HL Deb 14 February 1929 vol 72 cc930-44

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the object of the Bill which I have the honour to submit to your Lordships' House is to give effect to the absolutely unanimous recommendations of the Departmental Committee which was appointed to enquire into the grievances which had to be endured under the artificial humidity in cotton cloth factories. Besides the representatives of the operatives and the employers of labour that Departmental Committee had several members of great distinction and utility from outside. The Chairman was Mr. J. Jackson, the Deputy Chief Inspector of Factories, and Sir Arthur William Crossley, Director of the British Cotton Industry Research Association, Mr. Leonard Erskine Hill, Director of the Department of Applied Physiology, National Institute of Medical Research, and Mr. D. R. Wilson, of the Industrial Fatigue Research Board, were members of it. These gentlemen, with, as I have said, the representatives of the operatives and the employers, made a very exhaustive inquiry, which lasted for some three years, into the conditions of cotton cloth manufacture, and succeeded in producing a unanimous Report. Considering that the matter had been under dispute for some fifty years that was a most remarkable and satisfactory conclusion of their labours.

Following upon the Report of a previous Departmental Committee, a Bill was introduced in 1911 which empowered the Secretary of State to give effect by regulations to the recommendations of that Committee. Its Report was accepted by the operatives with one proviso, that the regulations should be reconsidered within the space of three years. Then came the War and nothing more was done regarding the artificial humidification of cotton cloth factories. Then there were a great many conferences on this subject, and at last the Departmental Committee to which I have alluded was appointed. As I have said, after sitting for three years the Committee arrived at a unanimous conclusion. That Departmental Committee was set op under Mr. Arthur Henderson, who was then Secretary of State for Home Affairs. The previous Committee had been set up under Mr. McKenna, who represented the Liberal Party. The present Bill is introduced by a Conservative Government, so that all three Parties in the State have had a concurrent interest in legislation with regard to this matter.

The Committee reported that there was not very much to choose between the artificial humidification factories, which I believe is the technical expression, and those which were reputedly dry factories. But they said it was possible, indeed they all agreed and made certain recommendations, that regulations should be made to increase the comfort and to secure the better health of the operatives engaged in the industry. It is hoped that the present Bill will be a final solution of a question which has been a matter of great controversy for half a century. After the Committee had re- ported there was a meeting of the operatives and employers of labour and they were unanimous in their support of the proposed Bill.

Clause 1, which is the operative clause, gives power to the Secretary of State to make certain regulations to carry out the recommendations of the Committee. This exactly follows the example set by the Bill of 1911, which gave the Secretary of State power to make regulations for carrying into effect the recommendations of the Departmental Committee of 1911. Under Clause 2 the plans of all new factories are not merely to be passed by the local authorities but, before they are passed, are to be submitted to the local factory inspector. That provision has been found necessary both in the interests of the operatives and of the employers of labour who are building factories. There are certain regulations of which local authorities are sometimes rather ignorant—for example, that certain windows must face the north or as near the north as possible—and if the factory inspector sees the plans and passes them a great deal of expense in altering premises afterwards may be saved.

I do not think it is necessary to go into the very intricate regulations concerning temperature, the sizes of pipes and various other things. The object of the Bill, as I have said, is to give the Secretary of State power to carry out the recommendations of the unanimous Report of the Departmental Committee. Clause 3 is the machinery clause for carrying out the purposes of the Bill. With those few words I beg to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to the Bill which I hope is the last stage of a prolonged and controversial matter. I firmly believe that if the Bil is passed it will be to the interests of the employers and of employed in a very important industry. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Desborough.)


My Lords, this Bill perpetuates a vicious principle which unfortunately has grown very much in the last few years. It gives power to a Department to usurp the functions of Parliament, and to pass what they call regulations which have the effect of an Act of Parliament and deal with His Majesty's subjects; in fact, this does what in days gone by caused a King to lose his head. King Charles endeavoured to usurp the functions of Parliament and make laws himself. The result was that he was beheaded and Parliament regained its old powers. Now, in these days, we are asked to give powers to a Minister and a Department which we have always refused to give to a King. I may state that a humble individual like myself is not alone in opposing this class of legislation. Only a few weeks ago the Lord Chief Justice of England drew attention to what was going on in this direction, and he uttered a very grave note of warning. I do not remember his exact words, but what they came to was this, that legislation of this sort constituted a grave danger to the liberty of the subject.

This Bill empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations for the purpose of giving effect to the recommendations contained in the Report, dated January 23, 1928, of the Committee appointed by the Secretary of State on the 6th day of November, 1924, to consider and report whether, and if so what, modifications of the existing statutory regulations governing the use of artificial humidity in cotton cloth factories are desirable and practicable. What that Committee was I did not know until my noble friend Lord Desborough spoke, but I gathered from his speech that it was a Departmental Committee. There you have a Department appointing a Committee and acting on the recommendations of its own Committee. Those recommendations may be excellent; I do not for a moment say they are not; I do not know what they are; but I venture to say—I might almost include my noble friend Lord Desborough—that there is not a single noble Lord in this House who knows what these regulations are, and yet we are asked to pass a Bill which is to give effect—none of us knows what the effect will be—to certain regulations which are not in the Bill. In addition to that this Bill, under subsection (3) of Clause 1, gives to the Secretary of State power of this kind— Regulations made under this Act may be substituted for the provisions contained in Sections ninety, ninety-one, ninety-two and ninety-four of the principal Act and in the Fourth Schedule to that Act, or for any of those provisions, and any of those provisions for which regulations are so substituted shall cease to apply as respects cotton cloth factories. That is to say the Secretary of State, besides making new regulations, may repeal sections of an Act of Parliament.

That seems to me an extremely strong order and one to which Parliament ought not to agree. May I remind your Lordships of what happened only ten days ago in another place when the Minister of Health, in the Derating Bill, endeavoured to do something of this sort and there was such an outcry in the House of Commons that he had to give an undertaking that he would reconsider the clause. What has happened since I do not know, but that is what took place. We did not hear from my noble friend Lord Desborough what the regulations are which under the sections may be repealed. I took the trouble to find out something about that. I would say in passing that because we have done a wrong thing once there is no reason why we should do it again. If we have been a little lax in our vigilance and not looked after Government Departments as we should have done, that is no reason why we need not do it in the future.

Let me refer to the regulations which were enacted under the 1911 Bill. That Bill gave the Secretary of State power to make regulations which were to be substituted for certain provisions in the Factory and Work Act, 1901. The Cotton Cloth Factories Act, 1911, gave the Secretary of State similar powers relating to the same provisions. Now comes the difference, which my noble friend did not tell us about—very likely he did not know. Under the Act of 1911 the Secretary of State had to publish the regulations in draft and to consider objections, and, if objections were not withdrawn, an inquiry had to be held at which objectors could appear to be heard. If regulations were then made, they had to be laid before both Houses of Parliament, and could be annulled by either House. The present Bill repeals the Act of 1911, and subsection (3) of Clause 3 provides that the procedure shall not apply to regulations under the new Bill. The effect is, therefore, to empower the Secretary of State, without notice and without reference to Parliament, to make new regulations over- riding the regulations having statutory force. I do not know that I want to say anything more on the Bill. I am sorry that my powers are not such as to enable me to attack the Bill in sufficiently strong language, but I have done my best, and, if I get any support, I shall certainly vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.


My Lords, I can assure you it is not out of any desire to make a speech in the House that I rise to enter my most solemn protest against the method adopted in this Bill. The noble Lord who moved the Second Reading described it as a Bill to give statutory effect to a Departmental Report. With great respect to him it is no such thing. This Report of the Department has never been before Parliament at all; Parliament knows nothing about it. It is not even a Committee of Parliament which framed the Report. It is purely a departmental matter which, according to my noble friend who moved the Second Reading, took two years and was a very long and complicated affair. It was never before Parliament at all and now this Bill is described as a Bill to give statutory effect to the Report.

Where is the Report? What is in the Report? Does any single noble Lord who is here at the present moment know what is in the Report? Would anybody among the noble Lords who only look to see whether they ought to be here or whether they ought not have the faintest idea after reading the Bill what it was that it was proposed to pass in his absence? Of course he would not. Though we have protested over and over again, I can understand the Government, on account of want of Parliamentary time, going on with the old practice (a very bad one) of allowing regulations under a principle which has been laid down, and strictly laid down, in a Bill. But these regulations are not under any Bill. They are not even under any Report of any responsible Parliamentary Committee. It is purely what the Department has said after this long controversy of two years. And look at what the Secretary of State is enabled to do. He takes up this long and complicated matter and he can make regulations for the purpose of giving effect to the recommendations contained in the Report.

Is he to take all the recommendations Can he select the recommendations he himself likes? Is he to put his own construction upon the recommendations? Is he to put his own sense upon how one recommendation affects another? And if he makes some regulation that is not within the purview of the recommendations, who is going to correct him? A more extraordinary method of legislating one cannot possibly conceive.

I know that Bills have gone a very long way in giving power to make regulations where a principle is laid down. I think that is a very bad method of procedure, but it may be that you have to do it. But that a Secretary of State should take up a Departmental Report and say: "All this now is to be law as I wish to lay it down in regulations and according to my selection," and put it into language that will suit himself! Why not abolish Parliament altogether so far as these matters are concerned? Why not pass a Bill to say that the Secretary for Mines shall make regulations for putting an end to the existing distress in the coalfields? It would be exactly the same thing. You give him the full power. Then look what follows. When he has made these regulations, which he does at his own sweet will in accordance with what be conceives to be the meaning of this Report, and taking, I suppose, as much of it as he likes, then any breach of these regulations is to be subject to penalties. He sets up the crime. He sets up the matters which he thinks ought to be punished by the various statutory penalties. That is shortly the Bill, and as my noble friend Lord Banbury has already pointed out, not merely does it give him power to set up the regulations at his own sweet will, but under subsection (3) of Clause I regulations under this Bill may be substituted—for what? For the provisions contained in Sections 90, 91, 92 and 94 of the principal Act, the principal Act being defined as the Act of 1901. Not only can he make regulations under the Report, but he has the power to repeal Sections 90, 91, 92 and 94 of an Act of Parliament. He is put in a position over both Houses of Parliament and over the King and can enact something entirely different from what Parliament has already enacted.

I do not know whether the Government would agree to this: I think it is a very bad way of legislating, but it would be better if they would agree to put these regulations into a schedule. Then we should know what they are. Then we should know beforehand what we are doing. It may not be a very good way of doing it, but at least it will have some effect. Or will they enact that these regulations are not to become binding until Parliament has approved of them? That is another formula which is very common. Or are they entirely above and beyond the Houses of Parliament who are to have no inkling whatsoever of what these regulations are to be? If we cannot get even that may we ask them not to pass the Bill until the regulations have been laid upon the Tables of the Houses of Parliament? At all events, that would have the advantage that persons who understand these matters could at least look into them and could at least give us some suggestions which we might be able to make before this extraordinary Bill becomes law. Those are the various courses of procedure which I suggest to His Majesty's Government.

As a Judge, I look forward with great apprehension to what may happen when a man is punished for a breach of one of these regulations. Can he say: "It is true the Secretary of State made a regulation under this Act, but the Report that he made it under did not authorise it," and will the Courts have to examine the meaning of this Report to see whether the regulation was made in accordance with the Report? That is a pleasant vista of litigation both for the judicial tribunal and for the subject. Apparently the observations that are made from time to time as to the tremendous powers that are being given from day to day to the Departments fall entirely on deaf ears. My noble friend Lord Banbury referred to the observations that have been made over and over again by the Lord Chief Justice—I know he feels strongly about this matter—in cases which come before him, of the way in which all this works out. But you have only to look in to-day's newspapers to see what another learned Judge said of the extraordinary powers that are given—in this case it was to the Minister of Health. I am glad to think that there is such an able Minister of Health at the present moment, and per- haps if he were always there, so far as I am personally concerned I might not mind, having regard to the view I hold of his great abilities. But he will not be always there and it is the principle that is wrong. It is for Parliament to make legislation but Parliament is not making legislation. It may be making legislation when it orders regulations under something that it has approved of and when it has laid down the principle, but it is not legislating when it enables a Minister of State or a Department to select out of Departmental Reports what shall be law and what shall not be law.


My Lords, I am somewhat in agreement with the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken about the way in which we ought to legislate. I have just been to the Vote Office in order to see what was the Report of this Committee. I could not get a copy of the Report from the Vote Office. The officials could not tell me whether it had been issued as a Parliamentary Paper or whether it had been merely published from the Stationery Office and sent to the Department. It does seem to me that that is not the right way in which to legislate. Therefore, I hope noble Lords will hesitate before they accept the proposals contained in the Bill. Really we know nothing at all about the recommendations of this particular Committee upon which the whole Bill is based. The object may be very good, but I do not think we ought to legislate on this matter without full knowledge of the recommendations of the Committee.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord opposite will see fit to give effect to the observations which have been made respecting this Bill. Speaking for myself, I do not know whether the proposal is beneficial or not. I shall assume that it is, that it is really intended to remedy some evil, but we really have no knowledge of it. We have not seen the Report in question and there is nothing in the Bill which enables us to form a judgment. I have not the slightest desire to condemn the proposal in itself. On the contrary I am anxious to consider it and I am predisposed to think that it is intended to be of advantage in the working of the factories. But surely there is good ground for the criticisms that have been made. I was very struck by some of the observations of the noble Lords who have criticised this method of legislation. It does seem striking that, when the Department has had this Report, as I gather, since some time early in 1928, there should now be introduced a Bill of which, since we have not the Report itself, we know nothing, apart from the very general observations—naturally we could not expect more—of the noble Lord who introduced it. We are asked to give powers to the Minister, which no doubt he will do his best to use conscientiously, to change four sections in an Act of Parliament. That is really a startling development, and it is the more startling for the fact that these regulations relate to offences.

It seems to me a reasonable proposal on the part of my noble and learned friend Lord Carson that the regulations should be placed in a schedule of the Bill, so that we may see what it is intended to do. There should be no difficulty in doing that. If I am not mistaken, this Report has been in hand for twelve months or more, and all that we have is the skeleton of a Bill which, as the noble Lord told us when he introduced it, gives effect to a Departmental Report of which, I may add, we have no cognisance whatever. We are really being asked to legislate in the dark and to give full power to a Minister, not only to make regulations, but to make regulations which will actually change an Act of Parliament in four sections. I do hope that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House will see some way to meet us. The suggestions that we are making are in no sense unreasonable, and my object in intervening is not controversial in the slightest degree. I think that we on this side of the House are prepared to assume that the purpose of the Bill is a perfectly good one and, when we know more about it, it is quite probable that we shall be satisfied. I beg the noble Marquess to give effect to the views that have been expressed.


My Lords, I have very great pleasure in replying to the remarks made by my noble friends behind me and on the other side of the House. I must say, to start with, that I think that the cotton operatives, who have to work in these factories while we are talking, will be greatly disappointed with your Lordships' House if they are told that, after three years of consideration and after the fifty years during which this matter has been discussed, and when we have arrived at an absolutely unanimous agreement among both operatives and employers of labour, your Lordships refuse to give a Second Reading to a Bill that is to embody the wishes of both sides.


Am I mistaken in thinking that this Report has been in the hands of the Government for something like thirteen months? If the hurry is so great, why have we not had an opportunity of seeing it?


If noble Lords are anxious to pass the Bill as soon as possible, the delay cannot be a good argument against giving it a Second Reading at the present time. Whatever the reasons for the delay may have been, it is certainly no good reason or excuse, because the Bill has been brought in rather late, to say that, when it is brought in, it should not at all events be given a Second Reading. My noble friends behind me have complained about this being the Report of a Departmental Committee. I tried to explain when I was moving the Second Reading that the Departmental Committee was the result of a great many conferences that were held on this subject, at which both operatives and employers of labour were present and agreed that the matter should be referred to a Departmental Committee and that they would abide by its decision. That is what I understand to have occurred. The Departmental Committee represented all sides, including both operatives and employers of labour, and they took close on four years over the matter. They were appointed in 1924 by the then Home Secretary, Mr. Arthur Henderson, and they reported in 1928. Why this Bill was not brought in earlier I do not know, but still submit that, if it is brought in late, that is no good reason for making it later by refusing it a Second Reading at the present time.

The procedure in this Bill is exactly the same as the procedure adopted when Mr. McKenna, whom I have no doubt my noble friends accept as a good authority on these matters, was Home Secretary. There was the Report of a Committee and a short Bill was introduced in 1911 which is almost word for word the same Bill as this. It empowers the Secretary of State for the time being, with the agreement of those interested in the matter, to issue regulations. This is constantly done, as my noble friends opposite must know. I have myself introduced Bills giving the Secretary of State power to draw up certain regulations in order to carry out certain recommendations. These regulations are all likely to be of a very technical character, concerning the size of pipes, humidity, wet bulbs, dry bulbs, and things of that kind, and it would be absolutely unprecedented to put all those details, which are agreed on by both sides and by those concerned with research and so on, into an Act of Parliament. Though they may be important in bulk, they are dealing with very small and detailed matters.

The Home Secretary is absolutely bound by this Bill not to go an inch beyond the recommendations of this Departmental Committee, which were generally agreed to, and if he does so he will, of course, be liable to be brought before the bar of public opinion in both Houses. In 1911, when the Liberal Government was in power, exactly the same procedure, word for word, was proposed as is proposed now, giving the Secretary of State power to issue regulations carrying out certain objects. The same point was raised then as has been raised by my noble friends behind me. I shall be most happy on behalf of the Government to give an undertaking that these regulations shall be laid on the Tables of both Houses for forty days, so that members of both Houses will be fully able to satisfy themselves that the regulations do not go one whit beyond that which is asked for—namely, that regulations should be formed to carry out recommendations which are agreed to and desired at the present time by all parties. I hope the House will be satisfied with this undertaking that the regulations will be laid before both Houses of Parliament.

I should like to explain, if I can, to my noble friend Lord Banbury the position regarding the repealing of certain sections of the principal Act. The object is to repeal the Act of 1911, which is exactly the same as this Bill, but to leave the regulations in operation until the new regulations have come into operation, when the regulations of 1911 will be repealed. We do not want to repeal the regulations of 1911 until the new regulations have been sanctioned. The same thing applies to the principal Act of 1901, which is only altered so far as it is not in consonance with the new regulations.


May I ask the noble Lord whether it is the fact, as stated by Lord Banbury of Southam, that the Act of 1911 which the noble Lord says is the same as this Bill, had in it a provision as to holding an inquiry and hearing objections, and after that laving the regulations upon the Table of the House? That is a very different thing.


In this case, as these recommendations are practically agreed to by all sides, it was not considered necessary.


The Act of 1911 deals with regulations, not recommendations.


I hope the noble Lord will make it quite clear exactly what the proposal is. Is it that the regulations are to be laid upon the Table now, or is it that this Bill should be amended and that by an Amendment of this Bill, which will no doubt be introduced by the noble Lord himself on the Committee Stage, the regulations are not to come into effect until they have been laid upon the Table of this House for forty days? That is a very common form, and I do not think it is easy to find any objection to such a course, but I hope the noble Lord will allow me to say that no mention was made by my noble friends beside me of postponing the Second Reading. To say that the unfortunate workers would feel dissatisfaction with this House was really going a little bit beyond what my noble friends said. All the delay was in the Committee, which was appointed in 1924 and did not report before 1928. If we venture to plead for a little further delay, until the Report has been laid upon the Table or circulated in the usual way, I think it is a little unfair to criticise us in the circumstances. If the noble Marquess the Leader of the House will assure us that copies of the Report will be made available, either in the Vote Office or by being circulated in the usual way, and will say that when the next stage of the Bill is taken there will be an Amendment moved by the noble Lord, providing that the regulations shall be laid upon the Table of the House for forty days, then, I think, a good deal of the criticism against the Bill will be at an end.


My Lords, this subject is a very old friend of mine, for I think I was responsible for introducing and passing through Parliament a Bill upon this very subject when I was a young Member of Parliament, forty years ago. Therefore I think you will see that it is not a subject that comes before Parliament for the first time. It is a very old and very controversial subject, and very technical in its character, dealing with subjects which—I hardly like to say what may seem to be derogatory—even the most skilful of your Lordships would not he qualified to understand without some training. The Government have no desire whatever to pass anything behind the backs of your Lordships, and I engage at once, in reply to noble Lords, that copies of the Report shall be at once laid before the House, and shall be made available in the Vote Office, far any noble Lord who desires to read it.

I hold a copy in my hand. Your Lordships will see that it is a Report of some length, and one which I have no doubt would repay careful study. It concludes with a list of the amendments of the existing regulations which the Departmental Committee recommend. They are very technical indeed, as my noble friend has said. They have to do with such technical subjects as thermometers, size of pipes, the amount of humidity, and ventilation, and I think that when your Lordships have spent two or three days in reading the Report you will realise the extent of the interest which is felt on the subject. The regulations will be at once laid before your Lordships. I agree with my noble friend, and with noble Lords who have offered criticisms, that matters of importance should not be passed merely upon the authority of a Department, without the cognisance of Parliament. I think that disposes of the main part of the criticisms.

As to Amendments being inserted in Committee, that must be a matter for a little consideration. As long as your Lordships are willing to give a Second Reading to the Bill, I do not desire for a moment to hurry on the next stage, and if my noble friend would like a fort- night to consider the matter, that length of time shall certainly be afforded. Then I am sure we shall be able to arrive at a proper conclusion as to any Amendment to be inserted in Committee. The noble Earl suggests that an Amendment should be put in providing that the regulations should be laid before Parliament for a certain number of days. That is not at all an unreasonable suggestion to make, though forty days perhaps is rather long, and I think we should do well to follow the usual practice. Forty days means forty sitting days of the House, and that extends over a longer period than forty calendar days. I hope that your Lordships will allow the Bill to have a Second Reading. All the available material will then be placed at your disposal, and any reasonable Amendment will, of course, be considered.

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