HL Deb 15 April 1948 vol 155 cc139-51

4.6 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. Improvements in the safety, health and welfare of all workers are matters of interest to us all, whatever our Party politics may be. The Factories Acts were overhauled in 1937 and a new comprehensive Statute, the first for thirty-six years, was placed on the Statute Book. Some of the present members of your Lordships' House had an active share in the passing of that measure. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, in his characteristically lucid manner, moved its Second Reading in another place, and the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, on succeeding him as Home Secretary, carried the Bill through its succeeding stages. It is interesting, too, to recall that it was on the Second Reading of the 1937 Act that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, made his maiden speech in your Lordships' House. He himself, of course, had been associated with the Home Office for quite a time, and was interested in the administration of the then existing Acts.

The Bill of which I have the honour of moving the Second Reading to-day is not a new major Factories Bill. From time to time new dangers arising from new machinery or processes in particular industries can be met by the making of up-to-date safety, health and welfare regulations under the existing Statute; but it is also necessary periodically to improve the terms of the Statute itself, and the Government have felt that Parliament ought to find time in the present Session to pass this amending legislation. Since the 1937 Act was passed, experience of its administration has, in fact, shown the need for further legislation to make some improvements in the Act and, at the same time, to make an advance towards adopting certain proposals made at the International Labour Conference in 1946. The present Bill does not aim at any major change in factory legislation but it does make what I think it will be generally agreed is an important step forward in some of its welfare provisions, particularly those relating to medical examination of young persons.

Apart from the points of technical detail, there are three main proposals which will be of interest. First, there is the proposal in Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill. This will extend the present medical examination of young people in factories to cover them up to the age of 18 instead of 16. It will also extend the scope of these examinations to cover not only employment in factories in the ordinary sense of the word but also some other occupations which are within the scope of the Factories Act. It may well be that some extension of medical supervision of adult workers is desirable and, indeed, the Factories Act provides for this in the case of employments involving substantial risks to health, and also in cases where risks are suspected. On this last point, Clause 3 of the Bill proposes to widen the existing powers. I think, however, that it will be agreed that there are particularly strong grounds for giving priority in the matter of medical attention to young people generally, and not merely in the case of those engaged in unhealthy occupations. The International Labour Conference of 1946 recognised this when it adopted two conventions on the subject, one for industrial and the other for non-industrial occupations. His Majesty's Government explained in a White Paper presented to Parliament last January that, pending the further development of medical services in the United Kingdom, they could not implement those conventions, but they announced that they would introduce legislation in successive stages to extend and strengthen the existing law with a view to their ultimate ratification. The proposals in the first two clauses of this Bill are a first step in that direction. Medical machinery and machinery for enforcement through factory inspectors are already in existence in the case of employments subject to the Factories Act, and, whatever long-term development there may be in the organisation of industrial medical services, there seems no reason why in the meantime the present arrangements should not be extended both to persons up to the age of 18 and to some additional industrial employments within the scope of the Factories Act.

The second main proposal is that of Clause 4, which aims at conferring wider powers than under the present Act for preventing or stopping the use for factory purposes of premises which in their existing state are unsuitable from the point of view of the safety, health or welfare of the persons employed. Courts already have power to stop the use of an existing factory if they are satisfied, on the application of a factory inspector, that the conditions involve a definite risk of injury to health. There are also powers to prevent and stop the use of an underground room for factory purposes if it is unsuitable on hygienic or constructional grounds. There is, however, felt to be need for wider powers. There are premises, especially of the slum type, in respect of which it would be difficult to establish that there is a definite risk of injury to health or that positive breaches of the Factories Act are being committed. By their character and condition, however, they might, from the welfare point of view, be quite unsuitable for the factory work carried on or proposed to be carried on in them, and even a minimum of hygienic conditions would be difficult to maintain, apart from the question of comfort, convenience of working and cheerfulness. In his annual reports, the Chief Inspector of Factories has commented on these factories. Most of the Board of Trade Working Parties for particular industries have also strongly deprecated the continued existence of slum factories; and they have in some instances suggested the strengthening of the Factories Act more or less on the lines of this clause.

The crux of the problem from a practical point of view is the provision of suitable alternative accommodation, and any progress towards improvement will have to be gradual. The fact has to be faced, however, that even if suitable alternative accommodation can be secured, some of the employers in the worst slum factories would be unlikely to move out of them unless they were compelled to do so. Moreover, in the last two years many small employers have started factories in most unsuitable premises and there has been no power to prevent them. Clause 4, while it amends the provisions of Section 40 of the principal Act, does not automatically require a closure of all unsuitable factories. What it seeks to do is to widen the powers of factory inspectors to apply to the courts for orders to prohibit the type of work in question from being carried on in the premises, either indefinitely or until conditions have been put right. Moreover, I can assure your Lordships that it is not intended that factory inspectors should apply to the courts for closing orders wholesale, for this would involve serious interference with production and hardship to displaced workers. The widened powers would be available for dealing with the exceptional case and as the means of ensuring progressive improvement of conditions as soon as practicable. His Majesty's Government are fully aware that it must take some time of gradual building modernisation before all slum factories can be eliminated.

Clause 5 is, in its purpose, allied to Clause 4. At present a person can start a factory without notifying the factory inspector until afterwards. This clause will require prior notification and will give the inspector power to inspect the premises before the factory actually starts work. Prior notification of a proposal to start a factory is obviously valuable and in practice it is already often arranged. It gives the inspector an opportunity of advising the firm on Factories Act requirements, and this has often resulted, not only in better compliance from the start, but in considerable saving of subsequent expense by the firm.

Clause 6 of the Bill is the third of the main proposals to which I referred. It deals with the question of seating facilities. Section 44 of the 1937 Act makes some provision on the subject but it is limited to seating facilities for female workers whose work is done standing. The question of seating in factories has received increasing attention during recent years, especially from the point of view of the desirability of decreasing fatigue and strain and improving production, as well as on general health and welfare grounds. In 1944, a committee on seating facilities in factories, which included nominees of the Trades Union Congress and the British Employers' Confederation, recommended, with a view to its becoming a statutory requirement after the war, that suitable seats, adjusted to meet the requirements of the individual and of the work, should be provided for all persons, irrespective of sex, employed on work which can properly be performed in a sitting position.

There are still many industrial establishments which have given too little thought to the possibility of providing seats for various jobs which are traditionally done standing but which could quite well be done sitting; and, even where seats are provided, too little thought is often given to the proper design and adjustment of the seat for the individual and the work. I do not wish it to be thought that I am blaming management alone for this; tradition dies hard, even amongst numbers of workpeople, and sitting down is often considered by the workpeople themselves as a concession to feminine weakness. This new clause will, it is hoped, result in more serious attention being given to what is, after all, an important subject. At the same time, His Majesty's Government realise that compliance with this clause would mean not only obtaining additional seats but, perhaps, rearranging gangways and working arrangements. Furthermore, suitable seats of non-standard type are difficult to obtain at the present time. It is, therefore, proposed that this clause should not come into force until October, 1950, and Clause 16 (3) of the Bill makes that provision. In the meantime, we regard it as being highly desirable that managements who have not already done so should give serious attention to this problem, consulting with the workpeople concerned, with a view to compliance with the requirement of the clause, at the latest by the time it comes into force.

The remaining clauses of the Bill mainly deal with points of technical detail. Clauses 7 to 10 deal with a number of changes relating to enforcement and administration. Clause 7 proposes a change in the designation of the medical practitioners officially appointed under Section 126 of the 1937 Act, and deals with their position when they exercise medical supervision over and above the minimum statutory requirements. It also covers the situation arising from the disappearance of the post of Poor Law medical officers. Clause 8 deals with certain powers in the Act to prescribe standards in respect of temperatures, ventilation, lighting, washing facilities and so on, and to provide for exemptions. Clause 9 deals with the inspector's powers of entry to certain warehouses, and remedies a drafting defect in the 1937 Act. Clause 10 is for the purpose of clarifying the liability of the occupier or owner of the factory in the event of a contravention by some other person.

The remaining four clauses deal with a number of necessary miscellaneous amendments of the principal Act in connection with health, safety, hours of employment and so on, about which I will not trouble your Lordships. I may add that I think it is a remarkable tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and those associated with him in securing the passage of the 1937 Factories Act with its 160 sections and four Schedules, that all that is required to bring it up to date after ten years of operation, with all the changes which have taken place in industry, is the amendments set out in the present Bill. As I have explained, the Bill is mainly an amending one and is, I think, uncontro-versial. I trust it will pass through all its stages with little delay.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Viscount Hall.)

4.19 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that everybody here is grateful to the noble Viscount for the clear and full explanation which he has given of the miscellaneous clauses in this amending Bill. I am grateful to him for referring to the Factories Act, 1937, which, as the result of the co-operation of all Parties, was carried through another place and approved by your Lordships' House during my last term of office as Home Secretary. It certainly was a big Bill. I would call the attention of the House to the further circumstance that since the Act of 1901 there had never been a comprehensive Factories Act which professed to cover the whole ground. It was a great pity that not merely consolidation but also amendment was not undertaken before 1937.

However, the case for an amending and consolidating Act which included many improvements was overwhelming. They found time to deal with it in another place, and there was a long series of sessions in Committee upstairs. I am much gratified to think that the work in which I took a leading part has not called for more correction than is now indicated by this new Bill. I ought to add that before we parted with the Bill in the other place my office changed, and it was Lord Templewood who, as Home Secretary, completed the work from the ministerial Bench. There is another subject on which I am glad to dwell for a moment. I gather from what the noble Viscount has said that scrutiny of the great Act of 1937 has disclosed at present only one drafting mistake which it is desired to correct. Speaking from the point of view of one who is both an interpreter and, occasionally, a framer of the law, I think that that is rather a good record.

The provisions which are now commended to the House will, I feel quite sure, be received with general approval. I have made some inquiry in various quarters which might be specially interested, and I know that from the point of view of the Employers' Federation what is now suggested is regarded as entirely right and proper. It may not be the most important thing but, as we get older, I think we feel more and more the truth of the observation that people ought to be given an opportunity, even when they are at work, of sitting down when they can. It is a curious change in our outlook that whereas in 1937 the provision which we inserted was limited to women—and there is no doubt that it was designed particularly to provide for their supposed frailty—it is now thought proper, and quite rightly, to have a regulation that there should be suitable seating accommodation for people of either sex, when they have the opportunity of sitting down. I have no doubt that the most important matter in the Bill is that which was mentioned first—that there should be required by law a medical examination not merely of the young workers up to the age of sixteen (which was all we provided for in 1937) but also of all young persons, which means persons up to the age of eighteen. That is a very important reform and one which I hope will lead to a great deal of good for young people and for industry as a whole.

There is one other feature of the Bill to which I should like to call the attention of the House. There has been repeated in the production of this Bill what I regard as a most useful method; that is to say, in the First Schedule (which your Lordships will see on page 13) certain provisions of the principal Act, the Act of 1937, are reprinted in a continuous form, with special dark lettering to show where the changes have taken place. When I think of the countless times in my experience (such as it is) connected with the law, when I have had to try and piece together three words in an amending Act in the middle of one Statute and then four words from another, the relief which is given by printing this in a continuous form is something which I cannot overestimate. I believe that it is particularly valuable in industrial and social legislation of this sort, because we all want it to be available in a form which anybody can understand. That you will find on page 13. It is a comparatively new departure. I have called attention to it in one or two Pills recently, and I most heartily commend it.

It only remains for me to assure the noble Viscount and the Government that we on this side of the House, so far as I am able to judge, most warmly support the proposals which he makes, and we certainly do not wish to do anything to impede their being carried into law. Of course, after this, or after further small amendments in some years' time, there can be no doubt that the desirable step will be to have a reprint of the Factories Act, with all this material included, so that again there may be a single code such as there was in 1937, when we repealed everything in order to provide everybody with a new book. That, perhaps, will not come immediately, because these alterations, although important in themselves, are slight as compared with the large body of provisions which are to be found in the Act of 1937. I hope that all your Lordships in this House will agree with me in saying that we ought to welcome this Bill with all our hearts.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, I want to say only one or two words in welcoming this Bill. I would like to join with the noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading in paying a tribute to the great Factories Act of 1937. I have been fairly closely associated with it during the past few years, and in my view it was a most excellent document. Passing to this Bill, there are one or two points I would particularly like to stress. I would like, first, to welcome the extension of the medical examination of young people. I am quite sure that the more of that kind of thing that can be done, the more we shall be able to arrest adverse conditions in people before they become serious. We shall, moreover, be able to do a good deal to prevent serious, and possibly incurable, illnesses by tackling them early, which is the real function of the medical services.

The second point to which I would refer is this curious piece of sex equality to which the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, referred. I do not want to stress that point too heavily, but it always seemed to be rather peculiar that whereas a man was not supposed to sit down, a woman was encouraged to do so. I do not know why that was, but I am glad to see that that anomaly has been removed. Another feature that I regard as extremely encouraging is the power to deal with factories which were not constructed for their particular purpose—these so-called slum factories. But there are various buildings which cannot be called slum factories, but which are just as bad. I have in mind one particular case. During the war I was called on a Saturday afternoon to Hampstead, to a pleasant villa which had been taken over by a firm whose name I do not now remember. It was taken over for the purpose of making paint used on the luminous dials of aeroplanes. There was displayed a certain amount of radio active material which was being used, quite casually, in this otherwise normal Hampstead villa, complete with a garden; and no protection was available. I believe that this has been dealt with now, but factories of that sort, although not dangerous in the accepted sense—in that they are well lighted and have good facilities—are really no less undesirable, since there are no conditions for controlling their use of dangerous materials.

There is one other point that I would like to make. In Clause 14 there are provisions in regard to certain sections of the 1937 Act, amongst them being one dealing with lighting. I do not want to say much about that, but I think lighting is one of the features of factory life that does require a great deal of attention today. The lighting in these manufacturing buildings is not always convenient and comfortable for the factory workers, and I would ask whether some kind of investigation cannot be made in regard to that, so that proper lighting which will not be a strain on the eyes of the people working in those factories may be installed. This work, I think, could well be done at a cost which would not be prohibitive. I do not wish to take up any more of your Lordships' time, and I will end by repeating my cordial welcome for this Bill.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, my intervention in this debate will be fleeting, but in extending a welcome to this Bill, which marks another stage along the road towards increasing our industrial efficiency, I would like to make one or two observations upon that part of the measure which I think represents the greatest advance upon the Act of 1937. Clause 4 of this Bill extends the jurisdiction of courts of summary jurisdiction over conditions of welfare. This is a very welcome step, because it brings into the proper sphere of jurisdiction that class of factory to which my noble friend Lord Amulree has just referred—the slum factories—which infest so many of the cities and large towns of this country. I well remember how, just after the unfortunate town was blitzed, I went over some of the old jute factories in Dundee. In view of what I saw, I can quite understand how, if for no other reason, the decline and fall of the jute industry in Scotland has come about. I should imagine that the Black Hole of Calcutta was a place full of amenity compared with some of those factories.

Although we have made great progress in this country, and some of our most modern factories to-day are models of amenity, we still have to do something about those slum factories. They are not, I suggest, places in which human beings should work. I do not think it is sufficiently realised what a contribution a well-lit, well-ventilated factory can make to efficient production, both as regards quality and quantity. I feel certain that most modern employers who have studied factory lay-out have been staggered at the increase in efficiency which follows the adoption of proper lay-out. Although we can never make a good industrialist by Act of Parliament, at least we can prevent some of the employees having to work in some of the factories to which in years gone by they were obliged to go. I must confess, however—and I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, will not mind my saying this—that to me it seems somewhat ironical that advances such as these should be suggested at a time when so many obstacles are being placed in the way of industry carrying them out. I notice, in Clause 16, that Clause 4 comes into operation on October 1, 1948. I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to give your Lordships' House an assurance that all the permits required for factory reconditioning, and all the material necessary, will be available on that date. One cannot stress too much to-day that our future as an industrial country, competing in the markets of the world, will be measured to a major degree by the efficiency of our industrial equipment. I hope that this Bill, to which I personally give a very warm welcome, will take us one further stage in bringing that efficiency to its peak.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to address your Lordships upon this Bill for only two or three minutes. My first purpose is to congratulate the Government on finding time, amidst their many preoccupations, to bring this little measure before Parliament just now. Secondly, if I may, I would like to note the fact that this is the first Bill to come before this House for which the responsibility lies with the Minister of Labour. As the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, has told us, when he was responsible for the Bill in the other House it was as Home Secretary. During the war, my right honourable friend Mr. Ernest Bevin temporarily associated with the Ministry of Labour the work of Home Office factories inspection. That is a step which has been confirmed by the present Government, and I feel sure your Lordships will welcome their action in associating the work of factories inspection with that department dealing with welfare which the Ministry of Labour have been developing, and in linking it with the juvenile department. The work is to be further extended in another Bill which is now before another place and which deals with employment and training. That is a Bill to which I hope your Lordships will, in due course, give a great welcome.

I also desire to say that I hope the noble Viscount who is in charge of the Bill in your Lordships' House will associate himself with an expression of our view regarding the credit which is due to the Factory Inspectorate for the very valuable duties which they carried out during the war and which they have continued in the period that has followed. I do not think we can pay too high a tribute to those officials for the way in which they have carried out their work under very difficult conditions. As we know, with a very small staff they have had to cope with a large increase in the number of factories coming within their purview.

There is one further point that I would make in regard to the Bill—and I hope that I shall not be accused for being out of order in making such a comment. Some of us have been associated with offices for a long time, particularly with offices in which members of the Civil Service have to work. We wish only that we could have extended to offices some of the provisions which successive Governments extend to factories, at any rate as regards such matters as lighting, adequate seating, ventilation and accommodation generally. I hope that the permission to which my noble friend Lord Lucas referred, for this work in factories to be carried out in 1948, will result in substantial advances. I hope, too, that before their present term of office comes to an end, the Government may be disposed to consider the Report, which we hope the Committee appointed by the Home Office will present before long, dealing with evidence given on behalf of the Trades Union Congress and others in regard to the general conditions of office workers. Many of those workers feel that they are being left far behind factory workers as regards the condition of the premises in which they are employed.

With those few words I commend the Bill to your Lordships' House as one which seems to call for only general observations from any of us, and as one which I feel sure will receive a warm welcome from all quarters of your Lordships' House.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, it is left to me merely to express on behalf of my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour and myself our gratitude for the reception which has been given to this Bill in your Lordships' House. With regard to the point made by my noble friend Lord Lucas, as to the granting of licences and the provision of materials, I can assure him that, in view of the difficulties with which we are confronted at the present time, in relation to some of the buildings in question, we shall not exercise undue strictness. I thank your Lordships for the welcome you have given this measure.

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