HL Deb 19 May 1960 vol 223 cc1061-73

3.14 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill, which I hope will commend itself to your Lordships' House, was given a Second Reading in the House of Commons on December 11. It was opposed on that occasion by the Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of the Home Office, but the Motion was carried, and indeed it was pleasing to note that four Conservative Members of another place voted for the Second Reading. Subsequently, the Government, I think most properly, said in Committee that they would accept the decision of the House, and they indeed made a Money Resolution available which was necessary if the Bill was to proceed. No major changes were made in Committee, and the Third Reading was duly passed. It is probable that at a later date a major Bill will be introduced by Her Majesty's Government which will embody those recommendations of the Gowers Report which are not covered in this Bill.

The Bill has had a long history. It was first introduced, I think, by Mr. C. W. Bowerman as long ago as 1910, and since then it has frequently been introduced into Parliament, but without success, until this occasion; though as the Bills were considered some quite minor concessions were made by the Governments of the day and the Ministry of Health issued circulars about them. One occasion when it was introduced was in 1937, by our late colleague, Lord Ammon, then Mr. C. G. Ammon; and there was another occasion when it was introduced by another Member of the House of Commons, in 1958. That was the last occasion until this Bill came to us. So it has had a long history and a long discussion, and I think that we would now generally agree that, as the Factories Acts cover industrial workers in many respects for their protection in the factories, it is right that clerks and other people who work in offices should have a similar, or at any rate a substantial, degree of protection as regards amenities and safety; so that this Bill seems to me to be reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances.

There was a survey carried out in the City of Liverpool about the condition of offices—there has been no national—survey and the Corporation of Liverpool found that as regards washing facilities only 176 occupiers, which represented 65 per cent., had wash hand basins, and of these 109 had no hot water laid on. In 189 offices 70 per cent. of the staff had mid-day meals at their desks, 15 offices had room for tea and sandwiches, and 6 of these provided meals. Only 38 per cent. had a drinking water supply in their own office, and 16 firms had no drinking water at all. This revealed an unsatisfactory situation in the City of Liverpool, and I have no doubt that approximately the same result would have been found in a considerable number of the cities of our country.

Lighting has been found by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research to be somewhat imperfect. There is overcrowding in a number of the offices and, unfortunately, sanitary accommodation is extensively deficient. It would seem reasonable that there should be an immediate provision of sanitary accommodation, which is not properly provided for at this time. So the Gowers Committee did a useful work and indeed made recommendations more extensive than those which are covered in the Bill.

A number of letters have been received by my honourable friend who introduced the Bill in the House of Commons, some of which reveal a very sad state of affairs. One is from the wife of the chairman of a company. He was shocked when he found it was from his wife, and she, too, is shocked about it. It reveals a very serious state of affairs. Indeed, the lady says in a letter to "Dear Woman's Hour"—these women's papers seem to have been taking an interest in this matter: I wonder if he"— that is, the Member who was criticising the Bill, knows that in at least one apparently palatial office block (built between the wars) where the office accommodation, is superb the room marked 'Ladies' has three lavatories with partitions which do not reach the ceiling and three wash-hand basins lined up against the nearest lavatory partition which also does not reach the ceiling. And does he know that when he is given a cup of tea or a glass of sherry in one of the grand offices, his cup and glass have to be washed up in one of these hand-basins? Another lady who has been working in an office says: On entering the building (three storeys high) one is met with clean, highly polished floors, this continues up to the first floor on which the partners' offices are situate. This is as far as the client sees. As soon as you leave the first floor and ascend to the second you are met by plain stairs, with no lino or covering whatsoever. This next floor is where the partners' secretaries are, three in one room hardly big enough to swing a cat. Should the boss be out and a telephone call comes through, you have to leave the room and take the call on an old chest on the landing. Whilst taking the call you learn to keep your eyes glued to the floor in case one of the many hundreds of rats (or are they exceptionally lane mice) run across the floor. Those conditions ought not to exist and I am sure that these troubles will meet with your Lordships' sympathetic consideration.

There is another lady, who writes to "Dear May Abbott", who says: Three women (including myself) had to work all day at the back of the shop where there was no daylight, ventilation, fresh air or sunshine at all. The only illumination was a miserable, naked electric bulb. This lady worked there in the middle of the summer. She says: You can imagine how hot and stuffy the place was. On top of all that, there were some stags' heads hung up which sported thick layers of dust and I was told that undoubtedly they would fall to pieces if anybody dared to try and dust them. I may say that these ladies left that employment and got a job where facilities were rather better. I have mentioned these considerations to your Lordships because it is serious that these conditions should exist in the year 1960; and I feel it is right that there should be reasonable protection for the employed persons who are concerned.

I will very briefly summarise the provisions in the Bill. Clause 1 proceeds by enabling regulations to be made by the Secretary of State—which is probably a better procedure than setting out the details in the Statute itself. The Secretary of State may make regulations for the provision of "sufficient and suitable sanitary conveniences," with separate accommodation for persons of each sex; the provision of adequate and suitable facilities for washing which shall include soap and clean towels or other suitable means of cleaning and drying; for the prevention of overcrowding; the provision of sufficient and suitable lighting; the provision of reasonable temperature; the provision of effective and suitable methods of maintaining adequate ventilation, and the provision of adequate and suitable accommodation for clothing not worn by employees during working hours; and to ensure that the offices shall be kept clean. It is provided that the Secretary of State may make regulations for the provision of efficient means of escape in the event of fire; to ensure the provision of adequate supplies of drinking water; for the maintenance of first-aid equipment; for the inspection and maintenance of electrical equipment and to provide for the fencing of dangerous parts of any machinery or equipment used in offices.

I think it is perfectly right, therefore, that in the Bill it is provided that before making regulations the Secretary of State should consult such organisations as appear to be involved. Those would, of course, include bodies representing the employers, and the trade unions or the Trades Union Congress. It is also provided in the Bill, in order to protect the rights of Parliament (as these are extensive powers for the making of regulations), that regulations shall be made by statutory instrument and that such regulations shall not be effective or in force unless a draft has been laid before Parliament and approved by a Resolution of each House of Parliament. That, I believe, protects our Parliamentary institutions. In a case of proceedings against a person it shall be a defence for the person charged to prove that he used all due diligence to secure compliance with the provisions.

Those are the main provisions of the Bill. Clause 5 deals with the possibilities of accidents, and their notification in writing to the proper authorities. In the case of a factory covered by the Factories Acts, to avoid the need for two sets of inspectors to enter the building it is provided that this part of the Bill, when it becomes an Act, shall be administered by inspectors under the authority of the Minister of Labour. It is also provided that any person admitted to an office for the purposes of the Bill who improperly discloses anything about the work that is going on there may be subject to penalties. The penalties for offences under the Bill are set out in Clause 10.

In the definition clause (Clause 12), we have the definition of those authorities who will employ these inspectors. It is provided that in England and Wales (except the Administrative County of London) the authority to enforce the Act—and it is a duty upon them to enforce it—shall be the council of a county borough or county district. That leaves out the county councils, and I imagine the reason is that the officers who are to enforce the Act will be public health inspectors, who used to be called "sanitary inspectors", and they are employed by county boroughs and county districts and not by county councils. Similarly, as regards the Administrative County of London, the authorities will be the Corporation of the City of London and the Metropolitan borough councils; and in Scotland, the county or town councils—so that the same principle runs through the Bill.

Finally, Clause 14 provides that the Act shall come into force on January 1, 1962. I believe that the proposed delay in its coming into force arises from the necessity for the Secretary of State to prepare regulations and to give time to the employers concerned for them to try to adapt themselves to the new situation before the new regulations become effective. I think that this is a reasonable Bill. There is nothing extravagant about it; in fact, there is rather a case for widening or stiffening it a little in some respects. But the Bill has to go back to another place when your Lordships have done with it, and I think it is better that it should go as it is because otherwise delay might be caused. I hope your Lordships will agree that this is a reasonable and modest measure. Some, indeed, may think it is rather too modest a measure. But it is a reasonable Bill and, therefore, in those circumstances, I trust that your Lordships will give it sympathetic consideration.

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

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, before the Minister replies, may I say that I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth (whose heart is in the right place, as I have known for some 30 years or more), was very badly briefed on his examples. There were three water closets in this place and the walls did not go up to the roof. I know of at least three in this House where the walls do not go up to the roof. Is it really necessary that they should in all cases? Is not ventilation easier if they do not? And then, the secretaries did not have linoleum on the stairs. Is it necessary that they should have linoleum on the stairs? And is it to be expected that the secretary shall have the same quality of passages and stairs as the bosses? That is not the case in Ministries; nor was it even when the noble Lord was a Minister at the Home Office. I wonder whether there is not a lot of "sob stuff" about this which ought not to lead us into unwise and ill-thought-out legislation.

For my part, I feel disposed to congratulate the Member of Parliament in another place who introduced this Bill, because he was urging the Government to do what they should have done a year or two before and was ensuring that they would do it during the next year or two. But that is the only merit to be found in the Bill. Nevertheless, it does give this power, and I suppose it will be good for it to go forward and thus to encourage the Government to bring out a proper Bill. But might I ask, if regulations are to be made under this Bill, that they will not take into account unnecessary and absurd differentiations such as those which the noble Lord put in his examples; and, in particular, that they will not discourage small businesses that are starting up by making conditions quite impossible for them? A tiny business with two or three clerks, which may develop into a great enterprise—I imagine that even the Co-operative Society must have started in that way once upon a time—does not need to be discouraged by having to have lavatories with walls up to the roof, linoleum on the secretary's floor, and taps with hot water. All these things are not really necessary for hardy Britons, and especially for small businesses.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think I can take part in the arguments between the noble Lord opposite, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale about the benefits or otherwise of lavatory walls going to the roof or to the ceiling. I must say that I have always wondered why they do not do that, but I suppose it is one stage better than having no lavatory walls at all, which is, of course, the case in so many of Her Majesty's establishments, which no doubt many noble Lords—the younger ones, anyhow—have used to their discomfort. I think I shall come later on in my speech to the problems my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale raised in conjunction with what was said by the noble Lord who introduced this Bill.

I think it would be to your Lordships' convenience if I were to intervene at this stage in the Second Reading debate, so that I can give Her Majesty's Government's views upon this Bill and upon the problems that it raises; and then, possibly, by leave of your Lordships, I might speak just before the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, winds up, if that is found to be necessary. As the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said, the object of the Bill follows on the recommendations of the 1949 Gowers Report. I believe that the noble Baroness opposite, Lady Wootton of Abinger, was one of the members of the Committee. The Committee acknowledged that health and accident statistics relating to offices were very difficult to come by; and, indeed, that is the case to-day. There are many statistics, but unfortunately they do not prove a great deal to us. There is one lot of statistics which shows, however, that from 1944 to 1951 clerical workers were not absent from work to any greater extent than any other group of workers. But, as I say, these statistics can be used to such an extent that they can be made to prove almost anything.

The Committee also recognised that economics was the really important factor to be taken into consideration in any proposals to remedy the bad office accommodation about which we have heard from the noble Lord opposite and from my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale. In particular there are the capital costs and the high value of coveted office building sites. The noble Lord mentioned the Liverpool survey, and no doubt as office building takes place a great many of those "black spots" will be remedied. There is no doubt, I think, that competition between firms which are building new offices, or which have new offices in the building, definitely leads to the desired improvements we all want—at any rate, desired improvements internally. Whether the outside effect is so satisfactory is open to question. I see that there is a new office block eighteen storeys high, announced to-day in the London County Council's plans, and it is hoped, so it is said, that in this instance the finished building will be both interesting and satisfactory from all angles. I hope that that will prove to be so for my noble friend Lord Conesford, who I think is not in his place this afternoon.

Throughout the country it has been estimated that £70 million has been spent this year on new office accommodation; that is, for the whole of the United Kingdom. In the London area alone 21 million square feet of office accommodation have been completed since the war and 9 million square feet are under construction at the present time, the results of which your Lordships will see, no doubt, across the river in the very near future. Also, there are at the present time 5½ million square feet with planning permission, no doubt part of which I have just mentioned.

The Gowers Committee recommended that there should be minimum standards prescribed for office workers' conditions. Your Lordships will appreciate this principle. At the same time, we have to appreciate the problem of formulating those standards for the different sorts of offices, as my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale explained to us. Regulations, however, will clearly lay down the standards required for all the points set out in Clause 1, which the noble Lord opposite, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, mentioned when he introduced the Bill.

I cannot yet say what those standards will be, but consultation will take place at every level with all parties before these regulations are made; and then the regulations will be subject to an affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. Certainly these regulations will be flexible and can be varied, added to or subtracted from, as the case may require. Some of the points which the regulations will cover may be relatively simple, and the regulations could be ready sooner than otherwise, for obvious reasons; it is not our intention to hold back these simple points until the overall regulations are ready. Preparatory work and consultation and discussion with all parties who are concerned will be carried out with a view to having as many regulations as possible ready to be made when the Bill comes into operation on January 1, 1962.

All the provisions of the Bill will be worked through regulations to be prescribed by my right honourable friend the Minister—and in this respect, my Lords, this Bill differs from the Factories Act. In spite of what the noble Lord opposite has said, I think it may not be agreed by all your Lordships that this legislation by regulation is the most suitable and tidy method; but the real trouble has been that there just has not been time to re-write completely the Bill that the noble Lord opposite has introduced. As I said, it will at any rate prove to be a really flexible instrument—sufficiently flexible to attain its objectives.

There is, as the noble Lord pointed out, provision for sharing the responsibility between the landlord and the occupier; and, equally, between the office worker and the boss. Those are provisions laid down in the Bill. Clause 6 deals with inspection and enforcement, and this will fall to the local authorities except in the case of offices within the factory curtilage, which the noble Lord opposite mentioned: these offices will be the responsibility of the factory inspectorate. I understand that there was a view in another place that the same should apply to offices in the curtilage of a mine or quarry, and I believe that there will be consultation with the noble Lord opposite to bring something to this effect into this Bill at a later stage in your Lordships' House. Particular aspects of enforcement raise difficult and complex problems, as I am sure the noble Lord opposite will understand; and there are also different opinions and different ideas about who should enforce certain specific points. However, all these points will be the subject of consultation before the regulations are made.

As the Bill stands, I can advise your Lordships to give it a Second Reading in your Lordships' House. I assure the noble Lord opposite that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to make it a workable instrument which will achieve the desirable aims which the noble Lord and his friends have in mind.


My Lords, before he sits down, could the noble Earl give us any indication what total expenditure, both as regards the central Government factory inspectorate and the local government inspectorate, will be involved in the future for inspection and enforcement? I think the House would like to know particularly what sum is involved.


So far as the factory offices are concerned—that is, offices within the factory curtilage—I understand that there is practically no extra expenditure at all, because, obviously, the same men who inspect the factories will at the same time go through the offices concerned. With regard to the local authority inspectorate, the duties will fall upon their officials who are already employed doing that type of work, but whether or not more officials will have to be taken on will depend on the amount of work that appears as a result of the Bill. I do not think I can say any more than that.

3.43 p.m.


I should like to rise briefly to support this Bill which is at present before your Lordships' House. It has always seemed a rather curious thing that it is more than 100 years since Edwin Chadwick first advanced his principles of environmental hygiene, upon which most of our cities and towns are built. He showed quite clearly that health was affected by environment, in the sense that if you have bad environment you tend to get bad health; whereas if you have a reasonable environment you tend to get reasonable health. Although, as the noble Earl has said, it is very difficult to judge from the statistics, certainly on the statistical side there seems to be little difference between office workers and the rest of the population, and it would seem likely that they suffer some drawbacks by working in unsatisfactory conditions.

The two things which most offices generally have are first some form of water supply which, because it comes from the regular source, is generally of a wholesome character; and they generally have some form of sewage disposal which is discharged into the sewers and is safe, particularly if it is in a built-up area. I knew one small office that was occupied by a charitable body in which I was interested. They had their premises in the City. They were rather difficult, old-fashioned office buildings. There was no ventilation or cross-ventilation at all. If one opened one of the windows it was impossible to hear what was going on inside the office; if one shut the window one was then suffocated, so it was very complicated. The sanitary arrangements were of an extremely primitive type. I am pleased to say that that building is not there now—not because it was thought to be unhygienic but because the authorities wanted to widen the road on which it stood; it fell victim to a road-widening scheme rather than being condemned from a sanitary point of view.

This Bill is therefore a very welcome Bill and certainly, from many points of view, an overdue Bill. One thing I am pleased to see is that provision is to be made for the notification of accidents in offices. That is a matter we know very little about but, as we know from the work involved to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, a surprising number of accidents do occur in people's homes, and probably a substantial number occur also in offices. Some are caused because of a lack of proper lighting, some because holes and cracks have worn in the linoleum. These are all things which a proper form of inspectorate could see do not occur in the future. One does not like too many inspectors going around anywhere—it is a deplorable state of affairs. There should not need to be a single inspector; but the world being what it is, they are necessary. I am very pleased to see that this matter is to be dealt with by the health inspectors of the local authority and not by some new inspectorate run by the Home Office.

One point which has seemed to me to be a difficulty in regard to the inspectorate is that the inspectors come round from time to time, but they are busy people who have a lot to do. I take it that it will be possible, if somebody working in an office feels that he has cause to call in an inspector, for the inspector to go round and that there will be no question of his having to wait until the office comes on his particular quota. These are the only very minor comments which I have to make on the Bill, which I welcome, and I hope your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join in the thanks and congratulations to my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth for introducing this Bill. To an ex-railwayman whose association has, for many years, endeavoured to get an Office Regulation Bill on the Statute Book, this Bill is of course very welcome. I myself spent many weary hours discussing with L.M.S. officers (as they then were) many instances of inadequate office accommodation. Therefore, obviously, I have looked at this Bill rather carefully, bearing in mind my experience in the railway service.

I would refer to Clause 6 on that particular point. Clause 6—subject, of course, to the exceptions in Clause 7—places upon local authorities the responsibility of enforcing the provisions of the Bill and any regulations. But may I, with respect, call attention to the words used? Subsection (2) (a) says: any officer … may … enter at all reasonable hours any office or any premises which he has reasonable cause to believe to be an office …", and so on. May I put this point? A railway office or, it may be, an office of a tenant of British Railways is situated some 50 or more yards inside a goods yard, and in order to reach it an inspector would have to proceed through the goods yard. I would not for a moment suggest that the Railway Executive would deny reasonable access, but the point has occurred to me, in reading the clause, that it empowers an inspector to enter only an office, or premises which he has reason to believe are being used as an office; and, obviously, 50 yards of goods yard would not be premises used as an office. This may seem a minor point, but one never knows what may arise subsequently and we do not want any legal "trip-up". I think that it is as well that we should have this point cleared up before the Bill finally becomes law. Perhaps I am remiss in not raising this with my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth beforehand, and I do not ask for a reply new. But I think that it is as well to have this reasonable doubt recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT for subsequent reference, if necessary.

Back to