HL Deb 13 March 1902 vol 104 cc1207-14

House in Committee (according to Order).

Clause 1—

*VISCOUNT LLANDAFF moved the omission of Clause 1, which provided that Part II of the Sixth Schedule of the Act of 1901 should be amended by including in the list of factories and workshops, laundries carried on by way of trade or for the purpose of gain. He presumed that the intention of the noble Earl in charge of the Bill was to make steam laundries factories, and all other laundries workshops. If that was his intention, the clause failed to carry it into effect, because the existing law in the Factory Act of 1901 only made an industrial establishment a factory when steam, water or other mechanical power was used in it for manufacturing processes. Laundry processes were not manufacturing processes. The result of the clause would be that all laundries, steam and otherwise, would be workshops. He objected entirely to the application in this way en bloc of the factory legislation to laundries. The Factory Acts were devised, in the first instance, for the great textile factories, and there had been included non-textile factories and workshops, but some manufacturing process was carried on in them. Manufacturing processes were capable of being carried on at any hour, continuously, and with perfect regularity. The consequence was that in a factory it was possible to have fixed hours for work and meals, in fact, perfect regularity. That was not possible in the case of an industry which was not a manufacturing industry.

There were four classes of industry, to which certain portions of the Factory Act had been applied, namely, docks, buildings, railways and laundries. In each of those cases Parliament had declined to apply the Factory Act as a whole, but had picked out certain provisions appropriate to the industry in question, and made those, and those only, applicable. In the case of laundries the application was more extensive. It was clear from the Bill that the clauses which the noble Earl wished to apply were those which regulated the hours of employment and the time for meals and holidays, which were precisely the clauses not suitable to laundries. The operation of this industry was not regular, like that of manufactures, but intermittent, varying greatly at different parts of the week. For these reasons it was thought right, in the Act of 1901, to leave considerable elasticity in the arrangements under which laundry work was allowed to be carried on. The laundry clause of the Factory and Workshop Act of 1901 was simply a reproduction of the clause in the Laundry Act of 1895. The latter clause was referred to the Standing Committee on Trade, which was strengthened by the addition of many Members. Mr. Asquith, the then Home Secretary, was added to the Committee, which also included the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the President of the Board of Trade, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and two other Members of the present Government. All these right hon. Gentlemen voted in favour of the hours which the present law prescribed for the laundry business, as against the hours prescribed in the Factory Act. Under the noble Earl's Bill laundries could only work for twelve hours—from six, seven, eight or nine o'clock in the morning to the corresponding hour in the evening. Out of that, one and half hours were taken for meals, whereas in the Act of 1901 the utmost latitude was allowed. Fourteen hours of work might be done at any period of the day and night, and the hours for meals were not fixed. All that was said was that there must be half-an-hour allowed for meals after every spell of five hours work. A maximum of sixty hours in the week for women was fixed in the existing Act, with the result that the whole of the work could be thrown on four days in the week. This was settled by the particularly strong Committee of 1895, after most elaborate discussion, and after receiving information from all parts of the country as to what would be most convenient for the laundry trade. Overtime was a small matter. The law, as fixed in 1901, allowed two hours overtime, whereas the Bill now before the House would only allow one hour. The Congress of Laundry Associations, held at Manchester on March 4th, adopted a resolution declaring that the interval of five hours between meals was much more convenient to the trade than the four and a half hours proposed in the Bill. It seemed to him that these changes, after so short an interval, were most vexatious.

With regard to convent laundries, in which he was very much interested, the Bill would entail inspection by three separate sets of inspectors. An inspector of nuisances under the local authority would enter to ascertain whether the sanitary arrangements were perfect; there would be a Home Office inspector to see that everything was done to prevent accidents; and, in London, the County Council would send an inspector to see that the means of escape in case of fire were adequate. How was the discipline of a home for the rescue of young women from evil habits to be maintained in such circumstances? He agreed that it was desirable that there should be some sort of security that these institutions did not take liberties which were not allowed to commercial laundries, but he thought this could be done in a better way than by putting them under the Factory Act, as proposed. Only a short time ago the Home Office issued a circular to these institutions, in which they were invited to say whether they would submit themselves voluntarily to Government inspection. The great majority of the institutions in London would, he had reason to know, assent to this inspection. It would be unfair and unreasonable, before sufficient time had been given for the answers to this circular to be received, and before the experiment of the Home Office had been tried, to allow a Bill to pass which handed over the institutions to the various inspecting bodies he had named. The numerous small cottage laundries, in which less than two outside persons were employed, would be likely to be killed by the Bill. No doubt the Bill would protect women in these small laundries from excessive hours; it would also have the effect of closing these laundries altogether, and of the two evils he thought it would be better that they should work long hours than have no work at all. He had very little sympathy with trade rivalry which masqueraded under the guise of philanthropy in this way. The larger laundries were trying to kill the smaller laundries. He had looked through the reports of the factory inspectors and could not find in any of them suggestions in the direction of this Bill. In fact, they said the operatives were highly satisfied with the Act, and he hoped their Lordships would not tamper with an industry of this sort without an inquiry. The Congress of Laundries Associations, at its meeting at Manchester, passed a number of resolutions, one of which urged the Home Secretary to appoint a Commission to inquire into the laundry trade and ascertain if any changes in the law were necessary. Another resolution condemned the proposed four and a half hours shift and suggested a five hours shift. He thought it would be undesirable to deal in this hasty way with a trade which specially interested the poorer classes in the community.

Moved, to leave out Clause 1.—(Viscount Llandaff.)


said he thought the speech of the noble Viscount was one which they might have expected rather at the Second Reading than at the Committee stage of the Bill, because he understood that this Amendment was nothing less than a Motion for the rejection of the whole measure. As the Second Reading was accepted without a division he was sure their Lordships would hardly reject the Bill now. The noble Viscount had argued from the intermittent character of the work in a laundry that it was unsuited to be treated as a factory, but the Bill provided for special hours, such as were allowed in only three other industries included in the Factory Act, and he considered that these would give sufficient flexibility to enable laundries to carry on their work without difficulty. The noble Viscount had told the House that the Act of 1895, which constituted the law on this subject at the present moment, received the assent of the Standing Committee on Trade and of a number of other high authorities. He believed that was the case, but reminded the House that the Clause in this Bill, which had been taken out of the Government Bill of last year, also received the unanimous support of the Grand Committee on Trade and of other high authorities in factory legislation. That fact showed that the intervening years had proved that the laundry industry had changed, and that its condition called for stricter legislation. As to the inspection of convent laundries, that would deal only with the laundry, and would not interfere with the institution itself. The noble Viscount had informed the House that he was unable to find anything in the reports of the factory inspectors for the years 1895 to 1900 which recommended a change in the direction of this Bill. He (Lord Lytton) had found a very large number of instances in which changes precisely such as were proposed in the Bill were recommended in the Factory Reports, and he had already given quotations in moving the Second Reading. There were no less than six pages devoted to this subject, and to a complaint of the existing legislation, in the Factory Report for the year 1901, and over and over again the factory inspectors had pointed out that the existing law was altogether unsatisfactory. The clauses in the Bill had already been brought forward by the Government last year. He hoped the Amendment would be rejected.


dwelt on the fact that the Bill, with the exception of one clause, had virtually been accepted by the Government last year. The fact that in 1895 the Grand Committee on Trade, with so many important persons upon it, accepted what was then thought to be a desirable measure, and five years afterwards decided to change it, seemed to him to be the strongest possible argument in favour of the present Bill. On that Bench they admitted that a certain amount of inconvenience would be caused to those in charge of the institutions by the visits of the inspectors, but they were perfectly prepared to put up with that inconvenience on the ground of the larger interests involved. It must be remembered, too, that the visits of inspectors of sanitation and so forth were already allowed; and he had not heard of any difficulty having arisen in consequence. He ventured to hope that the House, having accepted the principle of the Bill, would reject the Amendment.


thought it was hardly necessary to say, after the Government had assented to the Second Reading of the Bill, that they would not support an Amendment such as this, which was directed to the principle of the Bill. If the present Amendment and the others which the noble Viscount had put down were carried, there would practically be nothing left of the Bill. He had already stated that there were some provisions which the Government were not prepared to accept in the exact form in the Bill. An inquiry was now going on which the Home Secretary had good reason to suppose would lead to satisfactory results, and under those circumstances the Government were not prepared at the moment to move detailed Amendments, but if the Bill made progress it would be competent to the Home Secretary to move in another place whatever Amendments he might think necessary.


was glad the noble Lord had so clearly stated the intention of the Government to resist the Amendment. If there was one trade to which the Factory Act should be applied more than another, it was to the laundry trade. He did not think that because a laundry was under religious or charitable management, or was promoted for religious or charitable purposes, it should escape inspection. Indeed, history went to show that it was exactly in these institutions that it was desirable there should be the publicity sought in order to secure the institutions dealt with from suggestions of abuse, as such institutions were very likely to have these suggestions made against them. The question as to the arrangement of hours was a very proper one for Committee, and he was quite sure that the noble Earl in charge of the Bill would be glad to consider any re-adjustment of hours which was thought desirable. He hoped the House would support the Government in rejecting this Amendment.


hoped, before the Question was put, that someone in authority would give the House a legal definition of what was a laundry. It appeared to him that if this Bill passed into law in its present form any old woman in a village who washed a pair of stockings and received threepence would come under its ban. If the noble Earl would agree to exempt from the operation of the Bill any place where washing was carried on only by the members of one family, or by the members of the same family and one assistant, he would cordially support the rest of the Bill.


pointed out that by Clause 111 of the present Act "domestic laundries"—laundries in which only members of the same family were employed—were already exempted. If this Bill passed, those laundries would still be exempted.


But where a single agent is employed they fall under the Factory Act.



On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 1 agreed to.


said that after the decision of the House with regard to his first Amendment, it was not his intention to move the other Amendments standing in his name.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Bill reported without Amendment; and re-committed to the Standing Committee.