HL Deb 08 July 1902 vol 110 cc1051-3

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether the Secretary of State for the Home Department will reconsider the Order for fruit preserving under the Factory and Workshop Act of 1901, with a view of preventing the undue employment of adult women for excessive hours under Article 5 of the Order, and extending the exception given by Article 6 of the Order to young persons under eighteen, instead of only to those under sixteen years of age. In putting this Question to the noble Lord who represents the Home Office, I hope he will allow me to express the warm thanks of those who are interested in factory legislation for the very great step in advance which this Order makes. I wish to direct the attention of the noble Lord to Article 6, in which it is stated that no young person under sixteen years of age shall be employed before six o'clock in the morning or after ten o'clock in the evening. I would point out that even with this restriction it is possible for girls to be employed for no less than sixteen hours in the course of the day. The noble Lord probably knows that this Order was introduced in response to an appeal made in another place to the Home Secretary, when the Factory and Workship Bill was in Committee, and a young person is defined in that Act as a person between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. I should like to know why the age of sixteen is fixed in this Order. We should be very glad if the noble Lord could see his way to promise, on behalf of the Home Office, that the definition in the Factory and Workshop Act will lie reverted to in this case. It must be obvious to your Lordships that the two years between sixteen and eighteen, are very important years. Again, there is no limit at all with regard to women. For four months in the year, jam factories come under the exemption by which women work any number of hours—so many hours, indeed, that the only limit to them is the limit of their endurance. Cases are known in which they have worked eighty-six hours a week, and they have been found at two o'clock in the day going back to a spell of work of no less than nine hours, having been at work that morning from six o'clock. I cannot but think that your Lordships will see that there is some need for an amendment of the law in this case. This Order provides that after every five hours work, there shall be an interval of half-an-hour; that is a small allowance to give in a day of so many as seventeen hours.

It practically comes to this, that during those four months these women get no time to themselves, until they are completely broken down through overwork. I quite understand that the fruit must be treated immediately, especially as it is frequently bought in a half-rotten condition. There is, on the part of some manufacturers, a disposition not to buy fruit in the morning when it is fresh, but to wait till the evening when it is cheap and half-rotten, and then these young persons are turned on to the work of preserving it till very late. This half-rotten fruit is bought day after day, and that is how the pressure arises. In these days of cold storage, it surely should be easy to devise some system by which fruit could be stored in cold chambers, until it could be treated by women better fitted to do it than those who have been working, perhaps, twelve hours in the day already. In some factories it has been found possible to do this, and I hope the Home Office will be able to spur on other employers to treat their workpeople in a more humane manner. I press this question, not only on behalf of the women, but also on behalf of the consumers, because it will be obvious that jam which is made out of fresh fruit is a great deal more wholesome than jam made out of half rotten fruit. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will be able to promise some amelioration both in regard to the raising of the age limit to eighteen arid the limitation of hours with regard to women.


My Lords, in answer to the question of the noble Earl, I would first point out that these jam-making processes were formerly entirely exempt from the Factory Acts, and it was only by the Act of last year that they were brought under regulation at all. The exception from the general legislation in regard to hours only applies to those processes in which it is absolutely necessary in order to avoid the destruction of the fruit during the summer months. I followed the noble Earl with regard to what he said about fruit being purchased in some instances when not in a good state. The Home Secretary considers that the regulations already drawn up go as far as it is safe to go at present, but if, after a year or two's experience of the working of the Order, it is found that abuses still exist, it will be possible to impose more stringent regulations. The last section of the Order provides for an exact record being kept of all work done outside the ordinary factory hours, and therefore the Home Secretary will always be fully supplied with information, and will be able to watch the working of the Order as it now stands. I will represent to the Home Secretary what the noble Earl has said as to the raising of the age limit in the case of young persons from sixteen to eighteen.


I do not quite gather whether the Government are prepared to accept the suggestion of the noble Earl that there are certain hours of the day when fruit ought to be bought and when it ought not to be bought, and that there is a certain degree of ripeness which fruit ought to possess before it is made into jam. I should like to ask whether the Government are going to bring in a Bill to carry that out.


My answer to the last question is in the negative. With regard to the other question, I thought I fully covered it when I said that the Secretary of State considered that the Order he had made was quite sufficient for the present until he had had further experience.