. It had not only limited the hours of labour for women and children, but had also, in the interests of life and limb, and in spite of many opponents, among whom Mr. John Bright had been prominent, undertaken the regulation of many details, such as the sheathing of machinery and the like. The surgeon of the Leeds Hospital stated at that time that they had 600 grave cases a-year of factory accidents to men and women. It was the existence of such facts that made it necessary for the Legislature to protect adults. He had known nothing to which employers of labour offered so much opposition, stating that it was an infringement of their liberty. Parliament had also interfered with the truck system, because wages were paid in horrible substitutes for food, a sample of which in the form of bread, of which three-fourths was clay, was analyzed at his (the Earl of Shaftesbury's) request by Professor Faraday, who desired that a part of it should be preserved in the Royal Institution; and it was, he believed, still there. Parliament had prohibited the employment of women in mines and collieries; and it had subjected to inspection and rules, with the most beneficial consequences, common lodging-houses occupied nightly by 30,000 or 40,000 men and women, who were provided with cubic air space and accomodation which they would not otherwise enjoy. The best part of the Bill was that referring to bakeries, because their insanitary condition was detrimental to the bread which many thousands of people were compelled to buy. If their Lordships would visit some of the horrible dens in which bread was made they would realize how much the health of the people was affected. White lead poisoning carried off numbers in early life, deprived families of parental support, and threw the children on the parish. The whole question was whether the sanitary condition of the people was not a matter of vital importance. As to destroying individuality by legislation, was it not destroyed a great deal more at the present time by conditions against which the employed could not protect themselves? Where men could protect themselves they must be left to do so; but where it was impossible they could do so it was the duty of Parliament to interfere, because the health and industry and independence of the people were at stake.


said, that as an humble member of the League of which the noble Earl (the Earl of Wemyss) was at once the head and soul, he had great hopes that the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) would join them, because they were not in any sense a political Society. The objection of the noble Duke to joining the League appeared to him to be this—that it was a League with an idea; would he wish to join a League without an idea?


said, his objection to the League was not that it was a League with an idea, but that it was a League with an idea that was ridden to death.


observed, that in that case he would invite the noble Duke to join the League in order that he might prevent a bad use being made of a good idea. Another observation he had to make was, that this singular argument was continually pressed—that because you made one exception to a rule, you might make any number of others. That was saying that rules existed for no other purpose than to have exceptions to them. He questioned very much whether the principles of the League applied to the proposed legislation; for he could not help thinking that in the same way that people should not be allowed to conduct themselves in a way to make themselves a nuisance to others, so the public had a right to say they should not ruin their health, and eventually become a burden to the ratepayers. He would only add that he had not understood the objection of the noble Earl (the Earl of Wemyss) to the Bill to be so much as to its principle as to the minuteness of its details.


said, that the Factory and Workshops Act of 1878 had been so construed in Scotland, that for the purpose of the employment of half-timers the middle of the day was 1 o'clock. It had been found in many cases that this had led to great inconvenience both to employers and employed, and prevented half-timers from attending afternoon school. He, therefore, proposed to introduce at the proper time an Amendment to meet this point, and he understood that the Home Office did not object to this being done.

Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

Clauses 1 to 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 (Special rules for every white lead factory).


gave Notice that on the third reading he should move that adult males be exempted from the operation of the 3rd section of the clause.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining Clauses agreed to, without amendment.

On Question, That the Report of the Amendments be now received?


said, in reference to the Schedules, that they enabled the Home Secretary in writing under his hand to revoke and alter the rules laid down, which, in fact, enabled him to set aside the provisions of an Act of Parliament. This was a point which should be considered by the Government.


pointed out that the Act of 1875 gave the same power of revocation and alteration, and no difficulties had been experienced.


said, he considered that the precedent of the Act of 1875 was not in point, as this Bill affected such a large variety of factories and workshops.

Resolved in the affirmative.

Bill reported, without amendment; and to be read 3a on Monday next.