HL Deb 05 February 1968 vol 288 cc946-89

4.20 p.m.

LORD CROOK rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they propose to take arising from the Annual Reports of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Factories (Cmnd. 3358 and Cmnd. 3359), and the Report of the Minister of Labour for the year ended December 31, 1966, presented to Parliament pursuant to section 79 of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act, 1963. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In the past twenty years I have been in your Lordships' House I have sought on a number of occasions either to move a Motion or to raise a question on accidents in factories and workplaces. I make no apology for doing so again, because, unlike the sensational accidents on railways or in the air, or indeed the normal toll on the roads, the kind of accident to which I am directing attention this afternoon secures little publicity at all. Yet there is a terrible loss of life and a shocking future for the injured people, and a very great loss of production in the country. There is no committee of inquiry in these cases, no investigation, nothing which will rivet public attention. The most reportage that accidents of this kind get, unfortunately, is the odd few lines in a local newspaper about some unfortunate fellow's death being dealt with by an inquest.

Unlike the strike which paralyses the country, the toll of accidents at work goes unnoticed except for the valuable Annual Reports to which I am directing attention at this moment. Paralysis in the docks, paralysis in the car industry, all these losses arouse the interest and indeed the wrath of the nation. Last year by that means we lost 2½, million working days—a very bad picture. But my Lords, the Ministry of Labour Reports show that in the same period we lost 23 million working days as a result of these accidents. That means not only the suffering of the people who are concerned, the suffering of the families dependent upon them, it means many more things as well. It means, of course, the great loss of production, it means that tens of thousands of days of hospital beds are occupied to the detriment of those who may be awaiting operations, it means that tens of thousands of pounds are poured out in accident and sickness benefits. But not only is there suffering and loss of production; in all too many cases this means death and the resultant misery in the families who lose father or husband. My Lords, this day two workers will die from accidents in factories and workplaces.

Once again notified accidents rose from 627 dead in 1965 to 701 dead in 1966. And I accent the words "notified accidents" and "notified deaths" because not all accidents in this country have to be notified—only those that are covered by the Factories Acts and covered in the Reports to which I am now directing attention. The slightest examination of these Reports will show that 296,610 reportable accidents were notified during that year, which led us to the 23 million lost working days. As the Chief Inspector of Factories said in presenting this, his farewell Report: Nearly 300,000 reported accidents a year is not a figure which any of us could accept with equanimity. And it is certainly true, as he said, that it should be unacceptable to any society such as ours, indicative as it is of the complete and inhuman waste of the material of this country.

A number of the accidents are painfully described in some detail, and shocking reading that provides. The Report says that in fiction these accidents: … might well provoke the reader to incredulity; in the real world they provide a sad commentary on the level of competence that prevails in certain sectors of industry. There are all too many top managers who apparently neither cared nor understood about the problem. Top management, the Chief Inspector says, and I think quite rightly, should plan as much for the safety and security of those who work for them as they plan for production or for research or development. The worker, whose great investment is his labour, is as entitled to leave his workplace alive and fit as the investor, the shareholder, is entitled to look for a dividend. Every year in this Report attention is drawn to the fact that those who are in greatest risk are very often young people in industry. Once again the Chief Inspector says: Employers remain utterly unconcerned or inactive until a serious accident occurs. I am sure we shall all agree with him when he says in this Report that this shows a complete and wanton disregard of the responsibilities that employers have.

Having said this critically of the employers, may I go on to say something about the workers themselves, because they have their blame too. Possibly half the accidents could be prevented by a little greater care, at any rate on the part of the men and women concerned—not only the men and women concerned in the actual accident but the men and women with whom they work, who are part of the community inside the factory or workplace. One of the things which I could criticise again, as I have in past years, is the failure to establish joint consultative committees. The Minister of Labour has been pressing workers and employers to get these committees set up. There has been the rattle of a whip, the threat of compulsion. No one has ever gone on with compulsion. It has been the general feeling that in this case, as in the case of first-aid, if it is possible to get people to do these things voluntarily then it is very much better to do so. But the time is coming, I have no doubt, when compulsion will have to be a serious consideration of the Minister, and I and others here today would like to hear something, when the reply comes to be given, as to where the Ministry of Labour stand on this matter.

I was very glad to note in the course of the year the special attention that was given to accidents on the constructional sites and the special report that was made on this matter. On one item of particular interest I should like to ask the Minister, when he comes to reply, whether he can tell us anything of the steps the Government propose to take to deal with the horror of the nail gun. I know from talking informally over lunch that many of your Lordships have never heard of it. It is a gun which fires nails or screws or threaded bolts at high speed into solid objects in order to construct quickly—and in principle a good idea. The matter has come to a head by a recent report of the first notifiable death from this means at the beginning of this year, in January. It was said that this was an accident which was quite rare, but those of us who read the British Medical Journal have soon discovered it is nothing of the sort.

In the Southampton Chest Hospital we learn of a case where a gun was fired at a brick wall and the nail unfortunately went through the plaster between two bricks, straight through into the next room and straight through a woman standing in the next room; and she has had 14 months in hospital to recover. In St. Thomas's Hospital, over the road, we learn of the shocking case where one of these screws lodged in the spinal cord of a man, who lies there and continues to lie there, never likely to recover again, completely paralysed, completely conscious, kept alive only by artificial means. From the medical officer of the Ford Motor Works of Liverpool comes a letter saying, "This is not new; it is not fresh in any way." He has dealt with four cases in his factory in the past five years. He goes on to suggest that those who use these guns should be licensed to use them, and that licences should not be issued until the men have been trained in the use of the gun. In the light of all that the Ministry of Labour are doing to train people under the new training Acts, that probably has something in it.

I am bound to say that it is probable that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and the noble Lord who represents the Home Office will also have in mind another thought about these guns, now that there has been all this publicity in the daily newspapers about I hem, which can be read not only by your Lordships but also by those gangsters who find it possible to go with all sorts of instruments to hold up banks and to threaten the police. Although it is not appropriate to my Question, I throw out as an aside comment that the Home Office might like to look at these grossly offensive weapons now coming into general use.

There is another section in the Report to which I should like to give some special attention. It is to be found at pages 13 to 15, and it deals with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. The Report speaks with approval of the establishment by agreement with the Ministry of Labour of ROSPA'S regional organisation for industry. Indeed, I have recollections of the Minister speaking last May at the Jubilee Celebration Safety Conference when he praised the organisation on this matter. He said that it was no mean achievement to do what had been done, and continued: … without this most valuable provision many firms would have been in serious difficulties in meeting their obligations under the new Power Presses Regulations. He went on: It is equally praiseworthy that this heavy load did not prevent ROSPA from expanding its other courses.

Alas! my Lords, this expansion is not proceeding as planned because ROSPA, like others, has suffered from the current economic situation. I understand the financial situation of the country and the difficulty in which Ministers are placed, but I hope that this regional scheme will continue to receive sufficient help from the Government, and that, at the least, the Government will give sufficient help to keep it in being. Even if its full reinstatement and subsequent expansion may have to wait for better times, I hope we may be assured that that is the intention of the Government.

Time will not permit of my saying much about the second Report, that on health. But I would refer in passing to the reference at page 76 to cancer of the lung. As long ago as 1934 the first regulations on the effects of asbestos dust were issued. We in this country now use six times the asbestos that we used in 1934. What is more, it is the most dangerous form of asbestos, crocidolite asbestos, as it is called. Medical opinion is now clear that the use of this material can subsequently cause cancer in from as little as 20 to up to 40 years after first inhalation. Professor Case, Reader in Social Medicine at the University of London, has expressed great concern, which I believe is shared by the Minister of Labour, and I hope that the Minister replying to-night may be able to tell us that new regulations will be formulated, in the light of present medical knowledge, and embracing those branches of the profession and trade which are not at present covered.

This leads me to mention the third of the Reports, that as to accidents in offices and shops. I suppose that most people in their ordinary daily lives, whenever they think of accidents (if they ever bother to think about them) and certainly when they read about them, think of them happening in factories and workplaces, in the mines or in the docks. The reports under this more recent Act which your Lordships and Parliament passed as recently as 1963, give us the most savage reading. The total number killed in offices and shops last year was 29; and no fewer than 14 of those were actually killed in offices. The total injured in shops and offices was 18,162. Over 6,000 of those were injured in offices, and over 6,000 of them were injured in shops. It is not sufficiently realised that one innovation under the 1963 Act is that there are now registered in this country over 700,000 shops and offices employing over 7½ million employees.

I should like to congratulate the Ministry of Labour on an addition they made this year to their valuable quarterly publication, Accidents, in which, in July, they developed a new feature dealing with offices and shops. Many of your Lordships who have bothered to obtain that document will have seen the graphic, and indeed quite horrifying, pictures of death and disaster. The accounts cover a wide field, including falls, knives, gassing, food-slicing machines, printing machines, lifts, electric conveyors, fires in hairdressing establishments from the alcohol solutions used to make ladies look beautiful. It all makes most horrifying reading. Once again, it is the young workers who are shown to be at greatest risk.

But I think the worst thing this Report discloses is the difficulty of enforcement. Your Lordships will remember that when the Bill passed through your Lordships' House in 1963 there was a great deal of argument as to whether enforcement should be by way of the factory inspectors or whether there should be some more local form of inspection. Finally, the Act divided up the authority for enforcement between 119 fire authorities and 1,219 local authorities, a few other odd authorities, the remainder going to the Factory Inspectorate. Let it be made clear that the local authority rate of enforcement and inspection has been deplorable. In 44 cases there was no inspection at all within the year; 76a little under 10 per cent.—had bothered themselves to inspect. Only 191, that is to say, 16 per cent., have done their job properly. And after two years some authorities have taken no steps at all to enforce the Act. The position as to fire authorities shows a similar pretty dim picture.

The Ministry of Labour Report before us could not, quite properly, include the evidence which the Ministry gave to the Royal Commission on Local Government. But that evidence happens to be available in the Printed Paper Office to all of your Lordships and, for better information, I obtained a copy. In that evidence (I quote from page 10) the Ministry of Labour said: The only conclusion … to be drawn … is that despite all advice and guidance, both quantitative and qualitative, uniformity of enforcement by local authorities is an unrealisable ideal. The evidence shows that there is a vast difference between enforcement in premises for which the Factory Inspectorate is responsible and enforcement by the 1,338 authorities throughout England. Indeed, the evidence shows an absurd position. As the Ministry says in this document: It is a ground for general criticism that an Act which provides safety, health and welfare protection for all office and shop workers should vary in its application according to the degree of enthusiasm of the enforcing authority.

The position of multiple stores like Boot's, Marks and Spencer, Woolworth's, and Sainsbury's is absolutely ludicrous. They do the best they can. If they establish a standard which suits the inspector in county X and they put that standard into operation in county Y, they will find that the inspector in county Y does not approve of it and wants something completely different. That in itself is bad enough, but industry and manufacturers are suffering from it too. The manufacturers produce something that is wanted; it suits the inspectors in local authority A, who pass it and agree it. But there is no agreed standard in respect of authority B or authority C, since the local authorities there require something different. What must come is a national scheme of enforcement, which some of us were pressing for in 1963.

My Lords, I have reached my final query—and I know that I have been far too long on an Unstarred Question. I should like to ask the Minister whether the Government intend to introduce a new comprehensive Factory Act shortly. Can the noble Lord say whether Parliament will be asked to amalgamate the provisions of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963 with the general provisions? Most of us would regard this as a sensible step. Thirdly, can we hope that such a Bill will seek to end the blunder of the division of responsibility for enforcement in regard to shops and offices, to which I have already referred? So, again apologising for speaking at such length, I beg leave to ask the Question.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Crook, for raising this matter. However, I wish that he had found it possible to put down a Motion on this subject, as there is enough in these Reports to fill two whole debates. Since to-day we are being followed by a most important further small debate, we shall have time only to touch on one or two matters and therefore one will have to keep one's speech short. I should like to say how glad I am that the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, is replying to this debate. In his non-political life he has had a good deal to do with these matters and is something of an expert on them. It is much easier to ask Questions of somebody who knows what he is talking about and is not just speaking from a brief.

I am not going to say much about the Industrial Health Report. I was going to say a word about asbestos, but that aspect was dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Crook. This is one of the two Reports from the Chief Inspector and is the one with the most hopeful outlook. Medical knowledge and research is keeping up to a considerable extent with both new and old industrial diseases, many of which are caused by the new techniques and new materials which are being used. It is clear that the doctors are keeping up with this problem, and for some reason both management and employees seem to take a greater interest in industrial health than they do in industrial accidents.

The picture is much more gloomy when one comes to the Report on industrial accidents. As the noble Lord, Lord Crook, pointed out, the appalling problem of industrial accidents does not seem to get much publicity in the Press or among the general public. Although one often hears people say "Aren't these road casualties too awful?", one does not very often hear people say "Aren't these industrial accidents too awful?" The problem is very much greater in industry, and the loss to the country is also very much greater even than the very bad losses caused by road accidents.

The noble Lord, Lord Crook, stressed the lack of responsibility of certain firms and managements in their duty as regards accidents; but the Chief Inspector pointed out, as the noble Lord indicated, that there are many firms, both large and small, with a very good record. I only wish that there were more of them. The Chief Inspector also implies that the problem is much worse and the supervision much less in small firms than in large ones. This is quite understandable, although very regrettable. In a very large concern it is not too difficult to alter the workload, whether among management or on the shop floor, so as, by reorganising the work, to take a little of it off one man and put in on to another; and the man who has had a little work taken away from him can be made a member of the committee which looks after industrial accidents and welfare. That applies whether or not the man is in management; it is easier for a large firm to arrange these matters than for a small firm. In the very small firm, both in regard to management and the men operating the machines, there is probably only one man doing a particular job, and there is great difficulty if one tries to switch some of his work on to another man. In a small firm it is also difficult to give to a member of the management additional work when he is already probably very much overworked, but this has to be done.

The most horrifying part of the Report is that dealing with the enormous number of accidents to the young. The Chief Inspector points out that the prime reason, though not the only reason, is the lack of training and supervision. Training should start, if possible, at school, and it most certainly ought to happen in technical colleges. I know that there are certain difficulties about finding enough lecturers, but it is being done. Some of the big firms are helping the technical colleges, and when they run courses in their firms for their own employees they allow people to come from the technical colleges to join in the discussions and the lecturing.

May I ask the noble Lord one question on a matter of information? Are the Ministry of Education taking a really active part in this instruction about industrial accidents and industrial safety? They may already be doing so, but if they are not now taking an active part they ought to be urged to do so, since this is part of the education of anybody who is going into industry. The Ministry of Education ought to play their part. I regret to say that a great many of the accidents to young people are caused by older men. When a man has been handling dangerous machines for years he gets a knowledge of the machine and does not always obey the regulations. He finds one way easier than another and, as a rule, because of his great experience, he does not have accidents. But if a younger man is working near the experienced one, the young man copies the older man. If the older, experienced man leaves the machine for a few minutes and the young man takes over and copies what the older man has been doing, he is in very great danger of losing his fingers or even his hand. One of the duties of management is not only to impress on their older, more experienced workmen to obey the regulations, but to teach them that when they have young people working near them they must obey the regulations even if they appear to be rather fussy, otherwise the young people will continue to suffer accidents as they do now.

The noble Lord, Lord Crook, mentioned the nail gun. There are other weapons of this kind—I use the word "weapons" advisedly—which can get into criminal hands. There are new steel-cutting tools. We have had a case recently, and perhaps the less said about that the better. The noble Lord, Lord Crook, asked whether it would not be wise to license people to use these modern tools which might be useful to criminals? I would go further and ask whether it would not be wise that certain tools such as the nail gun should by regulation be kept under lock and key when not in use? I would ask the noble Lord whether anything has been done in that direction.


My Lords, perhaps I may deal with this point, since it might be a repeated theme. I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Crook has used a nail gun, but I understand that it calls for considerable strength and an exceedingly passive and willing victim.


My Lords, that may well be, but I was thinking more of the modern steel-cutting tools. Of course it may need a strong man to use a nail gun, but I believe that some of our criminals are quite muscular.


My Lords, when the noble Lord goes out to shoot a bird or a man, he would prefer not to have a 10lb. pressure before he can discharge his missile.


Yes, my Lords, I quite agree. But certain of these tools can be dangerous if they get into the wrong hands, and the question is whether they should not by regulation he kept locked up when not in use. Another question which I should like to ask—and again I am asking for information—is this. Is there a regulation that all safety orders and regulations, which are posted up in factories and mills, and so on, where there are large numbers of immigrant workers, have to be in the language of the people working there? I ask that because many of them do not speak English. I am really thinking of the mills in Bradford. It is no good putting up safety notices in English, if many of the immigrants cannot understand them.

Finally, I come to the Report on the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act. I want to deal with only one point with which I have been concerned for some years, and that is the question of light. In most shops and offices—though not in all cases—the lighting is adequate in that part of the premises to which the public have access. That is quite a common thing. But there are some offices in old buildings where the lighting is absolutely Dickensian. It really is quite atrocious. Bad lighting is not only injurious to health, it also causes accidents. The sort of thing one finds far too often in the backs of offices or shops is that the store rooms are badly lit, the passages are badly lit, and the lavatories are badly lit.

Firms vary enormously, but in some of the old buildings one finds a dark passage with, perhaps, three stairs and with no lighting at all; not because there has not been a light put there but because somebody, working in an office just off the passage, has taken the bulb and used it in his own office because he is too busy to go out for another one. Then five minutes later somebody comes along, forgets the stairs and breaks his leg. This happens in many firms because it is nobody's responsibility to see to the lighting every day, and in many cases the lighting is in any case inadequate.

I am not blaming this Government, the last Government or the one before that, but the whole lot of them together. It has been the general policy to send out advisory booklets on lighting, but not to have legislation or regulations. The theory behind this policy is that if you lay down a minimum standard of lighting—and it has to be a fairly low standard because of certain old buildings—then those who have good lighting now, or who are thinking of putting in better lighting, will then say, "We need not do more than the minimum", and will reduce their standard of lighting. I have heard this argued and I used to agree with it, but, quite frankly, I no longer believe in it. A good employer will have good lighting, and a bad employer who has totally inadequate lighting should be made by law to bring it up to standard. I would ask the noble Lord what the Government view is on this. I know that the view I have expressed has been the official view for a long time, but I have come to the conclusion that it is wrong.

My final point is about the Inspectorate. One is rather horrified to see in this Report that the establishment is 533 inspectors, but that only 482 have been recruited. Unless we have a full staff of inspectors, we are not going to get anywhere with this accident problem. I know that things are difficult economically at the moment, but I would ask whether the shortage is because, as a career, the Inspectorate is under-paid. If one increased very largely the pay of the Inspectorate it would not amount to very much in total, when one thinks of the appalling wastage and cost of all the accidents. So I would ask the noble Lord to say whether he considers that the Inspectorate is adequately paid. If it is not, would it not be wise not to wait till our economic circumstances are better, because we really cannot afford the accidents which are occurring in industry. Industry cannot afford them, and the country cannot afford them.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to follow the two noble Lords who have just spoken, who have dealt in the main with accidents and the Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories. I should like to touch briefly on one or two points which have occurred to me from reading the second of the two Reports dealing with industrial health. This Report makes fascinating reading, because it shows what a lot of curious and unexpected preventable conditions can be found in industry, and that there is a need for doctors to keep a very careful watch upon people taken sick in factories, when the doctors are not quite sure what the people have wrong with them.

So far as I can see from reading the Report, a great deal of their work is successful. I do not want to quote a great many details from the Report, but one figure in which I was particularly interested was the figure of deaths from cancer of the scrotum, which occurred among mule spinners at the cotton mills. Dr. Henry of the Home Office made a long inquiry into this disease, and in 1943, the last year he quoted, there were 50 deaths. But in the year 1966, which the Report also covers, there was only one death from that disease, which I think is a very fair example of what is going on in factories in regard to these preventable diseases. The numbers who die are falling, which I think must mean that the numbers who become sick are falling, too.

There is one thing that has always occurred to me about the Industrial Health Service, and I should like to mention it briefly to your Lordships. It has always seemed to me that, since we have a National Health Service, it might well be possible for the Industrial Health Service to be part of that Service. At the present time, for various reasons, there is a shortage of doctors in this country, and one wants to make the most effective use of them possible. I wonder whether, if we are going to have all these little health services in various Government Departments, we are really making the best use of them. There has been some suggestion, I think, that the Prison Medical Service might be combined with the National Health Service, but I do not know that that has gone any further than being a suggestion. But one can quite well see how it might be possible for a man working in a factory to be under his general practitioner for something, to be under the care of his factory doctor for something else and at the same time to be going to the town hall, to the Public Health doctor, for the same or some further condition. One would have thought that it might be possible for that man to be dealt with by only one doctor instead of by a great many of them.

I believe, too, that it would be a great help for general practitioners if they could have some finger in industrial medicine. I think that we might require at the top a certain number of what I might call consultants, who could deal with the really difficult diseases and pathological conditions which occur; but I am sure it would be much easier for a general practitioner to recommend his patient to go back to work, or to recommend his patient to stop work temporarily, if he had some idea of what the work in the factory was like and what were the processes in which the man was going to be involved. I do not know whether the noble Lord will be able to give me any answer to that question—I did not give him very much notice of it—but it has occurred to me that there might be a possibility of a saving of doctors in that way.

I think there is one health centre in Manchester which deals both with National Health Service patients and with industrial medical patients; but, so far as I know, that is as far as the scheme has gone at the present time. Shortly before Christmas the Minister of Health said, I think, that he was proposing to make a survey of, or an inquiry into, the administration of the National Health Service, and I wonder whether that will be one of the points that he will consider. Because in my view that is where the future will lie; that the inspector of factories will be dealing very largely with the safety angle—which I entirely agree with the noble Lord should be increased a good deal—and not with the general health angle.

I should like to deal briefly with the Report on the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act. According to the Report, there were 700,000 premises registered under the Act, very few of which did not need something done to them because they did not meet all the requirements of the Act. There were a large number of visits made by inspectors—600,000 odd—partly in the first instance and partly to follow up what they had seen before. Then, in paragraph 21, the Report says: In Crown and local authority premises the standard of compliance was generally good. There were no glaring cases of deficiencies … My Lords, here I want to put in a purely personal plea that the premises of your Lordships should become liable to inspection by the inspectors under these Acts of Parliament. I do not say that in any lighthearted way; I say it quite seriously. Because two years ago, when the Lord Great Chamberlain gave up his care of the buildings of the Palace, his functions devolved upon the Administration Committee. I had the honour to be a member of that Committee, and we paid a visit to the whole of that part of the Palace occupied by your Lordships. Quite a lot of it was perfectly good; some of the offices were probably not quite satisfactory (though I am not technically able to deal with the details), but there were one or two places which were beyond belief shocking.

One was the room where carpets are repaired. That is in the basement or sub-basement—heaven knows where, but it is somewhere a long way down—and it consists of one long tunnel with no ventilation and no outside window at all; it is lit entirely by electric light. It has some hot pipes running through it, which makes the room very hot. It is down on the lowest floor, and they tell me that when there is a storm the storm-water sewers overflow and the premises become flooded. We reported that over two years ago now, but when I went down and saw the same room one day last week there had been no change at all.

I know that things take a long time to do. I remember that the washbasin in what is rather euphemistically called the lavatory next door to the Printed Paper Office took, at my personal effort, five years to install, although in that so-called lavatory there was one water closet and two urinals. Now that a basin has been installed the room is going to be turned into a lift for the Printed Paper Office—whether you call that progress or not I would not say. The point I want to make is that I think that your Lordships' House should be an absolute model of all propriety everywhere. I know that this building was built a long time ago, and that it is difficult to make changes; but one sees things where, if the person involved were some little shopkeeper outside, he would be jumped upon and forced to put them right. I think the same principle should apply to this House.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I feel tempted to follow my noble and medical friend in his description of some of the domestic offices of the Palace of Westminster. I could give a very vivid description of the kitchen which I examined thirty years ago in another place, but if I did I should cause considerable ill-feeling. Not, of course, that that deters me, but I feel certain that the conditions which I saw then have been remedied. I will go with the noble Lord who has just spoken, if I may, and accompany him to the "torture chamber" where people sit and mend our carpets, without daylight. I presume that they are women.


No, my Lords; they are men.


My Lords, I wonder if I might interrupt my noble friend. I am not quite sure who the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, and my noble friend are addressing. I do not know whether they are addressing me as Leader of the House or the spokesman for the Government. I was very tempted to ask what the members of the Administration Committee, whose responsibility this would seem to be, should have done about it. But I will note everything that has been said.


I apologise to my noble friend; I was just trying to continue the debate. However, the House will recall that it was about a year ago that we debated a Motion very similar to the one on the Order Paper to-day, and many of us spoke very strongly about the comparative failure to improve the conditions of the industrial workers in the field of health and accidents. We were given then all kinds of promises; but, so far as I can see from reading these Reports, no change has taken place at all. In fact, the position has gravely deteriorated. It would appear that our words last year fell on deaf ears in those places where policy and action should be co-ordinated, for there has been yet another increase in the number of accidents. It now stands at 296,610. I do not know what consolation the permanently mutilated or the relatives of the dead will derive from the euphemism used in the Report that this figure may represent a "plateau". And even this figure does not present the ugly picture in its true light, because it represents only the accidents notified in our factories.

When I listen to the repeated demands on television and radio for greater production, it seems a little incongruous that while Jekyll lectures the workers, Hyde reveals a smug complacency concerning the loss of productivity resulting from accidents and the cost to society which, including industrial injury benefits, amounts to more than £325 million a year. We were told just now that the Press were not interested in accidents which stemmed largely from bacon-cutters and from slipping on dirty floors, but I hope that the newspapers will be more interested to learn that the cost of this to the country is £325 million a year. The tragedy of it—I am tempted this time to say the "scandal"—is that most of these accidents could have been prevented and that so many of them occurred to the young and ignorant boys and girls.

It is now 11 years since the Minister of Labour's Joint Advisory Committee recommended the establishment of joint safety committees. Last year we asked, we pressed—and I remember my noble friend spoke very strongly on that occasion—that these should be made compulsory, having regard to the report that there had been little progress in the last ten years. However, we were then told in the winding-up speech that the Minister still believed that these should be left to voluntary effort. Surely this evidence of further deterioration in the position does not justify further delay. I hope my noble friend when he comes to wind up will give us a little more help than we received last year.

My Lords, may I give you a brief history of this matter? As a doctor, I feel strongly about it. It was over 170 years ago that the first factory legislation made provisions regarding cleanliness and the health of the workers. Then, at the beginning of this century, Sir Thomas Legge made a plea for the protection of the workers by ensuring overall cleanliness, including that of the air. Despite the passage of 170 years, there has been a failure to respond to the pleas which have been made in your Lordships' House and, I suppose, in the other place and by many people other than politicians.

The part of the Report which I found most interesting was where the Senior Medical Officer for Factories found it necessary to appeal for elementary hygiene. I should like to put this on record, for it surely should be regarded as an anachronism that we should be called upon to-day to discuss matters of elementary hygiene. On page 81 of the Annual Report of H. M. Chief Inspector of Factories on Industrial Health, under the heading "The concept of cleanliness", the Chief Inspector writes: All concerned in industry are, it sometimes seems, too ready to accept not only dirty conditions in their simpler forms—dirty floors, work benches, walls and ceilings—but also dust and dirt, whether harmful or not, in the atmosphere they breathe. If standards of general cleanliness are low, it is all too easy to accept that the evolution of dust at a particular process is nothing out of the ordinary, and management and workers alike can come to accept it is part of the background of their working lives. Before it is possible, therefore, to tackle in detail the problems of industrial dust in any particular plant or industry, there needs to be a general awareness of the problem itself and a sympathy to the ideals of cleanliness which will make control measures effective. I find this elementary, but sound, advice very difficult to reconcile with the Chief Inspector's statement in a preface to the Report. He writes: To-day we are left with only the difficult problems; the easy ones have been solved. If the Chief Inspector over the years has approached the problem in that way, I really am not surprised that the situation deteriorates every year.

Again, I wonder whether the Minister—and I mentioned this last year—has given careful thought to the fact that the high incidence of chronic bronchitis among middle-aged workers in our industrial areas is not necessarily due to some toxic substance but to the general filth, dirt and dust of their surroundings. As I said last year, my last constituency was in an industrial area of the North, and I was shocked to find the number of men who fatalistically accepted chronic bronchitis at the age of 40 or 50. When I taxed them with it they said, "My father had it, my grandfather had it, and died from it." Both father and grandfather were in the same works at the same time.

On our television screens, we often gaze at the Minister of Labour being, sometimes, a little critical of the behaviour of his fellow men. I wish—and I say this to him sincerely—that he could spare a little time to examine the disgraceful conditions of the factories so graphically described by his senior Medical Officer. While I consider, for example, that the asbestos industry regulations should be extended to all persons engaged in handling and using asbestos, I do not ask the Minister of Labour to try to master the mysteries of highly technical processes. All I do is to invite him to examine the dirty and accident-inducing conditions under which men and women are compelled to spend a large part of their lives in the latter part of the 20th century.

5.18 p.m.


My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Crook, for putting down this Question. Like the noble Lord, I am a Vice-President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. My own particular interest, as some of your Lordships will know, is on home safety. But I believe the time has come to consider safety not in isolation but as a composite matter. Because the person who exercises safety on the road, and does not overtake on every double white line, who makes sure that the electric fire is switched off before he leaves the house, is the kind of person who, if he is the manager of a department in a factory or an office, will do his best to ensure that safety regulations are adhered to.

My Lords, I have put to the Leader of the House—whose secretary was good enough to telephone me over the weekend—one or two questions which I should like to repeat now. My noble friend Lord Derwent has already mentioned the matter of education, and this is something about which I feel very strongly, particularly education in the sphere of safety in the home. It can also be applied to safety in factories. I believe that films can play a vital part in education. They could be shown in schools, at evening classes and in technical colleges. Last year I attended a seminar on the subject of marketing. A film was shown of a certain type of shoe which is used in heavy industry. The purpose of the film was to help to sell the shoe, but there was also a message about safety. A young factory worker, wearing light fancy type shoes, was shown walking round a factory. He tripped over various steel castings and things fell on his feet; and generally he became accident prone. He was advised by a mate to wear the type of shoe advertised in the film, and when he did so and was subjected to the same hazards he did not suffer such bad injuries. I think the message was that one vital factor about safety in factories is that people should be properly clothed. Where necessary safety helmets and masks should be worn and, of course, the right type of footwear.

Reinforcing the point made by my noble friend, I should like to ask the Leader of the House how much attention is currently being paid at schools to visual aid education in an age where technology is growing in importance and obviously more people will be receiving industrial training. I would also ask the noble Lord whether the grants to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents will be maintained, and indeed increased, at a time when, admittedly, there are serious financial problems. It is also a time, as was stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Crook, and other speakers, when there is an increasing number of accidents and an increasing number of man-hours are being lost. Therefore there is a growing need for education and training. I know from experience of the very valuable work which the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents does, and I hope that the grants to the Society will at least be maintained, and if possible, increased.

At a time when most of us, at any rate, are fully behind the "I'm backing Britain" campaign (putting aside any reservations which we may have on certain aspects of it), it is all the more important that we should cut the accident rate so that those who are loyally supporting the campaign and producing more do not become accident victims, which would, to some extent, negative the value of the campaign. May I say a word about construction sites, where a large number of accidents occur? Many of us may have seen lorries backing our from construction sites at speeds which are too fast. Other types of accidents occur, such as heavy objects being dropped from a height and falling on people who may be on the site or in the street. I hope that attention will be paid to that aspect.

Finally, my Lords, I think we should look to the future, and I should like to put this question to the Leader of the House. I have not given him notice, but perhaps the matter may be considered by the relevant Department. With the large number of industrial estates now being built where there are new factories and new machinery, will there be an increasing amount of safety training going on? I know that we are moving into a computer age and therefore we may need less labour, but there will still be a number of modern devices which can go wrong and cause accidents. So while it is important that existing machinery and factory techniques should be geared up to a high standard of safety, I hope that the Government will bear in mind not only what is contained in this Report but the need to look to the future, so that when we receive similar Reports in a year or two they will indicate a considerable improvement. My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Crook, for giving us an opportunity to discuss this very important subject.

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, the discussion so far and the consideration of the Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories prompts the question, are we spending enough time or money on the prevention of industrial accidents? I suggest that the only conclusion which may be drawn is that we are not. I wish to concentrate particularly on the Inspectorate and whether it is effective. Within the limitations placed on it undoubtedly the Inspectorate is efficient, but is it as effective as it should be? We know, for example, that at the end of 1966 there was a shortage of 50 inspectors and the inspectorate was 10 per cent. below the authorised establishment. It was considered that there should be 532 inspectors when the establishment was decided, and there was a shortage of 50, so the Inspectorate cannot possibly be as effective as it ought to be.

In 1963 (reference has been made to this) a large number of shops and offices were brought within the purview of the legislation. About 700,000 shops and offices were concerned, and 170,000, in which over 3 million were employed, were placed under the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour Inspectorate. They are quite different from the local authority people who inspect offices and shops on a part-time basis. I am dealing only with the Ministry of Labour Inspectorate. As a result of this increase in the volume of work, 18 inspectors were added to the establishment. It may be that this was given careful consideration and the conclusion drawn that the inspection of another 170,000 premises employing 3 million people could be done effectively by 18 more inspectors. From the purely lay point of view, one can have some doubt about this.

Some idea of the task facing the inspectors can be gained by looking at the skeleton map on page 98 of the Report. By making a comparison with the actual map one can reasonably conclude that the North Division, for example, covers Cumberland, Westmorland, Northumberland and Durham. This is an area of some 5,300 square miles and to look after that area there are 28 inspectors. It could be argued that this is largely a rural area, but it certainly contains shops and offices requiring inspection. And what about the North-East and North-West coasts? In Division F there is a broad segment stretching from Hampshire in the South right across the southern half of the country to the East coast, including Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. For the whole stretch there are 37 inspectors.

One thing necessary to make legislation effective is general inspection; general inspection being that inspection which is undertaken without notice and which does not arise as a result of complaint or information given. One would have thought that this sort of inspection would certainly help to guarantee that the present statutory regulations were being observed. With the present staff, it is possible to have a general inspection in factories and shops under the control of the Inspectorate only once every four years, and in some cases only once every five years.

We are certainly not spending the time necessary to prevent accidents. One of the difficulties with which we are faced is the complacency which arises from the view that accidents will happen anyway. Of course they will happen. I doubt whether it is possible for any legislation, any Government, any inspectorate, to completely prevent accidents, but surely it should be accepted that every accident that can be prevented should be prevented.

The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, referred to the question of whether or not the Inspectorate is being properly paid. I suppose it is true that paying more money does not necessarily result in the recruitment of more qualified staff, but there can be no doubt whatever that it helps materially towards that end. This is accepted by the Prices and Incomes Board, which has accepted the principle that where it is not possible to recruit sufficient qualified staff, then they can be rewarded more. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, that the question of salaries ought to be closely looked at in view of the apparent inability of the Government and the Inspectorate to reduce the appalling number of accidents which take place.

On pure economics alone, any small expenditure of money to increase the Inspectorate must be more than justified. I submit to the House that we cannot expect to get properly qualified people—and they must be of graduate standard—unless some further look is given to whether this is a rewarding and satisfactory career for the type of people we want. Incidentally, it is interesting to know that in an attempt to bring the Inspectorate up to establishment the standard of entry has been lowered, and people who would not normally he accepted have now been accepted to do certain inspectorate work.

This gives rise to an important point. At the present moment the Government have decided—whether rightly or wrongly, I am not saying—to put a ceiling on Civil Service expenditure. The popular view—certainly the view expressed in another place, and often in the national Press—that all you have to do in the Civil Service is to hold up a hand and say, "Please, I want another ten people," and you get them next day, is as far from the truth as anything can possibly be. Not only have you to prove need, but, having proved your need, you may be told that you cannot have them.

In this situation, when there is a ceiling on Civil Service establishments, I should like to know—although my noble friend who is to reply may admonish me for asking this—whether the special study which was undertaken in 1966 to examine the facts, the result of which would appear to indicate the need to increase the establishment of the Inspectorate, is being held up because it might be found necessary to increase the establishment. It should not take many years for a special study to be made of an establishment of 533 inspectors and for the experts in the Ministry of Labour and the Treasury to decide how many more inspectors are required. It is not like examining an inspectorate of 5,300. It would be interesting to know when this report will be presented. This may be an unfair question to put to my noble friend, but would he assure the House that if, in an endeavour to increase the numbers, a decision has been made to increase salaries, the present clime to of opinion with regard to increases of salaries and wages will not interfere with this increase.

The only other point I want to raise concerns joint consultation. I believe it is impossible to get effective safety measures in factories and shops without getting co-operation between management and workers; and this depends on joint consultation. It is often said that it is not possible to get effective joint consultative machinery in a factory because it is not big enough or because the employer does not want it, and therefore there cannot be a safety committee. That is not the truth. Any factory can have a safety committee, even though it does not have any joint consultative machinery at all.

We have to remember that in many cases where employers have set up safety committees, they have not set them up out of any altruistic ideas of their own: they have done it because it pays them to do it. The more they can reduce industrial accidents, the more manpower they can use effectively, instead of ineffectively, and the less sick pay they have to pay. Obviously this is a great advantage to the employer, but it is also an advantage to the employee. If there is this mutual interest, surely the best possible way in which it can be exploited is to have it discussed jointly round the table.

What can such a committee do? One thing it can do—and I am not sure that this is not particularly important—is to ensure that bonus schemes do not encourage workers to take short cuts, to take risks and ignore regulations, in order to see that they get the maximum bonus. They can agree on propaganda within the factory, and the best way in which to put safety across. They can agree on training. They can agree on a number of things which are absolutely essential if we are going to get the most effective means of reducing—not preventing—to an absolute minimum the number of accidents that are now taking place.

I hope that the noble Lord, when he replies, will be able to give the House some assurance that it is in the Government's mind that we are not spending enough, that we are not using enough time, and that it is about time that we started to do it.


Before the noble Lord sits down may I say that I was listening with great interest to what he was saying on the subject of safety committees and joint consultation, but I was not quite clear whether he was asking me to express approval and encouragement or compulsion.


As it had already been referred to, I did not refer to the statement made in the other place in July, 1966. But if the noble Lord wants me to, I will do so, because I think it is evidence of the attitude of mind of the Government at that time. Mrs. Shirley Williams, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, made this statement: The Government regard the voluntary machinery for consultation as preferable to machinery established under compulsion "— with that, of course, I entirely agree. But she went on to say: but unless there was more satisfactory progress in the establishment of joint works safety committees on a voluntary basis in the next few years the Minister would feel obliged when the next major revision of the Factories Act took place and so on. That statement said, in the next few years". But surely we cannot wait for the next few years.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, hinted when he mentioned the "I'm Backing Britain" campaign, it is quite clear to most of us that we as a country are fighting an economic battle for survival, that the battlefront lies in the factories, and that the campaign is organised and controlled by management and workpeople. But when it comes to accidents and the danger involved in doing a job, the work-people are those who are in the front line. There is not a trade union official alive who has not had the experience from time to time of dealing with cases of serious accidents occurring at work, sometimes involving handing over large sums of money because unions have taken action under the Common Law. Although we recognise that we perform a service for our people in helping them in this way, we know that we cannot replace an arm or an eye, and we certainly cannot give back a husband to a widow. So we in the trade union movement take this question very seriously indeed, and over the years the General Council of the T.U.C. have been pressing hard for an improvement in those lines of activity which may help to reduce the toll of accidents in our factories.

After all, what do we see? To-day we are discussing the last Annual Report, and I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Crook for giving us an opportunity to say a few words. I, too, wish that this had been a Motion so that we could have spent more time on it. We are told in the Chief Inspector's Report that the number of accidents has increased again—he says this with regret, this being his last Report. He adds that the increase has been somewhat smaller than in 1965, and much smaller than in 1964, and that therefore we may be reaching a "plateau". Frankly, I think it is dreadful that we should have to talk in these terms. We should be battling away at this mountain and not be satisfied with the prospect of arriving at a situation where the number of accidents does not increase.

Like my noble friend Lord Geddes of Epsom I, too, question whether we are doing enough within the Inspectorate itself. The Report says that the establishment is now 533; that there are 482 inspectors in post, and that this is 51 short. At a previous date when the establishment was 442, the actual postings were 388. Certainly there has been an improvement, but I do not think the extension of the service has been nearly enough, particularly when one can telephone Mr. Charles F. Kerr, the Chief Deputy Inspector of Factories, who had to admit the other day that only 7½ per cent. of all accidents reported could be inspected by the Factory Inspectorate. This indicates a lack of manning and an under-staffing.

We are also told in the Report that one of the problems is to find people of the right calibre and experience. This may well have something to do with the salaries they receive and the conditions under which they work. Most certainly this small body of men, dealing with countless factories in this country, must be very much over-worked and under great stress. This may be one of the reasons why the job does not attract people; and I think the salary may be another.

The General Council of the T.U.C. have been pleading ever since 1959 for a substantial increase in the Inspectorate. They said in 1959: … that the Factories Inspectorate must necessarily be regarded as under-staffed so long as it is unable to ensure adequate inspection of all factories at reasonable intervals … They pointed out then that: The International Labour Convention of 1926, which was adopted by Great Britain, provided that as far as possible there should be annual visits to every factory". This has never been achieved, and it does not look like being achieved. Indeed, over the years there has been an increasing departure from this high standard. In 1930 a departmental committee recommended the visitation of important factories once a year, the visitation of less important factories every two years, and the whole of every factory to be thoroughly inspected within an average period of four years. We have not hit that target yet. If I may quote the International Labour Convention of 1947, again ratified by Great Britain, this required inspection to be as often and as thorough as necessary to ensure the effective application of legislation.

We have had a number of surveys carried out seeking to estimate the degree and size of the problem. I would mention in passing the Halifax Survey of 1958. That Survey was quite independent, and established that the level of health, welfare and safety conditions in many workplaces is below even minimum acceptable standards. The surveyors pointed out that Halifax is no different from any other place; the conditions there are no worse than elsewhere. They said that it could be regarded as typical of the country as a whole. The Report said that conditions were generally unsatisfactory in no fewer than a quarter of factories surveyed; that is, in some 200 out of approximately 800. They mention some of the major lacks; bad ventilation; washing facilities; dirty conditions; littered floors. And how can our Inspectorate, small as it is, visit all those thousands of little, dirty, miserable, backstreet factories where we know the worst conditions apply and where we know most of the accidents occur?

Finally on this subject, may I say a word about the safety committees? My noble friend Lord Geddes of Epsom has already mentioned them, and I mentioned them in your Lordships' House the other day, but since then I have obtained new figures. The survey which was undertaken at the request of the Trades Union Congress covered all factories in which more than 50 people were employed, and this covered approximately 80 per cent. of the total employees in factories. It was found that, of the 22,211 works within scope, 7,793, which is 37 per cent., had formal machinery for joint consultation, and this figure compares with 5,826, which is 27 per cent., on June 30, 1966. The Report went on: This represented a 34 per cent. increase in the number of firms with committees… But the figure of 34 per cent. is misleading. The figure we have to anchor on to is the fact that, even after the efforts made by the C.B.I. and the T.U.C. Joint Committee, after all the persuasion we could bring to bear, only 37 per cert. of factories employing more than 50 people had safety committees; and really this is quite unsatisfactory. The T.U.C. for years supported the voluntary prilciple. It was bitter experience that convinced us we would not get safety committees on a voluntary basis; there would have to be compulsion; there would have to be legislation. My right honourable friend the Minister of Labour pointed out in the other place that he felt that progress was not being made quickly enough, and he said that if things did not improve he would be prepared to introduce legislation when the next occasion came, when they reviewed the Factory Acts. If I may say so in passing, I am very glad indeed that a total review of the Factory Acts is taking place, which will be much more comprehensive. But I have not time to go into that.

May I say one or two words about accidents in the construction industry. There has been a very terrible increase over the years. In 1960, 20,584 accidents were reported; there were 277 fatalities, and the number of operatives employed was 1,432,000. In 1965 there were 44,381 accidents reported—over twice as many—and 230 fatalities, while the number of people employed was about the same, 1,491,000. So it is quite clear that we have not made very much progress in reducing accidents in the building and construction industry. Recently a survey has been undertaken by two factory inspectors, who published a report. If I may, I should like to quote one or two of the paragraphs of that report because they are highly significant. Paragraph 15 says: The extent to which full compliance with legal requirements would have modified the accident picture is answered, but it is extremely difficult to assess the position". But it is believed that about one-fifth of the accidents could probably have been prevented had there been full compliance with statutory requirements". Again, the report says: The safety supervisor"— in this industry or in the firms concerned in the industry— has achieved only a small measure of the success which might be expected from the requirements of regulations 5 and 6 of the Construction (General Provisions) Regulations 1961. In some cases safety supervisors lacked detailed knowledge of safety legislation and in some cases they had insufficient background knowledge of the industry. On some large sites the safety supervisor had insufficient time to carry out his duties effectively". Another paragraph states: There was evidence that some site foremen and agents did not possess a good working knowledge of statutory requirements". I could go on, my Lords, but I really think that the time has come when Government, and all of us in industry, must take steps to ensure that this dreadful toll of life and suffering that is taken of our workpeople in factories every year is reduced. I believe it could be reduced. So far as the trade unions are concerned, they are prepared to play their full part—and I am not pretending that everything in our garden is particularly lovely. I could quote cases. There are one or two in the Report, and I will quote just one, from page 33: We think a frequent cause of accidents to young workers is the imitation of bad example by old hands. One of the examples is quoted. A young boy had three fingers amputated by a revolving circular saw which he was operating without a top-guard. And this happened in the presence of the foreman. That is bad enough, but before it happened the foreman himself had operated the saw in the same condition, and the youngster just followed suit.

One could give other examples. But, clearly, one of the things that we can do, in addition to improving the Inspectorate, is to see to it that safety training is a "must" in industry; that injunction courses are really effectively undertaken by management. I would suggest that it should be a requirement, and that the new training boards should make safety training part of their curriculum. I agree with the noble Lord who said that you cannot start too young, and I think that young boys and girls should be given general safety training at school, particularly since, as they leave school and go into industry, it is necessary to give them a specialist training in what is going to appertain to their job. I must not go on. A number of very potent questions have been asked of the Minister, and I have asked one or two. It will be very interesting indeed to hear the replies. This is a problem which has been with us too long, and we want to see some progress made in its solution.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Crook, for introducing this particular Question on the Order Paper, thus allowing this particular debate on such a very important topic. Twenty-three million days per year lost in accidents is a staggering figure. We are seeking to increase productive effort. How much more we could increase productive effort if we could check this figure to a considerable degree! Most accidents are preventable. Very few accidents in industry can be, as it were, attributed to an act of God; most of them are preventable. They arise chiefly through some incident—a little neglect, a little carelessness; or the skilled worker, or other worker, taking a chance with a view to doing his best.

Custom breeds contempt, and those of us with experience in industry in the past know very well what a large part custom plays so far as accidents are concerned, particularly where the younger people try to follow the customs of the elderly. I had an interesting experience a little while ago when I went up to Scotland to see the Tay Bridge being built. Talking with the contractors I found that they had suffered initially with a considerable number of accidents through falling debris and such things. Although they had provided adequate tin hats, there was great difficulty in getting them used. Eventually, as a result of joint consultations, they hit upon a colour scheme, and as soon as they introduced blue hats it was astonishing how the accident rate fell. I suggest to your Lordships that this is an interesting feature, and I wonder, when industrialists and trade unionists are taking part in joint consultations with a view to seeing what can happen in the more enlightened industries, in order to reduce the accident rate, how much attention is being given to colour schemes and various gadgets which are interesting features in the reduction of accidents.

Various pleas have been made for an increase in the number of the Inspectorate. I should like to add my voice to that view. If we take the vast area which they have to cover, as was outlined by my noble friend Lord Geddes of Epsom, and take the industries and the number of workpeople they have to cover, that alone indicates that there is a tremendous need for an increase in the numbers. But it is not just the Inspectorate themselves. I endorse what my noble friend Lord Geddes said. The inspectors appointed should be progressive, enlightened, far-seeing people, and not necessarily university graduates. Many people come out of industry whose help would be most useful in this connection. If we had this type of inspector they would be most useful.

The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, and other noble Lords have suggested the need for increasing and intensifying propaganda so far as safety gadgets are concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, spoke about films for propaganda purposes. We know that many firms to-day, and particularly more progressive firms, have this type of film and try to get it across to their workpeople. The smaller firms are not so forthcoming, and one can understand the reason why. Therefore it might be a question not just for that particular firm itself but for the industrial group, as it were, connected with that particular product, and also for the Government Inspectorate, to take a more active interest in trying to increase the attentiveness of the workpeople in order to reduce the tremendous accident rate.

At the moment the nation is shocked by the great tragedy of the loss of the North Sea trawlers. I do not know whether it is correct or not, but it has been suggested that had there been a wireless operator on board some of these trawlers the total loss might have been prevented. The nation, reading this in the Press, is shocked; but still we have the large number of accidents taking place daily, as my noble friend Lord Crook has enumerated. We see men and women maimed as a consequence of these industrial accidents. We hear of the 23 million days lost last year as a result of accidents, and still it is taken without even a flutter of the nation's nerves. Of course the spectacular ones shock everyone, but we as a Government, and my noble friend know that he requires no urging by us in this particular direction, because he is sympathetic and wants to do everything possible), must do all we can to remedy this situation. It is a question of finding ways and means to improve the approach of the industrialists. In the smaller firms, and even in some of the larger ones, the supervisors are inclined to wink an eye when they see a breach of the safety regulations taking place.

Above all it is essential to instil into the workpeople themselves the great need for care in every possible direction. They do not think about the possibility of accidents: they get on with the job; carelessness develops from time to time and custom breeds contempt. This is the type of thing that is responsible for such a large number of accidents. A joint co-operative effort is required, and while I am sure that my noble friend needs no urging to achieve this, we are adding our words in order to spur everyone concerned to greater efforts in this direction.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, this is an interesting subject and one which has engaged the attention of employees and employers for many years. I came into contact with it first when I started work at 12 years of age in a woollen factory. The only thing that mattered then was to get one's name on a register and be examined by the doctor who came eventually, so that if, in the course of his duties, the factory inspector ever came he could look at the register and see how many small children were employed in that particular factory. I remember that when the doctor came, after I had been there for about six months, a tiny fellow stood next to me. The doctor looked down paternally and said, "Oh, you're only a very little chap, aren't you?". So the little chap spoke up and said, "What do you expect. My father was a little 'un, and my mother was a little 'un, You can't expect rats off mice". That was the answer the little boy gave to the doctor. This situation has changed over the years, but nothing like enough. We are nothing like so good as we should be on this question of conditions in factories and accident prevention.

When I began a factory of my own I had some ideals about it, and one of the subjects I was particularly interested in was that of lighting. If you are aiming for an increase in productivity every year, it means that you must have better machines, and more often than not they are faster running machines, making it more difficult to see at the point where the operative is doing the work. In that event, surely the regulations with regard to the standard of lighting on which the factory inspectors have to insist should be altered as time goes on and in view of the experience gained by working on machines which run faster. One can still see, in London and the principal cities, and generally in the North of England, when going around the factories in those areas at night, lighting which is a disgrace and a scandal to an enlightened community. If this is due to the paucity of numbers of the factory inspectors the answer must be to increase the numbers. Step them up, because this is good business. Better lighting means that it is easier to work on a job which is becoming increasingly more demanding.

I must say at this point, in the light of what I am saying now, that the lighting, the measures against noise, and the provision of colour, mentioned by my noble friend, which are in operation in my factory, are still in current textbooks taken from industry—mine was one—in the series on factory building published by the Ministry of Public Building and Works. On noise, may I say that very often if a machine runs faster there is more noise. It is a fact that very little is done in this country to take away the reverberations of noise on ceilings back to the ears of the workers. The example that can be taken from Sweden on this matter should be studied by everybody.

It is not compulsory yet to keep the noise down in a factory. Neither is it compulsory to do anything about colour. But it is in the employer's own interest to do something about colour. I remember when we had an exciting colour put on the side wall of my factory. It was a stimulant and may not have been a colour that the eve could dwell on for a long period. It was good business, because the workpeople attended to their work and it helped everybody. I make a plea for more thought on these three points: lighting, noise and colour. The little document that I am as proud of as any that I have is a round robin when I left my factory, which thanked me for having made the factory a joy to work in.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said, this has now become perhaps a bigger subject than an Unstarred Question; and in saying that, I certainly mean no reflection on my noble friend Lord Crook, who very properly takes the view that this is a subject of such importance that it is right to return to it annually, to review the progress, if any, and to give what stimulation is possible. He has done it this year, but it has given rise to a much longer and a much more powerful debate than it did on other occasions. Of course, one of the most powerful speeches of all came from the noble Lord, Lord Crook, himself. I am very grateful to him for letting me know the points he was going to raise and for the very moderate way in which he put forward a matter which at times, when I listened to the speeches and to the reading of the reports of inspectors, made me feel rather desperate. It is rather appalling, and I think that people in future ages will look back with the same astonishment on this age as the astonishment with which we look back on the circumstances of the Industrial Revolution.

As a result, it becomes more difficult to get down to a humdrum discussion and an examination of the, as I believe, real, steady, but not very striking progress that is made against a situation which almost calls for heroic measures. I want to point to some of the improvements, not because I believe that this is something other than a horror story; it really is. If one reads this document and the examples of what has happened to people, one wonders how society can tolerate this running sore on our industrial life, for which we pay a very heavy price in human suffering and, as noble Lords have pointed out, in the hard economic factor of lost production. Of course, everything must be done, and we all feel, as I say, that it calls for heroic measures; but when it comes to the point, one finds that both the capacity of Government to do something and the willingness of the community to react to it is limited. This is a chapter of accidents; and this particular chapter is one that should not be written and should not go on being written, year after year.

I should like to refer to some of the points raised. Although I hoped I should be able to answer every point, or every major point, that was raised, the debate has gone on so long and has been so interesting that I am afraid I may not be able to deal with them all. If there are specific points which I omit I will write to noble Lords; I will write to noble Lords and answer anything that I am unable to cover to-day. I have such a lot of material, and there is another debate to come, that I may not manage it all.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Crook, will accept that comparisons in regard to statistics, one year with another, are not entirely satisfactory. That, of course, is a reflection on the collection of statistics, and it is a reflection on the amount of effort we put into it. It is improving year after year, and one consequence of improvement in effort is to make comparisons more difficult. A great deal of action has been taken by the Ministry to remind factory occupiers and others of their legal obligation to report accidents, and this is thought—I do not give this as an excuse; we genuinely believe it—in part responsible for the rise in reported accidents during these years. Of course, there is no objective or constant measure of the severity of industrial accidents. The three days' absence criterion of reportability is quite arbitrary, and the pressure to return to work after an accident has not remained constant over the years. It is not that I am against the three days' period. At least it provides a point at which a report has to be made, and of course this is now extended over a wider field into shops and offices.

A number of noble Lords, and my noble friend, Lady Summerskill, have referred to the size of the Factory Inspectorate. I have some defensive briefs here; they are quite good, but I would not attempt, in the face of the evidence propounded to-day by noble Lord after noble Lord, to say that the Factory Inspectorate is large enough to do the things that we should like it to do. It is being expanded. Its total strength at the moment is 520, less than its possible establishment. My noble friend Lord Geddes of Epsom referred to pay. The Report of the Departmental Working Party on the Duties and Staffing of the Inspectorate is now being considered. It is true that 175,000 premises were added, and not enough provision was made for this. It is very much better that we should recognise this, though I must say that the number was unknown at the time. This was a miscalculation under the Act. That is no reflection on the previous Government, which introduced this Act.

It is now apparent that the staffing provision was inadequate. Standards of entry have not been lowered, but recruitment to the general inspectorate has been going slowly, and of course pay is a factor. This is being examined. But with 207,000-odd premises subject to the Factory Acts, many of which are large, with the extra ones added under shops and offices, and with the responsibility for the enforcement of the construction regulations, even a considerably enlarged Inspectorate would be able to visit them only from time to time. I think we ought to recognise, as I think noble Lords do, which is why they are so keen to increase it, what is possible and what, in the circumstances, is practical politics.

There has been acceptance by industry of standards of guarding machinery and of maintenance and inspection, and to this extent industry is to-day a much safer and better place to work in. But we should need a vast increase to achieve a really spectacular improvement through this one means alone. I can only say that the Government will listen on this point, and I do not doubt that the Chief Inspector of Factories will find his hand strengthened in this particular argument. But when we know that cuts are being made in certain other increases, it is not an easy time to make this increase, desperate though this particular problem is.

I should like to detail some of the other action the Minister has taken, and to defend him to my noble friend Lady Summerskill. I know that he takes a deep interest in this matter. One may as well recognise that one of the problems is the extent to which Ministers in any Government are under continuous pressure from day-to-day problems of industrial peace and matters of that kind. The same remarks applied to the last Government. It is a fundamental problem that confronts all Governments. But I would say to my noble friend that I know the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Labour is deeply interested in this subject, and has himself taken the initiative, and continues to give a lead, in certain areas.

In April of last year the Industrial Safety Advisory Council was set up. Its membership is one that I will not dwell on, but it includes representatives from both sides of industry and from outside, and it is one which noble Lords will expect. It is already at work. It has three sub-committees—on Safety, Research and Statistics and Safety Training. Perhaps I may say something on the Sub-Committee on Joint Consultation on Safety, because this is a matter to which most noble Lords have referred. My noble friends Lord Crook, Lord Collison and Lord Geddes, and others, referred to the question whether there should be some form of compulsion. It is true that the Minister said in 1966 that unless there was satisfactory progress with the establishment of joint works safety committees on a voluntary basis he would feel obliged, when the Factories Act was next amended, to seek power to require the establishment of machinery for joint consultation in appropriate cases. Since then there has been some improvement. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, gave certain figures which had been given to me already in order to strengthen my case. To some extent he has destroyed them in advance, and he is entitled to do so. I suppose it is better to have your figures destroyed in advance rather than afterwards. But there have been certain improvements. In the case of 80 per cent. of the total of employees in factories employing 50 or more persons there is now some form of joint consultation for safety.

There are a number of figures that I could give your Lordships, percentages which I could present in a particularly encouraging light. It is not entirely satisfactory, but I am sure all my noble friends, particularly those who have experience of the trade unions, would prefer, if it is still possible, to proceed by voluntary means. It is only 22 years ago since I remember moving in another place an Adjournment Motion on joint consultation, and being told by one of my trade union colleagues—it may be one who is here to-day—that I had much better keep to things I knew something about. Therefore I am a little cautious on this subject. But there is no doubt that progress has been made, and there is also no doubt that you will not get improvement in one of the areas where real improvement can be made until there is effective joint consultation.

This arises to a large extent out of the general atmosphere in industry itself. Safety committees by themselves should arise out of the right kind of good joint industrial relations that we see in good industry, and it is therefore more difficult to impose from outside. The Sub-Committee for Joint Consultation on Safety is taking a number of steps. It has sponsored a booklet on Work Safety Committees in Practice. Of the other two sub-committees, the one on Research and Statistics is studying the possibility of introducing a severity classification of accidents reported under the Factories Act, again a matter which I think is of importance and will enable us to judge of and to deploy our forces more effectively.

There is also the Sub-Committee on Safety Training, which is looking at the problem of training and safety matters. A number of noble Lords referred to safety training. First of all, under both the Factories Act and the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act there are provisions prohibiting young persons from cleaning machines where these expose them to risk of injury from moving parts; and no young person may work on a machine specified as dangerous unless he has been fully instructed in its use or is under the supervision of an experienced person. I have had occasion myself to deal with managements who have failed to carry out the requirements.

These statutory requirements are supplemented by a number of training schemes. Here again, there is quite a story of progress being made. The industrial Training Boards have been advised by the Central Training Council of the need to include specific provisions for safety training in their plans. It must be taught as an integral part of all training. They draw attention to the contribution which can be made by technical colleges and other establishments of further education. There is, of course, a good deal of voluntary effort by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, prevention groups and so on. There will be some important developments in new Government proposals in legislation, to which I will refer in a moment. I will not go as fully as I should like into the question of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. I am not able to answer the noble Lord as to the further assistance that the Society will receive, but it is the Government's firm intention to support this body, and the financial assistance is at the moment being negotiated. I would endorse all that has been said about the value of its work, and particularly its regional safety organisation.

My noble friend Lord Crook and other noble Lords referred to the dangers of the nail gun. This is a most tragic story, and I talk now of the accidents from an industrial point of view. It is not, of course, a new one; it is part of the risk of the technological changes under which we live. The Factory Inspectorate did a great deal to persuade the various manufacturers to improve their designs so that some of the dangers of those early models were obviated. There is now a British Standard for these tools. With an explosive device of this kind which drives a nail there is a great danger that, if it is not properly used, the nail may ricochet. In fact, it is surprising that there have not been further accidents of this kind. Certainly in regard to any legislative provisions this is a problem on which we shall certainly give advice and try to concentrate attention.

The noble Lords, Lord Amulree and Lord Crook, referred to a number of aspects of industrial health, the problem of asbestos dust, and the further problems which come from the use of orocidolite. These are matters to which the Government and the Inspectorate have given a good deal of attention. I have with me now, if my noble friend Lord Crook would like to see them, the draft regulations on the subject of asbestos which will replace and revise the 1931 regulations. We intend to press on with the making of these regulations as quickly as we can; and consultation is taking place on them now.

The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, referred to the possible development of what one might call an industrial health service. This is such big subject, and a matter in which I am so interested myself, that I hope the noble Lord will consider this as a subject to be discussed on another day. The noble Lord, Lord Collison, also referred to this matter. I am quite satisfied that it pays an employer to have a good health service within his own organisation. It is as much a part of management as the provision of canteens. But it is not going to be easy at this moment to visualise how this could be tied up with the general Health Service. It is a matter which I personally have pressed on a number of occasions, and I see the difficulty Therefore, I feel this is a matter which we ought to leave to another occasion There will be further occasions to discuss this, because there will be a new Act of Parliament. At present there is the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act, which came into force only in 1963, but it is proposed that at some time in the next two or three years—it is a complicated business—there shall be a new Act of Parliament.

Preparatory work has begun on a comprehensive revision of the Factories Act 1961 and the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963. This is not to be just a new consolidation Bill to replace existing Acts, but is to be a thorough overhaul of existing safety, health and welfare legislation and an extension of that legislation to as many as possible of the working population not yet covered. The first proposals have already been circulated to interested organisations. We accept that it is very important to get on with this as soon as possible. I promise your Lordships that we will press on. I know that my right honourable friend is very keen, but it will probably take a couple of years, or something of that kind, before the Bill can come into the legislative programme.

There is the question of whether there should be divided enforcement as between local authority inspectors and the factory inspectors. Here again I would say to my noble friend Lord Crook that there has been a great deal of improvement both as to performance and in the attention which is being paid to this matter. It may be that local authorities were perhaps a little slow to react to the responsibility put on to them. It may be unfair to say that they have been gingered into action by the Factory Inspectorate; it may be that they were merely laying their plans. But undoubtedly the majority of local authorities are now fulfilling their requirements. This is a highly technical question on which there is controversy. I myself have dealt with both kinds of inspector and in the London area I found both equally helpful. My instinct as a manager was to go in the first instance to my local Ministry of Labour inspector, for we always knew that we should get excellent technical advice there. This again is a complicated subject which we shall have to leave to future discussions.

There were a number of interesting small points raised, among them the problem of the carpet room in your Lordships' House. I am not sure whether this is really a matter for the Government to answer. I am advised that it appears to be a rest room for carpet workmen in the basement area of the Palace of Westminster and that these workmen are normally working around the Palace. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, that he and the Administration Committee had better get on to deal with this matter, but I myself will cooperate with the noble Lord in it. I should mention that, by a curious chance, the message from the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, that he was going to refer to conditions in the carpet workroom in the Palace of Westminster came to me not in the form of a reference to the Palace of Westminster, but as a reference to Buckingham Palace. These, of course, are residential premises occupied by Her Majesty. But your Lordships may be glad to hear that I was authorised to say that arrangements were being made, as a result of Lord Amulree's misdirected initiative, for a factory inspector to visit Buckingham Palace and the part of the premises to which the noble Lord referred. Whether or not that will now be necessary, I do not know. None the less, I think this shows willing.

My Lords, time is pressing, and I am very conscious that there is so little that I have been able to say on the many interesting points that have been raised, such as the problem of deafness and the problem of standards generally. But there is one general point which I should like to make, in conclusion, and that is that whenever we are confronted with a social ill in this matter we always look for somewhere to put the responsibility for curing it. We look to the Government; we look to the workers themselves.

I personally strongly echo the views expressed by the Chief Inspector, when he emphasised how important it is for top management to take an interest in safety. This is something which, as the Chief Inspector said, management should plan for just as much as it plans for production or for research and development. This suggests that the responsibility in this field is spread over a wide area. It is spread over the Government, in the resources they provide for the Factory Inspectorate; it is spread over the trade unions, to the extent to which they can make their particular contribution in persuading workpeople and others to cooperate. Indeed, a particular responsibility has been on the trade unions themselves, in bringing to light bad working conditions and initiating a continual dialogue.

Great progress has been made as a result of this, but I think we have to look to the whole basis of our society. What matters is the education system, the general environment, and the unwillingness, as I hope, to tolerate the intolerable. I would say to my noble friend Lady Summerskill that I think that real progress has been made. Even in the parts of industry in which I have been concerned I have seen improvements in cleanliness. There is this steady progress. However, it is only as a result of the energy and the "gingering" which noble Lords and others give that Governments, and others, will make a contribution towards the progress that we need. I hope that my noble friend Lord Crook is satisfied by the reaction to his debate, and I hope that this will become an annual event, if not on the same theme on allied themes, because I believe that this is a subject for which your Lordships have once again shown that you have a fitness for constructive discussion.


My Lords, by leave of the House may I say, "Thank you" to the noble Lord?