HL Deb 15 July 1912 vol 12 cc444-53

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee (on Re-commitment), read.


I have to apologise to your Lordships for not being in my place on Wednesday last when this Bill was under discussion, on which occasion a number of Government Amendments were inserted in the Bill on Report with a view to the Bill being reprinted and re-committed. The effect of the Government Amendments then inserted was in some respects to diminish the stringency of the Bill and in other respects to increase it. The principal form in which diminution has taken place under those Amendments is that the absolute prohibition of underground workplaces in the future, as the provision stood in the original draft of the Bill, is done away with. A broad distinction was made on the face of the Bill itself between existing workplaces and those started after the commencement of the Act. In regard to existing workplaces, what we originally proposed was that they should be subject to stringent regulations, but that any workplace hereafter established should not be permitted at all if it was underground within the meaning of the Statute.

Having made this short statement I will, without further preface, move that the House resolve itself into Committee on the Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Underground Premises.

1.—(1) On and after the first day of January one thousand nine hundred and fourteen, or such later date, not being later than the first day of January one thousand nine hundred and fifteen, as the Secretary of State may by order appoint, no underground room in a factory, workshop, or workplace shall be used for the purpose of any of the processes or occupations specified in the Schedule to this Act unless duly certified by the district council to be suitable for the process or occupation named in the certificate, and unless the regulations made under this Act or the conditions contained in the certificate are complied with.

(2) For the purposes of this Act an underground room shall mean any room any part of which is so situate that the surface of the floor is more than three feet below the surface of the footway of the adjoining street, or of the ground adjoining or nearest to the room.


The first question I wish to raise on Clause 1 is that of the meaning of the word "workplace." There is no definition of "workplace" in the Bill, and what I venture to submit to the Government is that they would be well advised in agreeing to some definition. I know that there is great difficulty in the matter, and therefore I have not put an Amendment on the Paper dealing with this point, but I shall be ready to do so at the next stage. It is true that the word "workplace" has already received Judicial interpretation, and that that interpretation is of a very wide character; but we have to think not merely of the legal effect of the words in the Bill but of the indication which its provisions will constitute to the local authorities who have to carry it out. The local authorities who will primarily have to carry out the provisions of this Bill are the district councils, and if they are presented with a Bill dealing in rather a drastic way for the first time with workplaces of a certain character and are not told what a workplace means, they may feel rather bewildered, and may take what, after all, is the easiest refuge for a bewildered local authority—namely, do nothing at all. That is the most likely issue of any doubt on their part as to what "workplace" means. Therefore as we are all anxious, and I am sure the Government are, to make this Bill effective, it is necessary that some definition of "workplace" should be inserted, so that there should be an indication on the face of the Bill as to the scope the local authorities are intended to take in administering it. I do not know whether the noble Lord who represents the Home Office has had time to consider this point.


As the noble Marquess is aware, there is a great deal of difficulty in regard to this question. The danger is that you may either be too elastic in your definition or too limited and too narrow, and you may raise difficulties in that way. At present there is no definition of "workplace" in the Factories Acts. Parliament so far has not thought fit to frame any definition of the word, although it has been in use in Public Health Acts for something like thirty years, during which period there has been only one case brought before the Courts for an interpretation of the word "workplace." The point in that case was whether or not a cabyard was a workplace, and the learned Judge held that in that particular case the cabyard was a workplace, but he refused to give any precise definition of what a workplace was. If the noble Marquess, between now and the Report stage of the Bill, can make any suggestion on the point—and it must be remembered that any definition inserted in this Bill would have to be read with the existing Factories Acts—the Home Office will be ready to consider it. But I would urge him, seeing that this legislation has worked so well during the last thirty years, whether it is not wise to leave well alone in this particular case.


I will not press the matter further at this moment, but I should be glad of a conversation with the noble Lord upon it. The first Amendment standing in my name on the Paper is to Clause 1, and it deals with the definition of what constitutes, if I may coin a word, "undergroundness." As the Bill stands, it says that an underground room shall mean any room any part of which is so situate that the surface of the floor is more than 3 feet below the surface of the footway of the adjoining street or of the ground adjoining or nearest the room. That, in fact, does not make a room underground, and it clearly cannot be said to be such a distinction as to justify putting such a workroom under the drastic provisions of this Statute. I venture to think we shall make a great mistake if we pass such a definition, which is on the face of it inadequate. What is important is not where the floor of the room is but where the ceiling is. If the ceiling is nearly on a level with the ground outside, then, indeed, the room is underground; but the position of the floor is of much less importance. In the words which I have ventured to place on the Paper I have endeavoured to strike a compromise by providing that it should depend neither upon the floor nor the ceiling, but that the definition should be that an underground room shall mean any room any part of which is so situate that half or more than half the whole height thereof measuring from the floor to the ceiling is below the surface.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 1, line 17, leave out ("the surface of the floor is more than three feet") and insert ("half or more than half the whole height thereof measured from the floor to the ceiling is").—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)


In accepting the Amendment which the noble Marquess has just moved, I should like to point out that the Amendment which was inserted on my Motion on Report last week, before the Bill was re-committed, was put in so as to bring this Bill into conformity with the present Factories Acts. But if the noble Marquess thinks the provision too stringent—though I do not think it is as stringent a provision as the one in the original Bill—I am quite ready to accept the Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2:


2. An underground room shall not be certified by the district council as suitable unless the council are satisfied that such underground room complies with the regulations made under this Act: Provided that if no regulations applicable to the case have been so made a certificate shall not be granted unless the district council are satisfied that the room is suitable in respect of the matters as to which regulations might have been made, and the certificate shall specify the means required, as a condition of certification, to be provided for securing the health of the persons employed in the room, and shall be made conditional on such means being maintained and properly used.


On the Question that Clause 2 stand part of the Bill I wish to lay a point before the Government. In the Amendments which they inserted on the last stage of the Bill they provided that in cases where there are no regulations under the Bill the district council shall act without regulations. That appears to me, if I may say so, an almost indefensible proposition. This Bill provides that in certain circumstances an underground workplace is to be suppressed. If such a step is necessary, it is very proper that it should be taken, but Parliament has always been very jealous that this shall only be done with every precaution. Consequently in I think almost all Statutes of this kind there is the ordinary rules clause, containing certain provisions for regulations which govern the operation of the Act, and this Bill, like other Bills, has the rules clause. Those regulations are to be made under the authority of the Home Office, and it seems astonishing that if Parliament should think it right to give the Home Office power to make regulations Parliament should also say that if the Home Office do not make regulations district councils may act without regulations. I am afraid that cannot be defended. Under the rules clause every conceivable precaution is taken that injustice is not done. There has to be an advertisement in the local newspaper, and there has to be an inquiry if it is called for by any persons who think they have a right to object. The regulations themselves have to lie on the Tables of both Houses of Parliament so that they may, if necessary, be objected to. All these precautions are taken in the case of regulations which are made by the Home Office. But it a district council is to act alone, none of these precautions are to have effect. If the Home Office makes regulations they are to be made with the greatest precaution, but if the Home Office makes no regulations then this drastic Statute is to operate on the fiat of the district council alone. I know that there is an appeal to a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, but that is not an exalted authority to which to entrust the rights and privileges of His Majesty's subjects in a Statute of this kind. If we attempt to go in front of public opinion to that extent we shall defeat our object, and the result will be that the Bill will not get through both Houses of Parliament. What we should say is that underground rooms are un wholesome and insanitary if they do not comply with certain regulations; that those regulations should be made by the Home Office; and that the Bill should not operate until the Home Office makes the regulations That is the right course, and I urge His Majesty's Government to consider the point before the next stage of the Bill is taken.


With a good deal of what the noble Marquess has said I agree, but I would point out some of the difficulties. It would be perfectly impossible for the Home Office straight off to make regulations dealing with every one of the various trades which have been included in the schedule of this Bill.


They have till 1914.


It might take many years to do this.




Well, that is the opinion held at the Home Office. I would remind the noble Marquess, as regards some of the various classes which he desires to include in the schedule, that at the present moment there is no power for Home Office inspectors to deal with these classes. For instance as regards typewriting offices and restaurant kitchens there is no power of inspection by the Home Office. The only people who have that power are the officers of the local authorities. Perhaps between now and the Report Stage the noble Marquess can bring forward suggestions which may make it possible for the Home Office to undertake this work. I must say I was rather surprised at the fear shown by the noble Marquess of local authorities. I have served upon every kind of local authority, and I certainly have no dread that local authorities are going to be too active in this matter. I think the promoters of the Bill would rather have to fear that the local authorities would not be sufficiently active. If local authorities are too active, all they do is done in sight of the electors who return them, and where any injustice is likely to be done there will be a good opportunity of correcting those people who go in front of public opinion. For myself I have not the slightest fear that local authorities are likely to be too active or unfair or unjust in this matter. The noble Marquess not only appears nervous of local authorities but he also seems to think that there is not much faith to be put in Courts of Summary Jurisdiction. These Benches carry out their duties with the greatest care, the greatest circumspection, and the greatest fairness, and I cannot see anything wrong in the provisions of Clause 2 in regard to this matter. But I will see that the point is carefully considered and will bring the remarks of the noble Marquess before the Home Secretary between now and the Report stage.


I am obliged to the noble Lord, and after his promise I will not press the matter. It is not that I distrust local authorities, but I think the Home Office ought to see that regulations are made in each case. I am not afraid that the local authorities will be too active in the matter, but rather that the interests which are involved will take care, unless there is an amendment in this direction, that the Bill will not pass into law.


It is difficult for the Home Office to make regulations in regard to places where we have no power to send our inspectors.


I was not aware that the Home Office had no powers of inspection in the two cases referred to by the noble Lord. I will consider that point before the next stage.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clauses 3 to 7 agreed to.

Clause 8:


8.—(1) The Secretary of State may by Order make regulations as to structure of underground rooms to which this Act applies, and the provision and use as regards such rooms of means for securing the maintenance of reasonable temperature, proper lighting and ventilation, freedom from damp, dust, effluvia, and exhalations, and the carrying off of dust and fumes, and otherwise for securing the health of persons employed in underground rooms in the processes and occupations to which this Act applies; and different regulations may be made as respects different processes and different occupations, or as respects rooms which are used for the purposes of any of such processes or occupations at the time when the Order comes into effect, and rooms which are not so used.

(2) The Secretary of State may by order extend the provisions of this Act to processes and occupations other than those specified in the Schedule to this Act, and thereupon this Act shall, subject to the provisions of the Order, apply as if that schedule included the processes and occupations specified in the order.

(3) Sections eighty, eighty-one, and eighty-four of the Factory and Workshop Act, 1901 (relating to the procedure for making regulations as to dangerous trades), shall apply to the making of orders under this section.


On this clause I should like to represent one matter to the noble Lord who speaks for the Home Office. The regulations are perfectly elastic; they may be good or they may be bad—we trust the Home Office for that—but there is one particular about which I think there can be no doubt, and that is the question of artificial light. I do not think it is possible to defend a system under which workpeople have to work always under artificial light. I am confident that the whole public opinion of this country is against such a thing. There ought to be natural ventilation and natural light. The former it is somewhat difficult to define, but natural light is perfectly possible to define. I know that some ingenious persons have said that what I suggest would have the effect of shutting up mines and underground railways, but I would point out that neither one nor the other is included in the schedule. Moreover, they could, if necessary, be specially excluded from being brought in hereafter. But for people to go year in and year out working all day permanently in artificial light must be bad for their health and ought to he prevented by Parliament.


Here again I am quite ready to consider any suggestion which the noble Marquess may bring up on Report dealing with the question of artificial light, but I have some doubt whether his views on this question are not too stringent. He has already said that some people might say that by so stringent a regulation you would shut up mines and underground railways which are lighted by artificial light. The noble Marquess said that neither of these was in the schedule, but he must not forget that the Home Office has power indefinitely to extend the schedule. I think we ought very carefully to consider whether it is desirable to do this. The noble Marquess must also remember that it might be held that basements in London houses come under the Bill, and we are all aware that there are many houses in London where work is carried on in basements which are lighted by artificial light, if not during the whole of the day, at any rate during nearly the whole of the day. I am doubtful, if artificial light is of a proper kind and properly shaded and if there is proper ventilation, whether a great many trades cannot be carried on perfectly well, just as coal-mining is carried on, in artificial light—that is to say, if other conditions are satisfactory; but we are quite ready at the Home Office to consider this question between now and the Report stage. I urge upon the noble Marquess, however, that it is important to see that the provision does not interfere unduly with any trade which may be carried on perfectly well under artificial light.


I am obliged to the noble Lord.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Remaining Clauses agreed to.


and other occupations incidental to any of the foregoing.


The Amendment which I desire to move in the Schedule is of a drafting character. I am told that it is not quite clear as to what "hair-work" is, and my Amendment is intended to make it clearer.

Amendment moved— Schedule, page 4, line 11, leave out ("Hair-work") and insert ("Wig making and the process of preparing hair for human wear or adornment").—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


On the Schedule as a whole I wish to represent to the Government that there is a great omission. We have typewriting included, but not other clerical work. I think that is a great omission. It is true that you cannot apply to clerical work all the conditions that you apply to other trades in the schedule, but the Home Office have reserved to themselves complete power to vary the regulations according to the difference of occupations to which the regulations are to apply. It would be perfectly possible for them, therefore, when dealing with other clerical work to apply only regulations which were applicable to that work. When you consider that the object of this Bill is as far as possible to prevent underground work, it is a serious omission to leave untouched the great branch of clerical work. The health of clerks, both male and female, is as much entitled to protection by Act of Parliament as the health of typists and those engaged in the other trades mentioned. I therefore think the Government would be well advised, between now and the next stage, to consider whether it would not be possible to add the words "and other clerical work."


I am afraid I cannot give the noble Marquess any hope that the Government will do this. It seems to me that he is opening a very large area indeed and making a very serious addition to the schedule. I should like to warn him that there is great danger in adding other clerical work. You would have to increase, not only the number of inspectors working under the Home Office, but you would certainly have to increase those under local authorities. I am sure none of us are anxious to increase the number of inspectors. In fact, I have been rather shocked to-day at the light way in which the noble Marquess has been ready to increase the number of inspectors and add to the cost not only upon the taxes but upon the local rates. I always thought that the principal charge against His Majesty's Government was that they were setting up too many officials, but here the Home Office is being urged to further extend this Bill and set up additional officials.

Schedule agreed to.

The Report of Amendments to be received on Monday next, and Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 118.)