HL Deb 06 March 1951 vol 170 cc811-30

2.41 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I noticed that the original Rag Flock Act was first before your Lordships' House forty years ago, in 1911. On reading the debate on that occasion I was impressed with the celerity with which your Lordships got through the business of the House in those days—less than seven minutes for the Second Reading, and less than four minutes for the remaining stages. But your Lordships' House did even better in 1928, on the second occasion when a similar Bill was before the House. All stages, including Second Reading, were disposed of in less than four minutes. I know that there are ten noble Lords who hope to-day that we shall not spend too much time on this Bill, because they are anxious to take us round Carlton House Terrace. I can promise them that it is not my intention to delay the proceedings for more than a minimum of time.

Since the days of 1911 and 1928, we have the distinct advantage of the very helpful Report of the inter-Departmental Committee on Rag Flock Acts. I know that noble Lords who have had the time and inclination to read this Report would wish me to pay tribute to all the members of the Committee, and in particular to its Chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr. It is a most helpful Report, and I think I may say that seldom has a Bill kept more faithfully to a Report than this Bill does. It does not attempt to do all that is suggested in the Report, but there are few matters of any importance which are not included in the Bill. The Report was completed in 1946, and the Bill has been introduced in Parliament in 1951. It may be of help to say at once that the only reason for what looks like a long delay has been very heavy pressure on Parliamentary time.

The first question that arises—at least, it is the question that I have been asked by many noble Lords present—is what exactly we mean by rag flock. I can assure your Lordships that I, too, asked that question, and I received an official reply—which I believe is the best type of reply—which, paraphrased, is that rag flock is the result of a process of tearing up woven or knitted or felted materials. Some of these materials may be clean, others oftimes are dirty; some are new and some are very old. The tearing-up process is done by a machine known as a laniator, which tears the materials into shreds so that they emerge as a fluffy resilient mass. That is the reply I have received, and I hope it satisfies all your Lordships. To cleanse these materials thoroughly, as your Lordships will appreciate, costs more than to leave the flock in a dirty condition—and that is at the root of this Bill. According to the Merthyr Report, dirty flock can be produced for about £4 to £5 a ton less than a properly washed flock. Your Lordships will appreciate the temptation there, but I am sure you will agree that it is entirely wrong that those who are using or producing dirty fillings should have a financial advantage over those who are using or producing clean fillings. There is also a health aspect which ought not to be ignored. Dirt and disease are still connected, and this form of dirt, besides containing dust, must contain, in the words of the Merthyr Report—in an expressive but not very attractive phrase—"much infection, filth and excreta."

The present position of the law as regards rag flock is that it is an offence to sell or use, or have for sale or use, rag flock which falls below a prescribed standard. There is a defence on grounds of warranty. Local sanitary authorities have the duty of enforcement. But the passing of time has shown clearly that such safeguards are inadequate. For instance, in the first place, the requirement applies only to rag flock used or to be used in upholstery, cushions or bedding. But all filling materials of which there is any substantial use should be clean; the range of articles in which they are used and which is covered by the law as it stands should not be so limited, and clearly those articles also should be controlled. One might group together certain administrative weaknesses: too limited powers of entry, inadequate penalties, and so forth. There is a further weakness in the existing law, not emphasised by the Merthyr Committee but with which we are trying to deal in this Bill, and this explains the form of the new Bill in certain respects. In the existing law a man's intentions have to be proved, and, as your Lordships know, it is never very easy to do that. In the Bill that difficulty has in most places been avoided. Lastly, there is the difficulty of prescribing an adequate test. This is a weakness not so much of the Act itself, but in the administration, and it has largely been remedied by the ingenuity and public spirit of a number of persons associated with an institution which ought to be named in this House—namely, the British Standards Institution, a body which is doing a fine job of work to ensure cleanliness.

With regard to the provisions of the Bill, they provide in the main for registration and licensing. Premises where upholstery and kindred activities are to be carried on must be registered with the local authority. Premises where rag flock is to be made or stored for use in upholstery are to be licensed by the local authority. The difference between the terms "registration" and "licence" is simply this: premises will be registered unconditionally on demand; premises will be licensed unless they are lacking in adequate appliances or are part of a building another part of which "involves or may involve the use or keeping of rag flock." Here we need to be quite clear beyond any possibility of being misunderstood. If the rag flock makers intend to make rag flock for use in upholstery, they must get a licence; if they intend to make rag flock for some other purpose, they need not get a licence. To complete the control, rag flock can be used in upholstery only if it comes from licensed premises. It may be said that little or no rag flock is made to-day except for upholstery. There is much truth in that statement. The importance of the provisions lies, however, in the fact that they make it impossible—and this has been happening—for a man to produce dirty rag flock for upholstery and to pretend that he was producing it for some other purpose.

May I recapitulate? First of all, filling materials on premises used for upholstery must be clean. To that, no objection can be taken. Secondly, the upholsterer must get his rag flock from licensed premises; and, thirdly, all rag flock in licensed premises must be clean. Thus, no proof of intention is required as it is at present under the Act. The licensing provisions are made specially applicable to rag flock because of the special problems of con-trolling its manufacture and cleansing. Registration and licensing will also help the authorities to enforce the Act. They can enter and inspect such premises, and take samples and have them tested; and on all such premises records must be kept which will help the authorities to track down any offending material to its source. The Merthyr Committee referred to the inadequate powers of entry. In the Bill wider powers are given which include power to enter premises where the authority have reasonable grounds for thinking that the Act should apply.

Many of the machinery provisions of the Bill follow the general lines of the Food and Drugs Act, 1938. It has been said by a number of your Lordships that, as compared with the present Rag Flock Acts, the Bill increases the number of things which are made criminal offences. That is true, but it cannot be put forward as a ground for objecting to the Bill. Existing legislation had so narrow an application that it was ineffective, and the Merthyr Committee recommended, and the Bill proposes, that the legislation should apply at all relevant stages of the manufacturing and distributing process, and to all materials commonly used for upholstery, et cetera, the purpose being to give general protection to the consumer. Without such provisions the Bill would be far less effective. It must be possible to deal with salesmen dealing in articles containing dirty materials. Any other course would mean less protection to the public, and would be unfair on the good upholstery firms and the manufacturers of clean rag flock. Let it be clearly understood by your Lordships that this Bill in no way penalises any salesman who deals with reputable firms of upholsterers and secures proper warranties. But if he deals knowingly in articles containing dirty materials, then such conduct, as I feel sure your Lordships will agree, should be covered by the Bill.

There are three matters with which the Bill does not deal in the way sometimes advocated. One concerns second-hand articles. This question has been given careful study, and it has been discovered that it would be almost impossible to deal effectively with them. But, of course, a new article which is stuffed with filling material taken from second-hand articles is not itself second-hand, and the Bill will apply to such an article. Then there is the question of imports. There is no restriction on the actual importation of filling materials. But those which are used in upholstery and kindred trades, or stored in licensed premises, must be clean. It will be noticed that cleanliness is the outstanding feature of the Bill right through. In the case of a warranty given by someone outside the United Kingdom, the person who relies on it must prove that he had taken reasonable steps to ascertain, and did in fact believe in, the accuracy of the statement in it. Imported materials will thus become subject to control as soon as they enter the channel of production for upholstery and so forth.

The Bill also departs from the Merthyr Committee's recommendations as to labelling or marking, and the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, has indicated that he will make reference to this matter. The reason is that at this very moment the President of the Board of Trade is considering legislation of a much wider and more general scope in regard to marking at the present time. Clearly, we do not want to overlap, and anything left undone which ought to be done in this Bill can, we have no doubt, be taken up in that wider context—which will doubtless refer to quality as well as to cleanliness.

Since the Merthyr Committee reported, there is one activity which has taken place to which I ought to refer. As a result of the enthusiasm of people in the trade itself—both management and workers—and in the Board of Trade, a remarkable development relating to utility furniture and bedding has taken place. It works under the ægis of the British Standards Institution, which has succeeded in establishing standard cleanliness specifications and methods of testing for a wide range of filling materials. This is in addition to the original Fenton test, mentioned in the Merthyr Report, for rag flock which has been refined and improved upon. The vast majority of actual producers of filling materials co-operate in a scheme under which the British Standards Institution inspectors inspect their machinery and test their products, and a B.S.I. certificate is given only to those who come up to standard: this certificate can then be shown in a mark on the product. This scheme has received the official backing of the Board of Trade in its Orders controlling utility furniture, et cetera. The present Bill will not prevent that good work going on. In administering this Bill when enacted, the Government will encourage local authorities to work in with the scheme—within the framework of the Act. In prescribing test and standards under the Bill the Minister will keep in close touch with the British Standards Institution, and will place great reliance on the standards that they have worked out. I have given, as briefly as possible, a rough outline of the Bill, and I trust that it will meet with the approval of your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor)

2.58 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to welcome this Bill I should like first to say a word of thanks to the noble Lord who has moved the second reading for his kindly reference to the Committee over which I had the honour to preside. This Committee started work in 1938 but, like many others, were interrupted by the war; and it was not until 1946 that we were able to complete our task. Therefore, including the interruption, it took eight years. When I was asked to be Chairman of the Committee the first thing I had to do was to look in the dictionary to see the meaning of the words "rag flock." After doing so. I protested that I was unfitted for the task, because I knew nothing of the subject. I gathered from the reply that I received that that was exactly what was wanted, and that what was wanted was a strictly impartial chairman.

May I say—and I am very pleased to say it—that I think a great deal is owed to all those experts (because, other than myself, the members were all experts in one way or another) who sat on the Committee? There were fourteen gentlemen, who have not been named to-day, and I think a debt of gratitude is owed to all of them. I remember that four of them were Doctors of Medicine, and there were experts in many other fields. After I had learned some of the language which these experts were talking, we got along very well, in spite of the long delay, and we were able to produce a unanimous Report. I think the Government are to be congratulated on introducing this Bill, when they are so preoccupied, as we all know, in many other graver matters. The noble Lord half apologised for the fact that five years had elapsed since the publication of the Report. I always understood that the average length of time for the Report of a Royal Commission or Departmental Committee to appear in the shape of legislation was thirty years—so I think that on this occasion the average has been satisfactorily reduced.

I learned much from the work of that Committee. I learned that in a certain rather congested area of the country there is a very useful and honourable trade being carried on, an industry that does not come much into the eye of the public but which, nevertheless, fulfils a most useful function. We visited one or two factories where rag flock is made. We saw redundant clothes (some of them very redundant) going in at one end of the machine and rag flock coming out at the other. What we saw there persuaded us without any difficulty of the importance of this subject and of the necessity for legislation on these lines. There is no doubt how important it is to prevent the small amount of dishonest practice that may go on in the preparation of upholstery, bedding and other furniture filling materials. Therefore I think that this Bill is very necessary and very welcome. Consideration of the matter certainly opened my eyes to a number of things. I wonder whether, in assessing the importance of this matter, your Lordships have considered the fact that we all spend at least a third of our lives reclining on some form of material filled with rag flock or the various other fillings enumerated in Clause 32 of the Bill. We are all apt to take for granted the upholstery, pillows, cushions and so forth, in the furniture we buy, but one has only to consider this question a little to realise the risks that the public run. The most discerning housewife cannot be expected properly to inspect the inside of every piece of furniture and such materials which she has purchased Even in your Lordships' House, how many noble Lords know with what material the Benches we occupy are filled? Is it not a fact that a few years ago one of our less responsible but more popular newspapers discovered that the Woolsack was entirely innocent of wool? The matter was, I understand, very hurriedly remedied by the department of the noble Lord the Lord Great Chamberlain.

I think that this Bill will do a good deal to make it easier for people to buy clean materials. The legal doctrine caveat emptor might be very difficult to apply in this particular instance, where it is impossible to see exactly what you are buying—at any rate without causing at least some material damage to the article concerned. And when the article is opened up and it is found to be perfectly clean, the question arises, who is to pay for the damage? Therefore, I think that if there is a case where the public should be protected by the State by means of legislation of this nature, this is that case. It is imperative to establish and to keep the confidence of the general public in all articles of this nature; and it has been found, as the noble Lord has said, that the Acts of 1911 and of 1928 have not been found adequate for the purpose.

One of the principal difficulties is to decide what is meant by the word "clean." It is extremely difficult to define. I gather from medical experts that in this particular connection it has never been proved that disease has resulted from dirty fillings. I understand that two noble Lords who have studied this question from the medical angle are to speak to-day. It will be interesting to hear their views. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to understand how desirable it is that all kinds of fillings should be clean. The next difficulty is bound up with the proper study of cleanliness. I hope that whatever standards are laid down will be kept very elastic, because as time goes on and experience is gained it may be possible to raise these standards; and if the standards are laid down too rigidly, either in an Act of Parliament or elsewhere, we shall suffer because they cannot be easily altered. I think it is of the utmost importance that they should be elastic so that they can be raised or lowered, as the case may require. If they are too high it may be harsh and hard on the trade; if they are too low the public are not adequately protected. Therefore, let us make it possible to adjust the standards easily so that they are just right.

Since our Report was published in 1946, much has happened, as the noble Lord who introduced the Bill here has indicated. The noble Lord made sympathetic reference—and I am glad he did—to the British Standards Institution which, I understand, is a public organisation, having the support of the Government, though it is not a Government Department or a part of one. I should be the first to agree that some Amendments are necessary, not only to the Bill but also to the proposals put forward by the Committee. The Bill is largely based on the Report of an inter-Departmental Committee, and the noble Lord has mentioned one or two ways in which it departs from that Report. He mentioned one point that I was going to raise, that of labelling. After hearing his explanation of the provisions made in the Bill, however, I am perfectly satisfied; I did not know, until he spoke, the reason for this omission. If this labelling requirement can be made general, and not applied only to this particular class of article, we shall all be better satisfied.

I hope that in one particular, the Government will seriously consider making even further use of the British Standards Institution. I hope that this Bill may ensure that, so far as the licensing of manufacturers' premises is concerned, a licence should be obtained not from the local authority but from the British Standards Institution—or, as a second best, that if it must be obtained from the local authority, then the grant of a licence to a manufacturer of rag flock will be automatic if the manufacturer has already obtained a licence from the British Standards Institution. I feel that the British Standards Institution is in a better position than even the best of the local authorities to judge as to the standards of manufacture and cleanliness. I admit that what I am saying now is slightly contrary to the Report, but the reason is simply that during the last five years there have been these developments and improvements.

There are one or two other points I wish to make. In the first place, it is important to realise that, relatively speaking, the use of rag flock is diminishing—not actually, but relatively. In the old days, perhaps fifty or more years ago, almost all upholstery was filled with rag flock. Now there are a great number of other materials—about twenty of them are enumerated in Clause 32 of the Bill—and, relatively, they are displacing rag flock. Consequently, I venture to suggest that at least some of those other materials should occupy a higher place in this Bill. In particular, I should like to see hair and feathers, to name only two, included in Clause 4, because your Lordships will appreciate that hair and feathers get very dirty and can be difficult to clean. I feel that it is important that the relative positions of some of these materials should be reviewed. In fact, I go so far as to suggest that the Title of this Bill should be altered; that it should not be called the Rag Flock Act (because that is what it will be called), but that the words "Rag Flock" should be omitted from the Title which should be, when it is passed into law, the Filling Materials Act. I believe that that Title would be more correct, more comprehensive and less misleading than the present Title. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he will be good enough to consider that suggestion on its merits.

The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, has mentioned the penalties in Clause 17. I agree with him that nobody wants a large number of prosecutions under this Bill. If the machinery which I have suggested is adopted, if licensing is done by the British Standards Institution, which, as the noble Lord said, has the support of all sides of the industry, then I believe that the number of prosecutions will be few, because it is only a small group or proportion of people who are getting on the wrong side of the law in this matter. On the other hand, I think that the penalties in Clause 17 are too low. After all, one may find that once in a while a large firm is involved, and it seems to me that in the rare event of a large firm being convicted a fine of £50 is much too small a maximum penalty. There is no necessity for the maximum to be imposed, but I feel that in these days, when the value of money has changed, the maximum penalties should be substantially increased. I will not detain the House longer upon the Second Reading of this Bill. On the whole, I think it is a very good Bill. I hope that it will be passed into law and that some, at least, of the points which I have made will be favourably considered by His Majesty's Government before the Bill reaches its further stages and is sent to another place.

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, we have now heard both the Government spokesman introducing this measure and the Chairman of the Committee upon whose Report it is so largely based. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, that we ought all to sympathise with him in the large amount of work he must have had to do as Chairman of this Committee. I was one of those who had the time (to use the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald's, words), if not the inclination, to read through this Report from cover to cover when I knew that I should be dealing with this Bill. I am glad to think that your Lordships are taking more time about it than was the case with the two earlier Bills, as we were told by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald. In fact, he himself, I think, exceeded the time which was taken on both measures on the earlier occasions in your Lordships' House.

The noble Lord gave us a definition of rag flock. Of course, a number of your Lordships wondered what rag flock was. One of my colleagues said: "I suppose it is the same thing in sheep as a scrub bull is in cattle." But that was not, of course, the definition that we were given this afternoon. We shall all agree that one of the things we ought to ensure is that no unclean material finds its way into mattresses, pillows, toys or any article of that kind. I am not sure that the Title, "Rag Flock And Other Filling Materials Bill" is not rather widely drawn. As at present drawn it seems to me that it includes the meat in a sausage, and the tobacco in a cigarette, to name just two examples of things with which, obviously, this measure is not intended to deal.

In this case, if the British Standards Institution are right, we are dealing with only 5 per cent., for the remaining 95 per cent. of the filling materials now used for the articles with which this Bill is intended to deal are, I am told, perfectly clean. But it is important to deal with the other 5 per cent. No one wishes the manufacturers of the filling, or indeed those making articles out of the filling, to get away with a cheaper article because they market goods which are not clean. I have my doubts whether we are not rather using a sledgehammer to knock in a small tintack, with the amount of registration and everything else that is provided for in this measure. If I may say so, and I think all Parties have been guilty of this, we are inclined to put more and more duties upon local authorities, and not realise that that means the employment of more staff and an increase in the rates. When we have this Bill passed into law, it will give the local sanitary inspectors an opportunity of saying: "I must increase my staff." So, from those points of view, in these days when economy is more and more essential in view of our rearmament programme, we ought to consider whether we are not using too elaborate a machinery to cure an evil—though an evil which I believe is not a very extensive one, because, after all, the majority of the manufacturers and traders in this country are honest men, and will not sell unclean material.

I should have thought that if we increased the amount of the penalties, and said that it was illegal to use for any article (I am not now using a definition that could be inserted in the Bill) a filling which was unclean, that might well suffice to cure the 5 per cent. who may be offending at the present time. In regard to the majority of cases, I should have thought that we could rely on the factory inspectors and their staff, who are extremely good, and who have the right of entry into any manufacturing premises at any time, to report if they considered that the articles from a particular place needed to be inspected as being likely not to be clean. However, those are perhaps matters that we should look into on Committee stage.

The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, said that he thought it was greatly to the credit of the Government that, when they were preoccupied with grave matters, they introduced a Bill of this sort. In my experience, when the Government of the day are preoccupied with grave matters of administration they have a tendency to wish to keep Parliament quiet by pulling Bills out of pigeon-holes to give Parliament something to talk about. This looks to me like a Bill that has come out of some such pigeon-hole of the Ministry of Health. The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, suggested—and there may be something in his suggestion—that the British Standards Institution should be the body to approve or license (I am not certain which word is applicable), the manufacturers, since the Institution had the support of all sides of the industry. I am not sure that that is quite right. Although they are a much respected body, I have heard that the committee which deals with matters of this kind is not representative of the whole industry, and that in justice there would have to be some alteration in the membership of that committee before these powers could properly be entrusted to it.

I have three other points to raise. I shall be raising them on the Committee stage, and it may be of advantage if I just refer to them now. I believe that Clause 1 will put the small artisan upholsterer out of business—I refer to the men who come round to a person's own house and re-stuff the sofa or mattress, or whatever it may be. In nearly every case the mattress or sofa, or whatever it is, needs some additional filling put in after it has been used for some time; and that will not now be allowed except on registered premises. There are a number of cases where it is much cheaper for the householder to have this work done at home. Indeed, I think we do not want to stamp out the trade in which the small man comes round, in town or village, and re-stuffs furniture in a person's own house. I am not suggesting that the man should be allowed to take the work to his own premises—that would make too big a loophole. But I think we ought to have an Amendment to allow this work to be done in the house or on the premises of the person wanting the work done; otherwise, as Clause 1 is at present drawn, we shall put a lot of these worthy craftsmen out of business.

My Lords, I take a slightly different view from that of the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, about how the standard of cleanliness should be prescribed. In the Bill it is left to be done by Regulation or Order in Council, or by some other procedure. I do not know whether the Ministry of Health are responsible—


The Ministry of Local Government and Planning.


At any rate, it was the Ministry of Health. I believe the Ministry have had plenty of time to ascertain the proper standard of cleanliness and to provide for it in the measure. I do not like the main ingredients of a criminal offence not to be dealt with in the measure which we are passing but to be left to subsequent regulations. That is fundamentally a bad thing. This Bill establishes something as a criminal offence and I do not think that criminal offences should be easily variable by regulations. If in ten or twenty years a new standard arises, by all means amend the Act and let everybody know. The manufacturer is put in the position of perhaps buying and equipping his factory with machinery which will produce stuff according to the standard of cleanliness required, and he ought to have a little security against the possibility that within a year or eighteen months all that expense will be made void because some other standard of cleanliness is adopted. With all the advice and authoritative knowledge which Government Departments can obtain, they ought by this time to have established a standard of cleanliness which can be laid down in the Bill itself. After all, since 1948 the British Standards Institution has had a standard of cleanliness which I gather has been quite effective.

I should like to ask one question in regard to Clause 4—namely, whether as drafted it means that no one may clean rag flock who also uses it as a filling material. So far as I can see, rag flock used for filling must come from a licensee store or other licensed premises, and I should have thought there was no real harm in the people who use rag flock cleansing it themselves, if necessary. I dislike Clause 6 (6) and Clause 7 (5). If a man is pat out of his business the only appeal is to a Ministry. I am not saying anything critical of the Ministries, but the man in the Ministry who will deal with this matter will almost certainly know the local sanitary inspector and will say, "If that is what the sanitary inspector recommends, I cannot do anything else than uphold him when the matter comes to me." That, again, is no real appeal. The person who is being refused or who is losing his licence is put out of business without any openly heard appeal. It is merely an appeal which is placed on a file at a Ministry and is dealt with by some official there. That is not the kind of thing I like to see. If there is any real ground of appeal the man should have an appeal to a court, and the local sanitary inspector would know that he has to give his evidence there. That has a good effect; if he knows that he can be cross-examined in open court it may make him rather more careful of putting some firm out of business. That has always been our system, and I hope it will continue to be. I know that Lord Merthyr's Committee recommended the course that has been adopted in this Bill, and said that it would give some measure of uniformity, but I do not believe that that is the way to get uniformity. The right way is for the Ministry concerned to send round circulars to the health authorities in the different districts, and give them, in those circulars, the general line on which it is suggested they should proceed. If that is done, uniformity will be secured.

Clause 9 and Clause 19 both gave me some amusement when I read them. I see that a sheriff or a bailiff, if he has taken any goods in satisfaction of a writ of execution, may do what he likes with them. He can sell them just as he likes, even though they may be known to be unclean. It amused me to read in Clause 19 that a local authority can dispose of any articles which are found to be unclean "in such manner as they think fit." That, of course, is very wide. If the clause said, "may destroy them," there would be something to be said for it. Actually, the words have a much wider meaning than that, because they give the local authority power to use the goods in question in "such manner as they think lit." This might mean that if the authorities of this House were not as cautious as we know they are, some of these goods might be sold to us and used to stuff the Woolsack on which the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor sits.

Those are a few brief observations on. the drafting of the Bill. I am not suggesting that we are getting into such a bureaucratic state that we are allowing local authorities to sell the material to anyone. I think it is the case, simply, that there has been a mistake in the drafting in this connection; I do not accuse the Government of anything beyond that. The only other thing I wish to mention, in passing, is that I should have thought that Clause 13 was wrong. True, this is only a Committee point but I should have thought that it was always the third sample which was used in the court proceedings. I have always understood that one sample was retained by the local authority, one was handed to the supplier and the third kept to produce in court. As I say, that is a Committee point and it is one on which I shall put in an Amendment at the Committee stage; but I thought it was just as well to draw attention to it now. Let me say at once that we are not going to oppose this measure on Second Reading. We all want to see nothing but clean filling materials used. We all want to see that no one gets away with any laxity in this connection; we want to ensure that people who use filling materials are not provided with dirty ones, and that the manufacturers of such materials give a real and proper service to their customers. There are some points into which we shall wish to go carefully during the Committee stage, and these I have outlined to your Lordships to-day. But, so far as we on these Benches are concerned, this Bill, will, of course, get a Second Reading this afternoon.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we here give a very warm welcome to the Bill which is before us now. It is a comparatively simple measure and is certainly not of a controversial nature. There are just one or two points which I should like to make, First, I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, that it is a case of taking rather a big weapon to deal with a comparatively small trouble. No one would deny that it is very important that filling materials should be clean, but we have to be careful that we take the steps we deem necessary not purely as a health matter. It is a strange and curious thing that, so far as I know, there is no evidence at all that any sickness or disease has been brought about by people having filling materials which are not up to the standard here laid down. The point is extremely well put by Lord Merthyr in paragraph 16 of his Committee's Report. In that paragraph it is said that from an æsthetic point of view it is repugnant that one should have one's chairs or upholstery filled with filthy material. That seems to me to be a very telling point and what we are trying to do by this measure is to ensure that nothing of the sort shall happen. That is the main purpose of the Bill.

I have been rather worried—and perhaps the noble Lord who is going to reply can enlighten me on this point—about the rather stringent powers of entry which the Bill gives. This matter is dealt with in Clause 12. Your Lordships will see that it is there stated that an authorised officer of a local authority can enter premises for various reasons which are given in four paragraphs. I am not sure that those reasons are not rather exaggerated. I admit that similar powers of entry are given in the Public Health Act, 1936, but that measure deals with much more serious matters than are dealt with by this Bill. Perhaps some explanation of that point will be given when the noble Lord who is to speak for the Government replies to the debate. Another matter which I think rather strange—I do not know whether it has ever occurred before—is that Clause 15 provides that an authorised officer from a local authority may go into the province of another local authority to inspect premises there. I admit that that can be done only with the consent of the other local authority, but it seems to me rather breaking down something in local government if officers from one local authority can go into the area of a neighbouring authority and do work which they could do themselves. I should like to conclude by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, on the fact that his Report, even though it has been pigeon-holed for some time, appears now to have been taken out and made good use of.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I desire to ask the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government one or two questions. Clause 35 of this Bill deals with the application of the Bill to Scotland. In Clause 11 is laid down the duty of local authorities to enforce the measure. By subsection (3) of Clause 11 it is provided that: Nothing in this section shall be construed as authorising a local authority in Scotland to institute proceedings for an offence against this Act. If the authorities in Scotland cannot institute proceedings, how can they enforce the Act? What is the object of making this exception in the case of Scotland? I do not understand why Scotland should be treated in this way, if authorities elsewhere have power to enforce the measure.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, the welcome that has been given to this Bill is certainly satisfactory to noble Lords in all quarters of the House. It seems to me to be a very useful measure, and by its reception this afternoon it is guaranteed a passage through this House and a place on the Statute Book. If the time were available one might spend a considerable period in developing points which have been raised in the discussion. But, as your Lordships know, another discussion is to follow this. Therefore, I shall have to abbreviate my remarks as much as possible in dealing with the matters which have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, has already been thanked by my noble friend Lord Macdonald, and I also give him my thanks for the extremely good work he did as Chairman of that Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, suggested that licensing might be done not by the local authority but by the British Standards Institution. That is an interesting suggestion which will have to be explored In detail at the Committee stage. His other suggestion in regard to the Title of the Bill is also a matter that can be considered then. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, said that everyone is agreed that no unclean material should be used for fillings. For the members of your Lordships' House, and for the general public, that is true; but those who use unclean filling in upholstery and bedding do not agree, because they find it profitable to do so. In past years, as a doctor, I saw something of the conditions in this work, and it was alarming. The noble Lord said that we are dealing with only 5 per cent. of the trade. I do not pretend to know whether 5 per cent. is an exact figure or not. I agree that not a large percentage is involved, although undoubtedly it is a percentage which; needs control.

The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, also put forward a number of points in Clause 1. The first was the question of whether artisan upholsterers would be put out of business by the Bill. That is a matter which can, if necessary, be safeguarded by a suitable Amendment at the Committee stage. He also brought up a point with regard to the standard of cleanliness, and that I think is also a Committee point. On Clauses 9 and l9, he suggested that the local authorities might use their powers to sell material. It seems to me that the noble Lord does not give sufficient consideration to the good intention of the local authorities; no authority will be likely to do that kind of thing.


My Lords, the point I made was that here we put in words that would allow them to do so. I believe the words are meant to cover only the destroying of material known to be unclean, and if that is all we mean, that is all we should say. I cast no reflection on the local authorities. But I think we should word Acts of Parliament to say what we mean.


I did not gather that the noble Lord was casting reflections on the local authorities, but I thought he had overlooked the fact that the local authorities had already disapproved of the use of these materials, and were therefore hardly likely to do the work themselves. With regard to the question about samples of testing, I think that is also a Committee point. The noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen and Temair, asked me why the procedure was different in Scotland. It is because in Scotland all proceedings are taken by the Crown.

The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, considered that the powers of entry given in the Bill are too wide. It is necessary for the powers of entry to be considerable. One of the reasons for the introduction of the Bill is that it has been found that the powers of entry given under the provisions of the 1911 Act are not sufficient. The power now proposed would not be used unless there was very good reason for it, but authority has to be given, so that the power may be used when required. The noble Lord also raised the question of the officers of one authority going into the area of another authority. That may be a novelty, but to my mind it is an advantage, as an economy of convenience. That brings me to another point brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, who asked whether it would be necessary to have larger staffs. It is clearly laid down in the Report of the Merthyr Committee, which went into this matter in some detail, that the amount of additional work would not make necessary the engaging of additional staff, and that it could be done by the staff of the local authorities. I have tried briefly to sum up the debate. I think that we can now proceed with the Second Reading, and all these matters can be gone into in the necessary detail at the Committee stage.

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