HL Deb 10 February 1942 vol 121 cc711-33

LORD GAINFORD had the following Notice on the Paper: To call attention to the General Emergency Order of the 23rd December, 1941, for potteries; and to move, That this House disapproves any increase of hours of employment of young persons under the age of sixteen as contemplated under that Order, and requests His Majesty's Government to give an undertaking that there shall be no such increase.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I regret that I feel obliged to criticize the terms of an Order made on December 23 in regard to the hours of employment under the Factory Act, 1937. I have done my utmost to warn the Government that there must be a very strong feeling against an increase of the hours of employment of young persons, especially those under sixteen, employed in factories. I first of all placed a Notice on the Order Paper, in order to draw attention to the matter. When I understood representations were being made to the Labour Department, I had every hope that these representations might be effective, so I withdrew my Motion. Then I heard that the Government intended to go on with the Order issued on December 23 extending the hours of these young people from forty-seven to fifty-three hours per week. I therefore put a question to the Leader of the House on January 28, in order that he might realize that there would be a strong feeling against this extension of hours. He replied very courteously, with information no doubt supplied to him by the Ministry of Labour, but it was a most unsatisfactory reply from my point of view. I therefore have felt compelled to put down the Motion I am about to move in your Lordships' House.

A warning undoubtedly has been given that there would be opposition to this extension of hours of work. I do not know to what extent the old traditional Parliamentary system of collective Ministerial responsibility still obtains, but I cannot imagine that some of my late colleagues in the Government who administered the Factory Acts could defend this particular Order which has now been issued by the Ministry of Labour. The imposition of increased hours on these young children in a non-vital industry seems to me to be absolutely unjustifiable. I am surprised that, in reply on January 28 to the question I placed on the Paper, my noble friend Lord Moyne admitted that the medical inspectors who were under the Home Office, and are now under the Ministry of Labour, were not consulted with regard to this extension. The noble Lord went on in his reply to say that both parties—that is the employers and the employed—in the industry have been asked to see whether there are signs of undue fatigue, as the result of the operation of this Order. That is an entire departure from the system that has grown up, taking away authority from the factory inspectors. I would point out to your Lordships that there is no safeguard whatsoever, in the interest of the children, in leaving this matter merely to be one as between the employers and the employed. I did ask in my previous question that the inspectors might have the power to exclude from the operation of the Order these young children who were overworked and suffering from strain by reason of long hours, but that is apparently not contemplated by the Government judging by what they said in reply to my question.

I do not only blame—I think there is some blame—the Ministry of Labour for this extension. I think the blame is to be shared by the British Potteries Workers' Society, which is the trade union, and the British Potteries Manufacturers, representing the employers—two very able organizations who have agreed that the Government should extend the working hours of young children from forty-seven to fifty-three. Both sides, no doubt, going on patriotic" lines, want to liberate labour from a non-vital industry such as pottery-making into the more vital industries which manufacture munitions.

I suppose no one takes any exception to the increase of hours provided it is justified, but both sides apparently think—the employed by receiving overtime and the employers by getting their costs down through working longer hours—they will be able to help the industry to carry on in spite of a certain number of adult workers being taken into more vital industries. Obviously the object of this Order is that the children should work exactly the same hours as those with whom they work—the moulders. That is to say, if the older people are entitled to work fifty-three hours the young children should also, as their assistants, work the same number of hours. It is to that particular decision that I take exception.

Let me point out to your Lordships what the total hour; of these children are. Under the Factory Act, 1937, it was generally laid down that forty-four hours were adequate for the employment of young children of fifteen or sixteen, or even fourteen; but there was a provision that, after an inquiry, if the industry necessitated it, the hours could be extended to forty-seven. In the last three or four years that increased number of hours for children employed in the potteries has been adopted. I want to emphasize the fact that this is not a vital industry in the interests of the war. It is in many ways a very dangerous industry, yet there is not a single vital industry in this country which works children of fourteen and fifteen years age for more than forty-eight hours a week. In this particular industry, however, children are going to be compelled to work not only the forty-seven hours which they have been accustomed to work, but up to fifty-three hours per week, and this is the only industry in the country in which such an Order has been promulgated. The hours of work, as I have pointed out, were forty-seven, and they are now fifty-three.

I think I ought to read to your Lord-ships exactly what the Regulations say in regard to hours. So far as I am concerned I have not seen these Orders published in the Press. The Regulations say: The total hours worked by women and young persons employed in pursuance of this Order… shall not exceed in any week such number of hours being neither less than 48 nor greater than 53 as may be specified in writing by the inspector of factories… and shall not exceed 10 hours on any week-day other than Saturday, or 5¼ hours on Saturday. The period of employment of such women and young persons shall not exceed 10 hours on any week-day other than Saturday, or 5½ hours on Saturday and shall neither commence earlier than 7 a.m. nor end later than 7 p.m., or, on Saturday, 1 p.m.

That, in ordinary language, means that these children shall be employed five days a week of ten hours. They cannot be employed more on the five days, but it will be necessary for them to work not less than forty-eight and up to fifty-three hours in a week. They can be employed for two spells, one of four and a half hours and another of five and a half hours, but they are, being employed for fifty-three hours during the week. Let us suppose they are being employed ten hours a day for five days a week;, that would leave them to be employed on Saturday three hours. I submit to your Lordships that such long hours for these young children must be a strain and cannot be justified. I also submit that it is not right to impose upon children these long hours, and that they should be so employed is to me a cruel, retrograde and almost inhuman step.

I want now to come to the point as to why the employment of these children is arduous and dangerous in these factories. I exclude the factory recently put up by Messrs. Wedgwood, who are setting an example to the whole of the industry in the magnificent factory which they have recently put up. But in the ordinary factory in the pottery districts potters clay contains deleterious dust, flint and particles are breathed by the children as well as by the adults. Silicosis supervenes, death follows. The death rate per year in the factories remains constant at between forty-five and fifty-five deaths as a result of silicosis. It is, therefore, a dangerous trade. Amongst other methods in the potteries there is the glazing process, but to this I am not referring particularly. I do not think children are employed in the glazing, but glazing cannot be done without the use of lead, and lead-poisoning is constant in the industry. Therefore it is doubly a dangerous trade, and it is scheduled as a dangerous trade because of the silicosis and on account of the lead-poisoning.

Now the operation to which I want to draw attention is a continuous operation on the part of the children to whom I specially allude. These children do what is called mould running. There are many branches of the industry to which I need not refer in which the work is done by decorators, biscuit brushers and so on. Those do not really come very much into the picture. I want to deal with these children who get the earth clay from the moulder, carry it to the stove, and then bring back the empty mould to the pottery maker. These children have to run backwards and forwards with this material and have to go into a hot, humid, dusty atmosphere. They go into the stoves themselves in every case except, I think, in the firm represented so well in this House now by my noble friend Lord Wedgwood. All other firms, I understand, have these children running backwards and forwards constantly for ten hours. Now I do submit to your Lord-ships that in this atmosphere it is a cruel imposition to compel these children to work ten hours a day in circumstances of this kind. The duty of these children is to keep the moulders always supplied with moulds and their function is to get the dry first product and mould back to the moulders so that they are constantly going backwards and forwards to the stoves into which they enter.

I come now to another point. These children are in a blind-alley occupation. This occupation, I am told, is not very popular among a certain number of parents in the district for their children, and possibly it is not easy to duplicate the number who are already employed in it. The children, after their employment in these potteries is ended, drift away in a great number of cases because, I am told, there is no room for them in the industry. I am informed that if a moulder works for thirty years he has employed probably from ten to fifteen children for two years, and when he vacates his position as a moulder there is only one place vacant for every ten children who have been employed in this mould-running process in their early and tender years. Therefore there is a real tendency that these children should drift afterwards and should not find employment in the factories. It is not for me to say how this problem of finding children to do children's work if the hours of the adult worker are extended—willingly, no doubt, out of patriotic motives—should be dealt with, but there is the old adage "Where there's a will there's always a way," and I do feel that it is for the industry to find some method by which these younger people (I am speaking only of those under sixteen) may be liberated from the excessive hours now imposed upon them.

I referred a few moments ago to my noble friend Lord Wedgwood. I have been reading lately a very interesting book, which I can recommend to your Lordships, containing his memoirs. The Prime Minister pays him a tribute at the commencement of this book entitled Memoirs of a Fighting Life in which he says "The distressed of the whole world have looked to him for the redress of wrongs." This is a wrong, and I do hope that my noble friend will be able to participate in trying to find a solution for the difficulty which I am now placing before the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, in his book, alludes to the humane action of at any rate six generations before him marked by their great consideration towards their workpeople. Here and now I wish to pay the highest compliment I can to the Wedgwood firm for being absolutely model employers. They have erected at their new works a factory which avoids many of the strains which are now suffered by children and they are eliminating some of the practices to which I have referred. If other pottery makers would follow their example no doubt the strains might be reduced from what they are at the present moment.

I have put this matter on the Order Paper because I want support from all quarters of your Lordships' House in asking the Government to stop what I call, if not criminal at any rate reprehensible extensions of the hours of labour. I ask myself why we are at war. Certainly one of the things we are fighting for is to obtain a better world for those who come after us, for our children, our grand-children and our great-grandchildren. To force children to work fifty-three hours a week is to destroy their happiness, to destroy all opportunity of play and of recreation, and to turn their work into slavery. That is putting the clock back. I would like to conclude with a parody of some verses of Hood in a well-known poem: Oh men with children dear, Oh men who love their wives, It's not mere plates you're turning out, But destroying children's lives. Oh but for six less hours, A respite, however brief, No blessed leisure for love or hope, But only time for grief.

Moved to resolve, That this House disapproves any increase of hours of employment of young persons under the age of sixteen as contemplated under the General Emergency Order of December 23, 1941, and requests His Majesty's Government to give an undertaking that there shall be no such increase.—(Lord Gainford.)


My Lords, I should like to add a few words to what has already been said on the subject of juvenile employment in war-time, and on behalf of my noble friends on these Benches to express to the noble Lord who has just spoken our gratitude for ventilating what is a most important social problem peculiar to a war-time economy, and for the fine and humane spirit, if I may say so, and the exhaustive knowledge displayed in his speech. It is a commonplace, I think, that during a war there is always a danger that the strength of young children and adolescents may be overtaxed. We saw this during four years in the last war. These young people desire, of course, just as much as their elders to contribute whatever they can to the war effort, but I am sure that we should associate ourselves with the noble Lord in trying to see that they should not be allowed—in the mistaken belief held in certain quarters that we might thereby get an increase in production—to expose themselves to abnormal risk of injury or to continue at work for excessively long hours. It stands to reason that if their health and efficiency are undermined in this way we shall in fact lessen their future productive capacity and therefore defeat the very object we set out to achieve.

Since the end of the last war a comprehensive legal code has been set up for the protection of young workers in almost every branch of trade and industry, and I should like to appeal to the Government—I am sure as the noble; Lord, Lord Snell, is to reply, that the appeal will not fall on deaf ears—to make perfectly sure that these wise conditions laid down in the provisions of many Acts of Parliament are; not overridden in the stress of war, and that employers and employees alike shall be discouraged from taking advantage of any loopholes that these Statutes may leave for excessive pressure on young people. I should like to reinforce the case made by the noble Lord by drawing attention to certain other rather disquieting features of the war-time employment of juveniles. In the last report of the Chief Inspector of Factories stress is laid on the alarming increase in the number of industrial accidents involving young persons, an increase of eighteen per cent. among boys and of eleven per cent. among girls as compared with the figures of the preceding year. It is especially important that the training of these young recruits to industry should not, even in these days, be rushed, as otherwise they cannot hope to acquire a sound knowledge of safety measures and of the careful and intelligent handling of the machinery they would be expected to look after. The discretion of local authorities to regulate the hours of work of children during their holidays has not always been wisely used. In certain rural areas children of twelve to fourteen have been permitted to work six or seven or even eight hours a day within certain periods in the year when helping with the harvest. Surely this holiday period should not be regarded, even in war-time, as an opportunity to make children work harder or longer than is good for them.

The amount of overtime now usual in the great majority of factories, added to the ordinary working week, has disastrously lengthened the hours of employment of the growing child. In many factories children of sixteen are working fifty to sixty hours a week, and I should like to illustrate this by quoting from a summary of the report of the Chief Inspector of Factories given in The Times Educational Supplement. Figures are given showing that in 5,493 factories engaged on munitions work permission has been given to extend the normal working week of women and young persons over sixteen from 48 hours to 54, 55 and 56 hours. In 3,428 factories they are allowed to work over 56 but do not reach 60 hours, and children between fourteen and sixteen are working 48 hours instead of 44 in 1,421 further establishments making a wide variety of articles. In this connexion it should also be noted that the recent report of the Medical Research Council of the Industrial Health Research Board lays down 55 to 60 hours as the maximum working week for adult women without injury to health or impairment of efficiency. The application of that to children is obvious.

It is true, of course, that this valuable report, which is a warning against the fallacy that very long hours of work produce an increase of production, makes no direct reference to young persons, and I should like to put to the Government this request: Will they urge the Board to pursue its inquiries into the working hours of the adolescent factory workers and their effect on health and production, that is to say to extend the inquiries concerning the adult to the growing child? I think it would be common ground in this House that if boys and girls are to give us the maximum output we need in the months, and possibly years, that lie immediately ahead, and, at the same time, to grow up into people who will be keen to improve conditions in this country after the war, they should be safeguarded against the tremendous strain and exceptional risks of employment in war-time industry.


My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Gainford, not merely for bringing this question forward, but also for the more than kind things that he has said about the Wedgwood firm. The real difficulty in this case is that the trade union has not stood by the children. Unfortunately our potters' trade union is not a strong one, and therefore has not got the same control in the industry that trade unions have in many other trades in this country. I would like to tell your Lordships that the firm with which my name is connected do not propose to use this change in the rules or to increase the hours of work. They do not wish to take any special credit for that; it happens to be inconvenient in their case, and I think they also share the hereditary views of the family. But this question of longer hours does bring up a great many questions which really ought to be considered by the new Minister of Production when he gets into his stride. In our case, we have a new factory some way outside Stoke-on-Trent; some way from the dwellings of the working people. We had hoped to build our "Wedgwood Garden City" to house them on the spot, but, owing to the war, that has been stopped. Therefore these people have to come in by train from Stoke-on-Trent, and that means that men, women and children working in the factory are realty working longer hours than appear on the timetable because they have to go to and fro. It is not easy, therefore, to expect them to extend their hours of work any further.

That brings me to this issue: that in this question of securing maximum production you have not got to consider only hours of labour. What you have to consider is the extraordinary difficulty experienced by women employed in all factories now to get foodstuffs and prepare meals. Really, in considering maximum production we have got to consider not only hours and where labour can be got from, but also something in the nature of communal kitchens where the workers can get their meals, and the solving of the housing problem so that people working in the factories can be housed somewhere near them. Every day many hours are wasted by reason of workers having to travel substantial distances to and fro. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for bringing this matter up. I hope that his speech—a speech so inspired by knowledge of the industry that I thought he must have been brought up in it—will have the effect of stopping the use of extended hours in the potteries. Apart from any law, that moving speech of his will, I think, do much good. I hope the Minister of Production will consider also the wider issues of how to increase the production of this country by facilitating the manner of getting food, the means of getting housing, and the opportunities for real recreation for the young people.


My Lords, I desire very briefly to say a few words in support of the Motion which has been made in such very eloquent and moving terms by my noble friend Lord Gainford. We all know the pressure which exists both on the young and the old in these days, and I am sure it is the general desire that growing boys and girls should, so far as possible, be spared that pressure. After all, the growing generation, at any time, represents a great national asset, and any custom or any action which tends to retard or stunt that growth is a waste of that national asset. And that has to be borne in mind. Of course, it is true, as my noble friend admitted, that this is not altogether a simple proposition. There are certain industries, of which the pottery industry is one, in which it is found that unless a certain amount of juvenile labour is available during working hours the adult labour employed in it becomes hampered and meets with difficulties. The fact has also to be borne in mind that this trade is a valuable export industry at the present time, and, as we know, it is of paramount importance to maintain our exports. Those are considerations which cannot be overlooked. At the same time, I think that we can appeal to His Majesty's Government to see whether it is not possible—even, in the last resort, by some limitation of output—to avoid this extra strain and hardship which are entailed by these long hours for growing boys and girls.


My Lords, I should like to register my disappointment at the fact that it seems likely that the Government will approve of the lengthening of hours for work in factories. I am sure that there are many who, like myself, are interesting themselves in youth welfare, who will be most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, for raising this important question. I find it very difficult to think of any fresh arguments to bring forward in support of his case, but perhaps one which has not been emphasized as much as it might be is the necessity of allowing; young people to have as much recreation and healthy leisure as they can obtain. That is especially the ease in war-time. Another argument, which may perhaps sound a little far-fetched, arises from the increase in juvenile delinquency about which a great deal has been said and written recently. Your Lordships will have seen the reasons which have been given for that increase in time of war, and with those reasons I think that I can say that I agree; but I am not sure that I agree with all the arguments brought forward to show how that difficulty should be met. It seems to me that the way to meet the difficulty is to reduce the hours of employment. When his hours of employment are reduced, a young person naturally receives a lesser wage. I think that that is the best way of tackling this difficulty, and, although the point may be a small one, I suggest that that is an argument in favour of reducing hours of work. I do not know whether I shall be out of order if I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, should struggle a little harder in other directions to bring forward a remedy against the increasing hours of labour of juveniles. I am sure that he would be regarded almost as a second Sharp—or should I have said a second Wilberforce?—if he could achieve that object.


My Lords, the subject which has been brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, is one of very great importance, and is rightly brought before the attention of Parliament. If I may say so, there is a special satisfaction in feeling that the question of the welfare of young persons has been brought before your Lordships' House by one of its most venerable and respected members. With most of what has been said in the various speeches which have been made, I find myself in personal agreement. With the principal contention which has been made there can, indeed, be very little disagreement; no one welcomes the employment of young people for periods beyond their strength, and in normal times this would not be tolerated by your Lordships.

The times, however, are not normal. We are living in a time of acute crisis, a time when all of us have to work harder and longer, and when all of us have to forego certain privileges and standards and accept a lower standard of life. We do so in order to preserve the very sub-stance of liberty itself; to save freedom we consent to suspend freedom for the time being. The whole question before your Lordships to-day, therefore, is whether that sacrifice which we are now having to make should also be required of young people. No one who knows my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour and National Service can believe that he had any sort of pleasure in making this Order to which attention has been drawn. If your Lordships will permit me to say so, probably I know the strain which long hours of labour put upon children better than does any other member of your Lordships' House. It is not fair cither to the child or to the nation that a child should be deprived of the joy of games and of recreation of all kinds. All of us know that it is not for the national good that children should be given work beyond their strength; they have amazing vitality, but it is not enduring, for nature appears to require a great deal of it for her own purposes.

Looking at the problem in principle, however, we can at least say that things are better than they were. At the time of which I am thinking especially, young children worked for 65 to 70 hours a week at strenuous farm and factory labour, so that we can at least feel that things have improved, and, if this Order appears to represent some kind of retrograde step, it is necessary to remember that children are not being now employed in this case for merely increased profit—not being used because child labour is cheap; they are being used because it is felt, rightly or wrongly, that they are making a contribution to an urgent national need. If we look at the Order itself it would appear that the district inspector of factories can authorize at any factory in the pottery industry the employment of young persons, including those under sixteen, for hours in excess of 48 but not exceeding 53. The justification for that power and Order is, as was pointed out to the noble Lord in the answer to his question on January 28, that the conditions existing in the pottery industry are somewhat exceptional. It is recognized that in the Act of 1937 some industries might be so dependent on the employment of young people that they would be seriously prejudiced if young persons were not allowed to exceed 44 hours. The Act referred to provided that public inquiries into these matters should be undertaken. An inquiry was made in regard to the pottery industry, which was found to be one of those particular industries referred to, and therefore weekly hours up to 48 have continued to be legal. That is the real question.

The Minister of Labour and National Service recently had to appeal to the industry to increase the regular working hours so as to release more workers for work of national importance, and representatives of the workers and the employers agreed that those hours could be extended up to 53. It may be, as my noble friend Lord Wedgwood has pointed out, that the trade unions did not put up as stiff an opposition as they might have done, but the fact is there that the trade unions did agree, and on that basis the Order was made. The Minister satisfied himself that there would be exceptional difficulties in the industry if 48 hours were to be the maximum for young persons under sixteen, and at the same time the desired quota of older persons for National Service were to be released. This need for giving more workers to National Service outweighed the objections which in ordinary times would have been decisive in regard to the employment of children up to 53 hours.

In regard to the health of young children so employed it should be remembered that special Regulations have been made, and everything is being done to try to reduce special strain and danger. The noble Lord has referred to the question of the mould runners. This work, I am told, is not really heavy, and it has to be borne in mind that the Pottery Regulations contain various restrictions on heavy work by young persons. The work apparently involves the entering of hot stoves from time to time, and there is a certain amount of silica in the dust of the pottery shops, but it can hardly be argued that there is any serious risk involved in entering the stoves on a few more occasions than usual, or being present in the pottery shops for a few more hours. The danger, if it is a danger, exists all the time: it is just a question of whether the extra hours would provide additional dangers. One of the difficulties in this industry is that most of the work that these children are doing is not suitable for men. A high proportion of it which is done by girls has to do, I believe, with decorative processes, and this kind of work would be wasteful use of women's labour. The work of the potters and their assistants is one of the special cases in which exceptional difficulties would arise out of the difference in the working hours.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has enlarged the scope of this debate somewhat beyond what the Notice on the Paper envisages. He referred to the increase in accidents to young persons mentioned in the Chief Inspector's Report for 1940. These figures, however, are for young persons under eighteen in factories, and do not relate particularly to juveniles under sixteen in potteries, whose position is raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, and whose maximum hours were increased by the Order of December 23 last to which Lord Gain-ford referred. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, also referred to the hours of work of persons between sixteen and eighteen, and urged that the Industrial Health Research Board should pursue its inquiries into the working hours of adolescent factory workers and their effect on health and productiveness. The Board's inquiries on this subject have been confined to people over eighteen, but it is merely a question of researches by the Board. The working hours of those between sixteen and eighteen under war conditions are closely controlled and watched through the factory inspectors. Moreover, while it is no doubt true, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, says, that in many factories those between sixteen and eighteen years of age are working 60 hours a week, in the majority of cases, even of those engaged in urgent war work, the hours are very much less than 60.

The difficulties with regard to the industry have been mentioned by several speakers, and I have tried to indicate the degree of importance that the Minister of Labour and National Service attaches to them. I think I can say that he will closely note what has been said to-day, and one can only hope that if this Order has to be enforced the need for it will shortly pass away. In ordinary times I should have been most reluctant to plead that longer hours should be worked by young people—I know far too well all that it means—but we are living, as I have said, in abnormal times, and it is very difficult to live upon established physical or even moral standards so long as that crisis exists. The Government do not say that what is proposed in this Order is desirable, or even that it is unobjectionable, but the Potteries have now become a munitions area, with a heavy demand for munition workers, which in the urgent need of the nation must be met. Large numbers have been imported into the district, accommodation has been very severely strained, and it is therefore desirable that as many local workers as possible: should help to man the local factories. The longer working week to which both sides of the industry have agreed does constitute a direct contribution to the war effort. It is on that ground of acute need that the Government regret they are unable to accept the proposal of the noble Lord.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken on behalf of the Government has said it was with great regret that he personally had to plead the case entrusted to his hands. One can well believe that, for I am sure, with his views on this subject, nothing could have been less palatable to him. It was not any lack of cogency in his own speech that made his case unconvincing. He was, in my judgment, unable to make out any valid reason why this industry alone should come to the Government and appeal for sanction for a measure of this kind. My noble friend who moved the Motion mentioned that this Order was unique over the whole field of British industry, including munitions, and that has not been gainsaid by the noble Lord who has just spoken. That being so, his argument fails when he urges that in time of war, in view of the critical need of war production, everyone must work harder and forego normal advantages. If that were so, Orders of this character would be necessary throughout the whole field of industry, including munitions. One cannot believe that it is only these particular processes—of all the methods of production employed in this country—which must have extra hours of work from children of fourteen and fifteen years of age. Moreover, we have been told that one of the principal firms in the pottery industry has no use for this Order, and does not propose to take advantage of it. That being so, why should it be impossible for the others to adapt themselves to the ordinary requirements of the law?

When the great consolidating, amending Factory Bill was before this House a few years ago, I remember that this question of hours of work of young persons and children was one which, in the Committee stage and other stages, caused considerabble concern to many members of your Lordships' House, and, if I remember rightly, furnished one of the principal topics of discussion when the Bill was passing through Parliament. We were assured that the safeguards included in the Bill, and which were, entrusted to Government Departments charged with its administration, would be ample to prevent abuse. This case where young childdren are to be allowed to work ten hours a day for five days a week, in addition to travelling to and from their homes, with a shorter day on Saturday, seems not to be warranted in all the circumstances, and I trust my noble friend Lord Gainford will give the House an opportunity of expressing its opinion on the matter.


My Lords, I am in somewhat of a difficulty. In time of war your Lordships' House has, I think, never had a Division. I take a very strong view that no case has been made out for the employment of these children in this way. I admire, if I may say so, the loyalty of the noble Lord (Lord Snell) to his colleague the Minister of Labour, and I know that the Minister of Labour is influenced wholly by patriotic motives in his desire to help the industry in the difficulty in which he is placing them by removing men from a non-vital industry to more vital ones. The noble Lord alluded to its being a retrograde step admittedly, and he has explained that he himself is against the employment of children. He used one argument which I think is somewhat fallacious—namely, that when children are engaged in a dangerous atmosphere, full of tiny portions of flint, an extension of an hour's work a day, which this Order means, is not going to do them more harm as the result of the amount of flint they breathe into their lungs. It is bound to damage them to a certain extent. If they breathe in a certain amount in five or six hours, they are bound to breathe in an increased amount if the hours are extended, and there is an increased tendency to silicosis.


Perhaps I did not make my meaning clear. I said that inasmuch as if silica were present the danger existed all the time they were there, the problem in reality was reduced to whether the extra hour would constitute a really serious additional danger.


The noble Lord does not understand the employment of children in such a case. Unfortunately I have had a good deal to do with silicosis in the collieries. The longer the hours the more susceptible child workers become to these dangers. If they work long hours they are more likely to suffer from silicosis than if they work shorter hours. I want to point out that, whilst I give all credit to the adults for being prepared to make sacrifices, adults have much greater resistance to disease because they are stronger than children, who are more delicate. It is on behalf of the children I am speaking, and I want your Lordships to agree with me, at any rate, in the first part of the Motion which is before the House—namely, that we disapprove of the extension of the hours of labour mentioned in this Order. If you do that, I am quite prepared to leave it to the Government, having regard to the expression of your Lordships' opinion, to reconsider this matter and see whether they cannot carry out the second part of my Motion at a later date, giving a subsequent reassurance that they will try to intervene and prevent this extension of child labour. This is as far as I can go. I do feel inclined to press the first part of my Motion on the Paper, leaving out the last two lines so that it would then read, "That this House disapproves of any increase in the hours of employment of young children under the age of sixteen as contemplated under that Order," the Order being that of December 23 referring to the potteries industry. I do ask the Government to make an appeal to their colleagues so that the matter shall be reconsidered, and I would therefore move the Resolution in the form I have indicated.


My Lords, it appears to me to be a very strong order to ask this House to pass this Resolution on the debate to which we have just listened. After all, this matter was considered very carefully by the Minister of Labour and National Service, and it was decided by him on the merits of the case. The noble Lord who spoke on behalf of the Government did not, of course, go into all those details which necessarily had to be considered by the Minister. I think it would be very difficult for your Lordships' House, without the first-hand knowledge of the matter that the Minister possesses, not only to pass something which would be in the nature of a censure on the Minister, but also in the nature of a censure on the trade union which agreed to this extension. I am quite sure that your Lordships' House would not view the principle of extending the hours of child labour with anything but disfavour. If I may say so, I think my noble friend has rendered a public service in instituting this debate and drawing attention to the matter, but it is generally at that judicious point that your Lordships' House stops.

I think it is not generally the custom of this House—I speak as a very newcomer—to pass a Resolution unless some useful purpose would be served, unless it wishes to record something in the nature of a vote of censure on the Government. I hope that my noble friend will not press this Motion to a Division. He has drawn attention to the matter, and I have no doubt it will receive further consideration in the light of what has been said this afternoon. I should like, with great respect, to suggest to him that it would be better that the matter should be postponed, and, if he thought it necessary to bring up the matter again in a short time then he could do so; but to pass a Motion of this sort after a debate of an hour or two, I think might be a mistake. I would remind your Lordships not: only, as I have said, that the Minister and the trade union have agreed to this, but also that the factory inspector is given authority to decide each particular case. I presume it was because the Minister was satisfied that there were particular cases where it was in the national interest this should be done, and where it could be done, presumably, with the minimum of evil effects, that he gave his assent to it. Therefore, if my noble friend does press this to a Division, I shall support the Government.


My Lords, may I ask a question following on what the noble Viscount has just said? Your Lordships are familiar with occasional laws, and laws, I am sorry to say, in decreasing numbers, under which Orders are made that require the approval of both Houses of Parliament. I presume this is an Order that did not require that approval, but of course my noble friend opposite (Lord Gainford) was quite within his right in moving this Motion. I would suggest to him that even if he carries it it will not have the desired effect which I think he wants—namely, of abolishing the operation of the Order.


My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the debate, and I should like to say a few words upon the suggestion that Lord Wolmer made a few moments ago. We are in a very great difficulty here. I do not wish to express any disapproval of the way the noble Lord opposite has spoken beyond pointing out that we are at present in a time of great difficulty. The object of us all no doubt would be, whatever the cost and whatever the sacrifice, to bring the war to a successful conclusion. While I sympathize with what has been said in regard to the employment of children, I feel very strongly that we could not accept anything so strong as the Motion which the noble Lord opposite has moved. We should be satisfied by drawing attention to the matter and leaving it in the hands of the Government, who will now be aware of what this House feels in regard to the matter. Perhaps it would be advisable for the noble Lord to leave the matter as it is and see whether the Government could not, perhaps, make the factory inspectors, in carrying out the law, introduce necessary modifications to see that the dangers which the noble Lord has referred to are minimized. We might I think leave it there, and see what further action transpires in practice.


Can we have a ruling on the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore?


My Lords, there is no doubt as to the position. There is no need for any affirmative action by this House to validate the Order, and as to the general situation, I am afraid I could not accept what would, in effect, be a vote of censure on the Government for their decision that this Order in their opinion is necessary. I feel sure that what has been said in this debate will be very carefully considered by the Minister of Labour, and I will undertake to press that he does give the matter the most sympathetic consideration. But I am afraid I could not go further than that, and if the noble Lord feels that he must press the matter to a Division I am afraid I should have to be in the "No" lobby. I suggest that in view of the full statement of the case against the Order the noble Lord would probably lose nothing by withdrawing his Resolution to-day and leaving us to discuss it with the Minister of Labour. That would not in any way preclude him from bringing up a Resolution on the same subject later on if he feels so disposed.


May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, whether it will be possible for him to give an undertaking that no Order shall be made putting this Regulation into operation without a further report? That would avoid any censure, and we might have a chance of considering the matter again. It would not be difficult to give an undertaking that no sanction should be given to such extensive powers till the House has had a further opportunity of considering the matter, or something of that kind. I offer that suggestion as a possible way out.


I am afraid I could not go so far as that. So far as I know, the Order is in operation.


Yes, it is in operation. What happened was this. In November there appeared in the public Press of the locality a statement that an arrangement had been arrived at between the Minister of Labour and the trade union and employers' association in order to carry out the arrangement that these children should work from 48 to 53 hours per week. It was necessary for the Order to be made under the Defence of the Realm Act and it came into operation on December 23. So far as I know these children are now working these long hours. They cannot work less than 48 and they may be made to work up to 53. These hours are being worked in the factories with the exception of that belonging to the Wedgwood firm, and all honour to the Wedgwood firm, I say. If we do not disapprove of what the Government have done, can we not express regret that this has been imposed upon the children? I should like it to be made manifest to the outside public that your Lordships do not like this extension of the hours of work of children. It is admitted that it is a retrograde step, and surely in those circumstances the Motion might be accepted by the Government in this form: That this House regrets any increase of hours of employment of young persons under the age of sixteen as contemplated under the Order of the 23rd December, 1941, relating to potteries. Original Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Moved to resolve, That this House regrets any increase of hours of employment of young persons under the age of sixteen as contemplated under the General Emergency Order of the 23rd December, 1941, relating to potteries.—(Lord Gainford.)


My Lords, I am afraid that even in that form of words the Resolution would lead to the inference that the Order was not justified and would be a vote of censure on the Government, although not so strong a censure. I should be obliged to the noble Lord if he would not press the Motion.


My Lords, I would really ask the noble Lord to reconsider the attitude he has taken up. Surely he has done everything he is required to do in bringing this matter before your Lordships and the public. The public will read the report of the debate, and will know quite well the feeling of your Lordships in regard to this matter and will know the reasons given from the Front Bench for the Government's attitude. I do feel that your Lord-ships should not pass a vote of censure on the Government because, as the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, has said, that is virtually implied in this amended form of words. I appeal to the noble Lord with all respect to follow the usual course and withdraw his Motion. If he likes he can bring forward the matter again and ask for the support of your Lordships.


My Lords, surely the Government do not take the view that we want to censure the whole Government simply because we do not want young people under sixteen to work more than forty-eight hours a week. That really, I think, is pressing the matter a little too hard. If we accept that doctrine we really cannot express our opinion on anything if it happens to be contrary to what any Government Department has done. We do not want to defeat the Government or the Minister of Labour, but really we ought to be entitled to express our views about a simple human problem of this kind


My Lords, the point I want to make is that to pass a Motion of this nature after a short debate is not to treat the subject with the seriousness it deserves. As has been said, this Order is only permissive. It leaves to the proper Government official discretion to deal with each particular case. How can your Lordships pass a Resolution regretting authority being given to a Government official to allow an extension that has been approved by the Minister after the most careful examination and approved by the trade union concerned? It seems to me far better to leave the matter as it is, and then if my noble friend finds that any real injury is in fact being done to children under this Order he could bring up the matter again. He would then have the sympathy of the whole House with him.

On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 17; Not-Contents, 20.

Crewe, M. Addison, L. Hare, L. (E. Lislowel.) [Teller.]
Atkin, L.
Mersey, V. Bethell, L. Mottistone, L.
Samuel, V. Braye, L. Noel-Buxton, L.
Davies, L. O'Hagan, L.
Aberdare, L. Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.) Stanmore, L.
Gainford, L. [Teller.] Wedgwood, L.
Lucan, E. Barnby, L. Palmer, L.
Vane, E. (M. Lundonderry.) Blackford, L. Rankeillour, L.
Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwillium.) Selborne, L. (V. Wolmer.)
Benneu, V. Sherwood, L.
Hailsliam, V. Croft, L. Snell, L. [Teller.]
Hutchinson, V. (E. Donougkmore.) Hampton, L. Templemore, L. [Teller.]
Maugham, V. Hardinge of Penshurst, L. Tyrell, L.
Moyne, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.