HL Deb 13 March 1923 vol 53 cc375-6

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is a short measure to amend various provisions in the Explosives Act. Clause 1 gives power to require special precautions to be taken for the protection of explosives factories and stores in times of disturbance. Under the existing provisions of the Explosives Acts those in control of these stores and factories must take due precautions for preventing unauthorised persons having access to their premises. But there is no power given to the authorities to prescribe what the different precautions are, and, in addition to this, the only method of enforcing observation of the provision is proceedings in the Courts. Clearly, the powers in the event of sudden emergency are not at present adequate, and so it is proposed that the Secretary of State should have power to direct what special precautions are to be taken in the event of disturbance or of special necessity arising, and that in the case of default by the occupier of the store or factory, he should take steps to carry out the measures himself.

Clause 2 of the Bill is directed towards the protection of young persons employed in factories. It arises out of a terrible accident which occurred last March, when a number of girls, who were engaged in breaking down ammunition at a factory at Tipton, were killed. The circumstances were of a most distressing nature. The occupier of the factory was sentenced for manslaughter, and the result was an engagement given by the Government to place further restrictions on the employment of young persons in danger buildings in explosives factories. At present young people under 16 may not be employed in danger buildings except under the supervision of a grownup person. As a matter of fact, very few young persons at present are employed in explosives factories, except in firework factories, and in these factories there are a number of small jobs on which young people may be advantageously employed. It is proposed in this Bill, therefore, that young persons under 16 should be entirely prohibited from employment in these factories, except in such non-dangerous processes as may be specified by an Order; and, as regards persons up to 18, to extend the existing provision, which only permits their employment under the supervision of a grown-up person. This follows the precedents which are set up in the Factory Act in regard to employment of young persons in dangerous processes. The girls who were employed at Tipton factory were working under excessively dangerous conditions, directly contravening the law. It is possible that if older people had been employed (as will be necessary if this Bill becomes law) the conditions would have been realised and warning would have been given by one of them.

Then I come to Clause 3, which is to remedy a defect in the present law, making the fine much heavier for keeping explosives in dangerous places. The present law limits the fine for every pound of explosives kept in an unauthorised place to 2s., and so a person keeping a box of a hundred detonators or a few ounces of high explosives, which might do enormous damage, would escape with a purely nominal punishment.. This clause, therefore, raises the amount of fine to a may imam of £100, and should therefore prove of a sufficiently deterrent character to make people who handle these dangerous substances take proper care against accidents. I beg to move that the Bill he read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Onslow.)

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.