HL Deb 05 March 1886 vol 303 cc4-5

rose to ask, Whether in any future appointments of Factory and Workshop Inspectors Her Majesty's Government would favourably consider the possibility of selecting a certain number of female Inspectors for those factories and workshops where women only are employed? Considering the interest taken in the various fields that were now open for female industry and ability, he was anxious to ask Her Majesty's Government whether the Home Secretary could see his way to act in the sense of his Question on the Paper; and he did so for two reasons—first, because steps had been taken in this direction with, he believed, very advantageous results by the appointment some years ago of a talented lady, now, unhappily, no more, the late Mrs. Nassau Senior, as an Inspector of district and workhouse schools; and last year, on the action of the late President of the Local Government Board, two ladies of distinguished personal abilities and high social standing received somewhat similar appointments within the Metropolitan area; and, secondly, because he believed also that in many instances women were great sufferers from the pressure of work and defective sanitary arrangements in workshops; and on this head he should like to quote certain expressions which appeared in the letter of an artizan to one of the public journals not very long ago— The sanitary condition of factories is a subject which may well engage the attention of trade unionists; the greatest sufferers from overcrowded factories at present are women; there is much sentiment written and spoken about female workers, and probably a genuine desire to make the everyday life of factory women a little less dreary than it is; but there has been as yet no vigorous effort made in the direction of such a piece of practical reform as the appointment of female Factory Inspectors. Women's eyes can see women's grievances quicker than men's can, and there is no sound argument against the appointment of women to inspect factories where women only are employed. Sir William Harcourt has recognized the claims of working men to be represented among Factory Inspectors, and deserves their gratitude; but he should go a little further, and recognize the claims of working women as well. Since 1881 seven appointments had been made of persons who, from their previous practical working experience in various trades, were duly qualified to act as Factory and Workshop Inspectors with every prospect of their utility; and he should hope that a certain number of intelligent women conversant with the duties and requirements of their sex in various trades would prove valuable auxiliaries to the present Inspectors.


, in reply, said, that the question raised by the noble Viscount's Question was one of great interest; but, at the same time, it was one of extreme difficulty. The subject had occupied the attention of the Home Department for several years, and it was still under consideration. The difficulties in the way of following the suggestion of the noble Lord were greater than at first sight one might be inclined to fancy. There was a great difference between the duties of a Poor Law Inspector, which Mrs. Senior discharged, and those of a Factory and Workshop Inspector. This subject had been dealt with at considerable length in the Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories for 1879 and 1880; and that official expressed the opinion that the duties which devolved upon a Factory Inspector could not be discharged by a lady. The Chief Inspector said the day's work of a Factory Inspector sometimes extended from 6 or 8 in the morning to 8 and 10 o'clock at night; and he was forced to the conviction that it was work for a man and not for a woman, the multifarious duties being really incompatible with the character of a woman. In a previous Report the Chief Inspector referred to the exposure to which Inspectors were subjected, and the necessity for examining machinery in workshops could not be undertaken by women. Those were some of the difficulties which stood in the way of carrying out the suggestion. He was instructed to say that at the present moment, at any rate, there was no intention to appoint a female Inspector of Factories and Workshops. The subject, however, remained under the attention of the Home Office, and from time to time it would be considered to what extent and how far the suggestion could be carried out.

House adjourned at a quarter before Five o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.