Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £304,123, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1933, for the Salaries and 'Expenses of the Office of His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department and Subordinate Offices, including Liquidation Expenses of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Contributions towards the Expenses of Probation.
I am very pleased that an opportunity is given to us once again to raise some questions with the Home Office. On this occasion it is my intention to devote my remarks almost entirely to the very admirable report of the Chief Inspector of Factories and Workshops for 1931. I think the Committee will agree that I am right in claiming that this is an important document when I tell them that it covers 155,000 factories and 95,000 workshops, with at least 250,000 employers and probably nearly 8,000,000 workpeople. That shows that a very large proportion of our popu- lation is concerned in the administration of our industrial legislation by the Home Office. This is the first occasion, so far as I remember, on which we have been privileged to get the annual report printed for the previous year in time to debate it before we adjourn for the Summer Recess. Formerly the report has always been 18 months old when it appeared. Still, I do not blame the Department for that delay in the past, because I am sure it was not their fault. Before proceeding to criticise the report I feel that it is our duty, and I am sure that I shall carry every Member of the Committee with me in this, to place on record our admiration for the splendid work which has been performed for so many years by Sir Gerald Bellhouse, the Chief Inspector of Factories, who has just retired from that important post.
The first criticism I have to offer on the work of the Department relates to the Safety First movement, though I ought to say that everybody interested in the work of the Factories Department must commend any movement in favour of safety in workshops and factories. It is stated in the report that power is given to the Secretary of State, under the Workmen's Compensation Act, to make orders requiring the establishment of safety organisations in individual works, and, in fact, a draft Safety in Factories Order was issued some time ago. Later on we are informed that the draft referred to has remained in abeyance because of the fact that assurances have been received that employers have secured the purpose of the orders on 4.0 p.m. a voluntary basis. The first question I want to put to the hon. Gentleman in charge of this Vote is, how comes it about that the Home Office is relying on voluntary assurances from employers in this connection, when, in fact, they say in the same report that the law requires the Home Office to carry out its obligations under a legal enactment? The second question on that score is this: I understand that our Government were a party to an international Convention on Accident Prevention, 1929, and I am pleased to say that, on the whole, this country stands well in the councils of the nations in regard to industrial legislation. I am afraid, however, it is falling back a little under the present regime, but that is not to be wondered at when we remember the kind of regime we have at the moment. Having said that, it would be interesting to know what has happened to that Convention and what is the policy of the Government towards it.
I do not know how many Members of the Committee have read this admirable report but what astonishes me is that the person who drafted it has plunged headlong into politics. I would like to know from the Under-Secretary whether the Home Secretary, who still declares himself a Liberal, has actually read portions of the report which I am about to quote and whether it expresses the policy of the Home Office with regard to Free Trade and tariffs. I would not be allowed to mention that subject were it not that in this report itself the issue is raised in a very concrete form. The report says:
In the textile areas the economic depression was also acute until the departure from the Gold Standard and imposition of tariffs caused an upward movement.
I wonder whether the Home Secretary agrees with a statement of that kind? Another piece of political philosophy in the report is the following:
Other industries which have already benefited or are likely to do so"—
from these two causes:
include leather, gloves, glass bottles, table glass, nails, locks and hinges, bobbins and paper.
I must confess that I think that a report dealing with industrial legislation is hardly the place to introduce a conflict of opinion as to the benefits or otherwise of tariffs, and I would like to know from the hon. Gentleman whether he has had anything to do with that part of the report as a tariffist, or whether the Home Secretary stands responsible for statements of this kind?
They always do, no doubt. Now I come to something more concrete. The number of factory inspectors employed is 247, and the total number of factories and workshops is a little over 250,000. That is to say, we have one inspector for every thousand factories or thereabouts, if my arithmetic is right. I would like to know how often each factory is visited, because it would take, I should imagine, at least 12 months for one inspector to visit 1,000 factories, as they are not all in the same area. If these factories are visited approximately only once every 12 months, does the hon. Gentleman think that the industrial laws of this country can be effectively carried out with that number of inspectors?
Then we have again a very remarkable statement in this document. We are told that by the end of February of this year at least 60 foreign firms had started work in the three London divisions, and that others had acquired premises consequent upon our coming off the Gold Standard and the imposition of tariffs. That is the third time there is a reference to this subject. With regard to those foreign firms, will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Home Office make it clear to the foreign gentlemen who own them that our laws in relation to factories and workshops, safety and welfare differ from the laws of the country from which they come?? I think that is a very proper question, because if it is true, as is always alleged by the Tory party in this House, that the industrial legislation of this country is better than that of any other country in the world, it is very necessary that these foreigners should be told exactly what is expected of them when they establish any factories in this land. I put that question, because I, myself, have had complaints from workpeople employed by these foreign firms, although it is not possible to raise the point on this Vote. It is true that these foreign firms will not pay in some cases the rates of wages applicable to the job and which are paid by some of our own firms. The Home Office has no jurisdiction in that respect, but it has jurisdiction very definitely as to the legal enactments relating to safety and welfare, and if these gentlemen do not understand the English language, I want to know whether they get any translation of our legal enactments in their own language?
Although the report rather glorifies the fact that there has been an increase in the number of foreign firms coming here, it never says a word as to the number of firms that have closed down. I am beginning to think that, although we have the best Civil Service in the world, the Civil Service always has an eye as to the policy of the Government for the time being. I have given an indication of how in the report these new foreign firms have been specially chronicled, and, lo and behold, we are told later on, that although there has been an increase of 1,252 factories during the year, there has been a decrease of 7,657 workshops. It does not matter very much what our political opinions may be: we are all sorry that the trade of this country is declining. On the other hand, I dislike boosting up the idea that foreigners are coming here because we have gone off the Gold Standard and have imposed tariffs, and then to find later on that the foreigner here does only a small proportion of the trade of the country.
If I may turn to another subject, may I say that the Home Office was represented at the International Labour Conference held in Geneva in May, 1931. Two conventions were under discussion there. One of them related to the night work of women, and the other to the age of children entering non-industrial employment. I am very much afraid that the present Government, above all, do not mind in the least sending delegates to Geneva and arguing, proposing and agreeing with conventions, but I should like to know from the hon. Gentleman this afternoon, when they send delegates to Geneva and agree to a convention, what they intend doing in this House to implement that convention These two conventions are very important, and I would like him to tell us what the Government policy is in relation to them.
One of the most extraordinary pieces of information in this report is that, whereas the economic depression which has crept over this country has reduced the number of persons employed in certain industries, and unemployment has risen to nearly 3,000,000 persons, we have this strange anomaly, that the Home Office last year issued 227 orders for the two-shift system. We have, therefore, the strange situation that tens of thousands of people, probably hundreds of thousands, in full employment are working overtime, and working at night as well, while the unemployed are looking on. If that tendency increases, as is implied in this report, we may well reach a stage when one-half the people of this country will be working at full-speed and the other half idly looking at them doing it. I think we ought to protest against that situation, which is condoned by the Home Office in issuing these Orders to work the two-shift system on the ground that it helps to economise in industry, whereas, in fact, the human factor is lost sight of entirely. I have worked nights on more than one occasion when I was a coal miner, and my opinion is that it is very much more natural to work during the day than during the night. If hon. Members were here in the early part of this morning and yesterday morning, I think they will agree with an assertion of that kind. I would like to know, therefore, whether it is the policy of the Government to continue to issue these Orders, because the hon. Gentleman will remember that when the proposals for the two-shift system were first brought before the House of Commons, they were never intended to continue until 1932. He will know that the law intended that the whole scheme should come to an end about three or four years ago, and I am sorry, therefore, that these new Orders have been issued and have been increased in number each year.
I turn now to a very pleasing feature in this report—the most pleasing of all. It is that the number of accidents reported shows a decrease from 144,758 in 1930, to 113,249 in 1931, and that the fatalities declined in the same period from 899 to 755. We ought to congratulate ourselves on an achievement of that kind.
That is a question to which I am coming at once. The figures I have given are, of course, in the main a reflection of the industrial depression, but it would be very much more satisfactory if we were told the percentage of these accidents to the number employed. That is the test. Of course, the hon. Gentleman may not be in a position to tell us, but it is, I think, the case in regard to coal mining, that you can tell the number of fatalities not only in proportion to the number of persons employed, but you can tell the number of fatalities and injuries proportionate to the tonnage of coal produced. Cannot the Home Office give us figures of that kind in relation to factories and workshops? I remember a case in a coal mining district where the hospital was closed entirely because there was a strike among the miners. Of course, it is no argument in that case to say that accidents have declined. If all the work-people of this country never worked at all, I suppose there would be very few accidents of any kind.
Therefore, I return to the point by asking that we shall be provided in future with statistics to indicate whether there is a real improvement, apart from the superficial improvement such as I have already indicated. With regard to fatal accidents, one of the few industries showing an increase in this connection is that of stone and cement, and we ought to be given the reason for that increase, seeing that in practically every other industry there is an improvement in the figures. The same argument applies to fatalities due to transmission machinery where there has been an increase from 36 in 1930 to 44 in 1931. Some of these industries may be new, and consequently the titles of the diseases mentioned are not quite familiar to me.
There is one reference here to cellulose lacquer, and it is interesting to note that the Trades Union Congress has been making representations to the Home Office for some time past, and have actually put in the code of regulations with a view to preventing workpeople using benzole in this connection. I would like the hon. Gentleman to tell us whether the representations of the Trades Union Congress have received any consideration up to now, more particularly because the Trades Union Congress has actually drafted that code suggesting how this disease can be prevented. The same authority, the Trades Union Congress, has suggested that notification of dermatitis should be made compulsory so that the full extent of this disease might be revealed. Voluntary notification of industrial diseases has, in my view, failed ignominiously. On the question of dermatitis I would like the Home Office to make its notification compulsory.
Another disease in which some of my hon. Friends are very interested is silicosis. To show the very serious situation in regard to silicosis, may I say that the number of deaths from silicosis in 1930 was 241; in 1931 it had increased to 319. That is an increase of 78 in a year. It is quite possible that a better diagnosis may be responsible, in part, for these figures, but I am assured, on the other hand, that that is not entirely so. I am informed too that the report of the first year's working of the medical arrangements scheme is shortly due, and I believe it will prove a very valuable document to those who are interested in this subject. I press upon the hon. Gentleman to give us a little more information as to what the Home Office intends doing in connection with silicosis to try and reduce the fatality figures as has been done in other categories of disease. I am informed that the Miners Federation itself is far from satisfied with the administration of the Silicosis Order.
I turn to a very old but deadly friend of mine, a subject in which I have interested myself for many years, and that is lead paint poisoning. It is very pleasant to see that what was said on the Floor of this House some years ago in 1926 when we were endeavouring to ratify the Convention in connection with lead paint poisoning, that the prophecies we then made have nearly all become true. There is a decline in the number of fatalities from lead paint poisoning and there is a decline also in the number of notified cases. I think I am right in saying that whereas the law lays it down specifically that lead cannot be used, in paint in certain conditions for inside buildings, I have seen advertisements myself where the lead paint producers advertise their lead paint for the purpose of painting inside buildings. If the law lays it down that lead cannot be used in paint inside buildings I would like the hon. Gentleman to look at some of those advertisements to see whether or not they are legal. It does not lay it clown in the law that the Home Office should prevent such advertisements, but I think just a nudge from title Home Office would sometimes put these gentlemen right.
I may be mistaken on that point, but at any rate the Convention laid down certain specific prohibitions of the use of lead in paint and that is, I think, the main reason why the number of cases notified has declined. I want to ask the hon. Gentleman to look at some of these advertisements which may not be illegal, but they are an incentive against what was intended by the Convention. I will leave it at that. There is an increase in the number of cases of aniline poisoning too, and the number of deaths from anthrax is still unsatisfactory. I know that the number of deaths from anthrax is declining, but I should have thought that the work that is done in the disinfection station—I think at Liverpool—that the figures would be very much better than they are.
I come to another subject affecting workers engaged in factories and workshops, to whom the subject is of immense importance, as I know that employers of labour themselves will appreciate. I turn to flour milling. The vast majority of flour millers in this country have been impressed by the fact that it is very dangerous to continue the 280 lbs. sack. I do not know how many hon. Members have seen a man handling a sack of flour weighing 280 lbs. It is a very hefty task. Most of the flour mills in this country have discarded the 280 lbs. sack in favour of the half weight, 140 lbs., Out there are some employers still who decline to reduce the weight. There have been cases brought to my notice where men have been so injured by handling this heavy weight that they have died as a result of their injuries. A smaller weight would be very much better not only for the flour millers but for the shops to which the sacks are sent, and where they are handled by the shop assistants. It is obvious that the weight should be reduced by one half. I would like to get an answer from the Home Office to the question as to whether they are pressing those flour millers who are still declining to carry out the recommendation of the flour milling industry itself to reduce the weight of their sacks.
There is indeed in this report another very sad feature. I have never been ab1e to understand that when this economic paralysis is creeping over the country and nearly 3,000,000 people are unemployed why this report should be able to indicate a tendency to an increase in the number of hours worked by people in employment. I should have thought that it ought to be the policy of the employers and certainly of workpeople and of Governments, if there
is only so much work to do to share that work out among the vast majority. Instead of that we have the tendency, especially in small factories and workshops, for the hours of labour to be increased inordinately. Let me quote what the inspector himself says:
In the Reading district as a result of a complaint it was found that three boys had worked in a cabinet works during both day and night, 21½ hours being worked between 8 a.m. Thursday and 12.30 p.m. Friday.
The Home Office I know full well are not responsible for all this, but I hope that they will come down with a heavy hand upon people who are exploiting boys and girls and working them such long hours. Let me give another case:
In the Nottingham district male young persons were found employed in a hosiery finishing factory at night. They have worked 74 hours in a week.
Just imagine, in the year 1932, when we are talking of a 48 hour week and about ratifying the convention of a maximum 48 hour week; when the Czechoslovakian Government is talking of introducing a Bill to reduce the hours of labour to 40 hours a week, here in the centre of an important industrial country are found boys working for 74 hours a week. That is monstrous.
The fact that proceedings followed does not destroy the fact that it happened. I know the hon. Gentleman does not stand for it, but it is worth while pointing out what can happen in a country like this in spite of all our legal enactments. Here is another case:
In a case in the East Lancashire district women and young persons were employed for a fortnight from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. All the 80 persons employed in the factory have worked these hours.
If these cases are found out by an average of one visit per annum to the factories by the inspectors, what must happen when the inspectors are not there? Let me say one or two words on the point raised by the hon. Gentleman, and I am sure the Under-Secretary is with me on this issue. 1,563 charges of illegal practices were brought into the courts, and the gross fines imposed amounted to only £3,098, approximately £2 each. In Moscow I suppose they would be shot. Here they get a
fine of as. 6d. or 5s. The reason may be that there are too many employers of labour on the magisterial bench dealing with these cases. I know that the Home Office cannot help that, but I think that magisterial benches in this country ought to take a very much more serious view of infractions of industrial laws than they are doing at the moment.
I want to conclude by asking one or two more questions, one of which relates to the Truck Acts. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that there has been considerable discussion in Lancashire over the administration of the Truck Acts. There is reported in this document a case during 1931 where deductions amounting to 17s. 6d. in one week were made from a worker's wages because he was alleged to have spoiled the material he produced. Seventeen and sixpence wages in some cases is nearly all the worker gets, and is too much by far. In any case, I wish Parliament had come to the conclusion that efficiency cannot be got from workpeople by fining them. There are other methods of securing efficiency apart from that. I have concluded my observations on that factory report, except to say that I hope that the Home Office will not at any time be lax in pursuit of those who break some of the very excellent pieces of legislation that we have for safeguarding the interests of our workpeople.
Turning from that, I want to say one thing on another subject and then I will sit down. In 1931 I am informed there were about 191,000 persons killed or injured in street accidents caused by vehicles. About 50,000 of those were pedestrians. I would like the hon. Gentleman to follow me in this rather difficult point.. I am informed that the police in the Metropolitan district have received information as to how to deal with case of injury in this connection, but this is the result, not only in London, but, I believe, elsewhere—
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but, if the question he is going to ask me is a question of police administration, I shall have to ask you, Captain Bourne, whether I shall be in order in replying to it, because the Police Vote is not under discussion.at the moment.
The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN:
The Police Vote, of course, is not before the Committee, but I was not quite certain how far the hon. Member wanted to go in developing his point, and I was listening to hear what he had to say. I am afraid that at this moment I am still not sufficiently clear on the point to say definitely whether he would be in order or not.
I think I may put myself in order by proceeding. The point that I wanted to put was that the police are not taking as much care in securing the names and addresses of witnesses as the driver of the vehicle who may be responsible for the injury to a pedestrian. I will leave the matter there, simply asking the hon. Gentleman if he will be good enough to look into it.
To return to the main theme of my remarks, I sincerely trust that the Home Office will watch these tendencies to extend the hours of labour, sometimes beyond the legal regulations, and will at any rate make it perfectly clear that, if we are to continue to boast, as we have in the past, that our industrial legislation is the best in the world, the present Government will do nothing at all to prevent that claim from being substantiated in the future.
I join with the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) in congratulating the Home Office on this report of the Chief Inspector. I should like to say a word or two about what the hon. Member has said before I proceed to my main remarks. In the first place, he made an appeal to the Home Office to take every possible step to prevent extended hours of working in industry generally. I want to reecho that request, because every decent employer of labour in this country finds growing within himself a tendency to reduce hours of labour rather than to extend them, and I can safely say that, in the iron and steel industry generally, the hours of work per week are probably shorter than in most other industries. I would remind the hon. Member, however, when he speaks of the desire and need for sharing work among workers in view of growing unemployment, that, even when employers, in districts where industry has not suffered so much as it has generally throughout the country, are prepared to do this, we find that very often the obstacle in the way of sharing work arises more from the trade unionists themselves than from the employers. I am not saying that unkindly; I am just reminding the hon. Member of it. I hope that what he has said about sharing work will be taken to heart, not only by employers generally, but by trade unionists also.
I leave the matter there; I am not approaching the subject in a critical attitude at all. The hon. Member dealt with the question of "Safety First," and rather deplored the fact that the resolutions at Geneva have not been adopted and put into operation in this country, or rather, that, instead of our "Safety First" work in industry being carried out by compulsion or Order, the Home Office has agreed that this scheme of safety work should be carried out on a voluntary basis. I think that, as the object is to attain increased safety for workpeople generally, a voluntary system is altogether superior to a compulsory system. We have had, in the basic industries of this country, a voluntary "Safety First" organisation for some years—an organisation which has received the blessing of the Home Office and of the Chief Inspector and his assistants, and the present report of the Chief Inspector bears testimony to the wonderful success of that organisation on a voluntary basis. It must be admitted that, once a compulsory system of safety working is introduced in industry generally, it is bound to become stereotyped. With the multitude of varying industries in the country, some more mechanised than others, it is impossible for a Government Department like the Home Office to introduce a system of "Safety First" organisation by Order which will fit into every set of circumstances, and, consequently, we are convinced—and we are as keen on this work as hon. Members on the other side of the House—that the only satisfactory system is one which is voluntary in its efforts, because then we are able to adapt it to meet various industries, and also to adapt it to the varying size of factories within a particular industry.
I am convinced that the success of our voluntary "Safety First" system in industry is due to the fact that we are able to have the hearty co-operation of employés generally. I know that the hon. Member for Westhoughton will agree with me that no one detests Government Orders and Government interference in the daily routine of his work more than the workman himself, and I am convinced that very often a body of working men in a steelworks or any other factory will take more notice of the friendly cooperation of their employer than they will of the instructions of a Government inspector. I am satisfied that no compulsory system of safety organisation could be formed to meet the individual needs of every kind of industry in the country. As an instance of the success of the voluntary system, I would point out that on page 20 of the Chief Inspector's report special reference is made to an industry which I know very well, the tinplate industry of South Wales, in which this voluntary "Safety First" organisation was adopted some years back. The reduction in the frequency rate and in the severity rate, and the amazing reduction in the number of lost-time accidents, is shown in the last line of the table. The number of lost-time accidents in 1927 was 4,475, while in 1931 it had gone down to 2,599. I consider that that is ample testimony to the wonderful success of this voluntary system of "Safety First" which has been adopted in the iron and steel trade of South Wales.
The hon. Member for Westhoughton made reference to the work of the factory inspectors, and in that connection I should like to say that, whatever industries or whatever works may be neglected by factory inspectors, we see them in our steelworks and in the iron and steel trade generally much oftener than once a year, and it is a testimony to the inspectors that their visits are always welcome. The type of individual representing the Inspection Department of the Home Office at the present time makes him a very welcome visitor at all times in steelworks, tinplate works, and factories generally in South Wales, because we appreciate his attitude of mind. These are days of improvement and of increased mechanisation in industry generally, and, as a result of that increased mechanisation, workmen become more prone to accidents. We find, however, that the factory inspectors are always willing to co-operate with us and assist us generally.
The hon. Member also referred to some conventions in which I am very much interested. We are particularly proud in this country of the standard of life of the British working man generally, though no one pretends that this minimum standard of life and comfort is what we would like it to be. I suppose we shall never be satisfied, and shall always he aiming at something better, but I think we are all prepared to admit that the standard of factory legislation in this country to-day, and the standard of life generally, are very much in excess of those on the Continent. We had hoped that, as a result of the formation of the International Labour Office at Geneva, we might have persuaded some of these competing countries to adopt standards of life and standards of industrial legislation more akin to our own, and I think that Great Britain has taken part in the work of the International Labour Office really in the hope that some such step would result in the improvement of industrial conditions on the Continent.
I should like to ask the Under-Secretary a question; I apologise to him for not having given him notice of it. I am particularly interested in one matter which has been before the International Labour Office, affecting the question of the employment of women at night in industrial occupations. I would refer him in particular to Article 32 of the convention, which was ratified by Great Britain, and with which our law conforms at the present time. There arose a problem of peculiar interest to Great Britain, as a result of the higher education of women and the entry of women into industrial occupations. It was discovered that, where a women qualified, for example, in the profession of electrical engineering, she was, as a result of the operation of this convention, prohibited from taking a post as supervisor or manager of, say, the electrical department of a power-house, and it was thought by those interested in the matter that some interpretation of the convention in this regard should be given by the International Labour Office. Great Britain appealed to the governing body of the International Labour Office on this matter, and it was suggested that the convention should be revised so that, in cases such as this, where women were employed in supervisory work or in management, and were not actually doing any manual labour, they should be exempted from the operation of the convention.
Those who have been interested in following the discussion of the International Labour Office will have noticed that, very strangely, two points of view were expressed. On the one hand it was suggested that the convention did not apply to such cases as I have mentioned, and that, therefore, there was no need for a revision of the convention at all; while, on the other hand, it was suggested that this convention should apply, and was intended to apply, to such cases. The British Government representative was, as the result of this difference of opinion, more satisfied than ever that an interpretation should be given of the convention, and, as a result of the pressure exercised by him, it was decided that the whole matter should be referred to the governing body of the International Labour Office. Unfortunately, however, just as this matter was being discussed by the conference, Belgium put forward another point in connection with the definition of what was to be regarded as night work, and, as a result of these two questions coming before the conference at the same time, the issue was clouded. Then the British representative demanded that the matter should be referred to The Hague. I wonder whether the Under-Secretary can tell us whether a reply has yet been received, or whether a decision has been arrived at.
There is one other matter affecting conventions which I think rather important. A convention was adopted at Geneva this year dealing with the age of admission into non-industrial occupations of boys between 12 and 14. A questionnaire was submitted to countries within the International Labour Office in order to obtain the views of the various Governments as to the operation of such a convention and, based upon their replies, a draft convention was submitted to Geneva. Unfortunately, as the result of action taken by a Labour representative of this country, important
variations were made in Clause 3 of the convention, with the result that it is feared that very few countries will be able to ratify. I am glad to think that Sir Malcolm Delevingne, on behalf of the British Government, took rather strong objection to the Clause. This is what he said:
These Amendments represent a very sincere effort on the part of a number of Governments which are specially interested in this question and which have for a long time past made a study of it to bring the draft convention into a form in which it will have the best prospect of acceptance by a large number of Governments. I must say quite frankly that the combined effect of the alterations made by the Committee to Article 3 would, if they are confirmed by the Conference, make it impossible for my Government to accept the Convention either now or probably for a long time to come.
As it is the desire of Labour representatives generally in this country to raise the standard of industrial conditions in Continental countries somewhere nearer those of our own, it is unfortunate that a step taken by Labour representatives at Geneva has resulted in the production of a convention which Great Britain itself cannot adopt, and which it is certain no other country in Europe will ratify. I hope steps will be taken by the British Government to ensure that some agreed policy is adopted by British representatives when they go to Geneva in the hope that the adoption of a convention will have the result of improving the standards of life generally on the Continent, and will approximate to those enjoyed by working people generally in this country. I am sorry to have touched on these matters, which may not be of general interest. I hope the Home Office will be able to deal with them.
I do not think the hon. Gentleman need apologise for his very interesting and informative speech. We all appreciate the points that he made. He referred to the work of inspectors. I should have liked the report of the chief inspector to be free from political bias. I should like him to be independent in making his report rather than to show which way his political inclinations lie. He said that owing to tariffs certain things have improved. I think he might have left that out. I have intervened in order to challenge the Home Office on the collection of statistics, and particularly in not providing the House with the fullest information in regard to Workmen's Compensation. I asked a question on 28th June in regard to the number of colliery companies which had failed to meet their liabilities, and I was told that since January, 1927, there had been 12 cases where there had been liquidation and a permanent loss of compensation affecting 390 workmen altogether. These included two Lancashire cases affecting 63 men and, in addition, there were II cases, affecting possibly 500 to 600 men, where the position was still uncertain. These included two Lancashire collieries affecting about 160 men. There was no further information.
I quite agree that it is rather difficult by question and answer to get full information, but I want to see if anything can be done in the matter. I have figures showing that in the case of the Worsley Mesnes Colliery, which closed down 2½ years ago, 31 men are affected, and the matter has not been settled yet. It has been in the hands of the official receiver all that time. The amount of compensation agreed upon by the courts is £6,945, and the assets were £10,525. The latest figures that we have show that the men will not get 10s. in the £, the remainder being swallowed up by fees and that kind of thing. It seems to me and to the workmen that it is an unnecessary waste of time and money belonging to the workers. If the matter had been settled immediately, they would have got 20s. in the £ There is another case of the Ashtons Green Colliery in Lancashire, which closed down last November. We have 150 cases up to date and the agreed amount of compensation, if they paid the capital value, would amount to £44,000. The assets, if everything is realised, will only come to about £17,000. That is still being dealt with by the official receiver, and it is most unlikely that they will get anything like the £17,000. We do not know how long it will go on, probably months or, judging by other cases, a year, and all the time the money is being eaten up. It seems a sad case of maladministration of what ought to go to the workers. I want to show what happened to the colliery company prior to this taking place. I have here a newspaper report of a meeting of creditors:
Ten injured miners, including two on crutches, listened at a creditors' meeting to an accountant who described them as ' men
thrown on the industrial scrap heap like pieces of broken machinery.' This was at the meeting of creditors of Messrs. Bromilow, Foster and Co., Ltd., Ashtons Green Colliery, St. Helens, which took place on Friday at Liverpool, and was presided over by Mr. H. Bromilow (chairman of the directors). It was stated that 131 injured miners ranked as creditors for compensation purposes, and their claims amounted approximately to £45,000. These are preferential creditors, but it was stated that, even when the assets had been realised, it would be very doubtful whether the unfortunate men would receive a single penny.
This company a few years ago had a bank balance of £84,000. Nothing was done to provide for the evil day for the injured workmen. This is something for which colliery companies ought to be on the watch. When balancing their accounts, they put certain amounts into reserve to meet their liabilities. We claim that, if there are a number of injured workmen, they ought to put on one side a capital amount to protect these men. The shareholders took big dividends as long as they could, then trade declined, the company closed down and the unfortunate workmen were thrown on the scrapheap and nothing was done for them.
Let us see where it gets to eventually. I wrote to the Minister of Health and asked if these men who had been deprived of compensation could go on to National Health, and he said they could. That brings us to this point, that National Health is bearing a burden that it ought not to bear. What becomes of those who are not totally incapacitated? They try to get on to the Employment Exchange. If they are not capable of work, they are struck off. In December last the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said there were signing on at the Employment Exchanges 600,000 who might be termed industrial derelicts, who would never get work in the industrial market unless there was a tremendous revival of trade. I wonder how many of these belong to what are termed compensation cases? In a highly industrialised country like ours it is up to the Home Secretary to find out how far this is eating into the life of the nation. If industrial cripples are being driven on to the Poor Law and the Employment Exchanges, transitional payment or National Health, something will have to be done. I do not think anyone who examines the.facts will deny that a man injured in industry is entitled to recompense. Hon. Members will admit that if he has given his services to industry and he is genuinely injured, the industry should provide for him and he should not be cast out to seek relief from public funds. That is the fundamental principle underlying the Workmen's Compensation Acts. Anybody who has read the Debates leading up to the Workmen's Compensation Acts will realise that that is the whole idea behind them. My admiration is aroused when I read the speeches delivered in 1893 by the late right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, the father of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer —and all credit to him. He stated that industry must be constituted in such a way as to provide for men who were cripples. He laid down that principle, and stage by stage our legislation has been built upon it. But at the present time we seem to be missing the central point of the Workmen's Compensation Acts. My remarks are intended to drive home to the Home Office the need for collecting all possible statistics and finding out what this really means to the life of the nation. Then, if they feel that the present Acts of Parliament are not sufficient to meet the position to-day they should set to work to bring in legislation in order to put every injured working man on the footing to which he is entitled.
I was peculiarly interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), and I wish to say a word or two to supplement what he has said. There is no doubt whatever, particularly in regard to the colliery business, that there is a great deal of suffering at the present time brought about by failures and liquidations of colliery companies. One of the difficulties in the situation upon which I do not think the hon. Member touched is in connection with the way in which a great many of the colliery enterprises are insured. As I understand the position, most of the colliery companies at the present time are included in mutual indemnity societies. They pay a levy at the end of the year based upon the payments out during the year, and in that way there is a form of mutual insurance, but, as I understand the position—and I am dealing with it at a moment's notice as it were—there is a difference between the form of mutual insurance, in the case of collieries particularly, and ordinary insurance against workmen's compensation risks. Where a man is insured against ordinary workmen's compensation risks with the ordinary insurance companies, the premium paid covers the whole risk. Therefore, if a man is insured he is entitled to continuing payments. After all, the most serious case under the Workmen's Compensation Acts is the case of the man who is permanently injured and must depend, probably during the whole of the rest of his life, upon a weekly payment. The insurance company takes on the liability from its inception, and is bound to continue the payments until such time as the man is no longer entitled to workmen's compensation.
Unfortunately, in connection with a number of those mutual indemnity clubs, the liability taken by the club is only a liability for the payments of the year. Therefore, although a man appears to have an insurance beyond the funds of his employer, the fact is that if his employers are a limited liability company and go into liquidation, or if he is employed by a private employer who goes into bankruptcy, the chances of the claim of the man against a so-called insurers' mutual indemnity club come to an end for all practical purposes with the bankruptcy or liquidation. It is a very serious matter from the point of view of the workmen. I express the hope which has been expressed throughout the colliery districts and by many of those who have had anything to do with administering workmen's compensation, that the Home Office will make some inquiry into the extent to which workmen have been left stranded under those conditions.
I have always been rather against compulsory insurance, but, frankly, the extent to which men have been left penniless and helpless by that type of insurance has led me to think that the time is coming when on inquiry it will become necessary for some form of compulsory insurance to be adopted, and, of course, it must be a compulsory insurance which will cover those men in reality, and not be something which leaves them stranded when their particular employer goes into liquidation or becomes bankrupt. I know how serious the question is, and I hope that the Home Office will take such steps to make inquiries as will give the necessary information, because I am sure that when they get it they will realise how necessary it is to take steps to ensure that injured men are insured in such a way as to make them a charge upon the particular industry, and so prevent them from being a charge upon the Poor Law.
We have reason to be very thankful to my hon. Friend who has raised this important question. There never was a time when it was more necessary, particularly as regards the mining districts, to draw the attention of the Home Office to the general administration of the compensation laws. At the moment thousands of men are affected in the coalfields. In my county of Yorkshire, and in other mining areas, large numbers of men are affected by the administration of compensation, and their position is such that I hope that the Home Office will make special inquiries into the question of compensation insurance and other matters. I think that it is true to say there are thousands of men who, owing to the activities of various organisations responsible for insurance, have been deprived of their compensation rights. Many of these men suffer from miner's nystagmus. They cannot get employment at the collieries, with the result that they are often left at the mercy of the Poor Law. I believe it will be agreed in these days of civilisation that the men who are injured in industry ought to be properly cared for.
If the Home Office could obtain statistics relating to the conditions of insurance in regard to various limited liability companies the information would be of interest. Many instances similar to those stated by my hon. Friend who represents the coalfield of Lancashire can be enumerated. The Home Office should immediately set on foot an inquiry with the object of seeing that men are not thrown upon the scrap-heap and have to apply for assistance to the Poor Law. The position of some of the men whose compensation has been reduced is such that they cannot obtain work. Something should be done, even if it means, passing additional legislation, as these-men are entitled to protection. When they are injured, the liability should be placed upon the companies and firms which employ them. Great difficulties arise in cases where compensation has been reduced and the injured men are asked to seek light work. This is particularly so in the mining industry. I have not been able to find any light work at any colliery, for there is none. In the present state of the labour market our men cannot get work elsewhere, and often they are compelled to seek relief from the Poor Law. I appeal to the Home Office to make inquiries and help to put the position of these men upon a sound foundation, and to see to it that the insurance companies with whom the men are insured, and the firms for whom they work, make special provision, whatever emergency may arise, so that when any men receive injuries in the various industries they shall receive proper care.
I should like first to touch upon one or two angles of the pressing matter of insurance, and to endorse what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) when he spoke of the need for immediate inquiry and, if necessary, reform. If the Home Office feels that it is powerless in the present state of affairs to probe into the mysterious way in which coalowners and other people may escape, and if in some cases as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), are escaping from the liability due to those who are crippled in industry, I hope that it will come to this House and ask for powers to deal with the situation. Speaking for myself, I should be happy to give my support to machinery and to measures which would prevent that very grave disaster to those who can no longer fend for themselves. The position of the incapacitated must be a high charge upon industry. The hon. Member for Leigh spoke of the difficulty there was in getting light work for someone who at his old work had become, to some extent, incapacitated. One finds in the practice of the Workmen's Compensation Acts that the only light work going is the light work offered and kept by employers for "compensation men" of their own, and there is no chance at all of such light work being given to men who are injured in firms outside the places where they are keeping their own vacancies. I hope that my hon. Friend on behalf of the Home Office will consider, in the depression through which trade is passing to-day, that the position of injured men must be one of the first claims upon official consideration.
I want to add to what has been said by every Member who has spoken in the Committee this afternoon my word of compliment to the Home Office for its very full and detailed report. It is a matter of great satisfaction to learn at the outset that the progress which has been made in the study of industrial diseases has been so marked, and that there has been a substantial decrease in the number of accidents. We on this side of the Committee, as much as anybody welcome the co-operation which is taking place in the maintenance of Safety First organisations. Safety work is an essential part of industrial efficiency. I am very gratified to learn that so many exist and that such organisations are receiving so much support from all ranks in industry, and that they are bringing about better conditions generally. We read in the report that there are many new Safety First organisations in factories and in works, and that in dangerous trades conferences are encouraged by those who own the factories and by those who have to work at those dangerous trades. We must realise, and those of us who are here representing industrial constituencies must appreciate, particularly when new advances or inventions such as chromium plating are made of more use and utility, more men and women are put in danger from such new and fresh employment which is more dangerous in its incidence. From that angle I am glad to read in the report that in that particular industry, as well as in other industries classified as dangerous trades, there is every precaution taken and that there is encouragement for co-operation in the way of conference between the two sides of the industry. There must be complete assistance and encouragement in this one aim for safety. I hope that everything will be done by all ranks in trade and industry to bring about still more co-operation and more conferences, in order still further—and very much further—to reduce accidents and injuries in various trades and industry.
Despite the industrial depression through which the country has been passing during the last few months, increased attention has been paid to welfare arrangements. Whether it be in the form of the more humble canteen or mess room, or whether it be in the form of the more elaborate cafeteria, there seems throughout the country in every industrial organisation to have been considerably more attention paid to mealtimes and to the amenities generally of those who are employed in large industrial concerns. I hope that that spirit of making better provision for those people—men, women and young riersons—at work, as well as better provision in the shape of more efficient and more modern machinery, will continue throughout our industries. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) made reference to the overworking of certain persons in respect of prosecutions mentioned in the report. I think it is only right to say that the Home Office, apparently, have taken every step to bring to prosecution those who have offended in this respect, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will assure us, as I have no doubt it is the ease, that whenever circumstances are brought to the notice of the Home Office which show that there has been prima facie some offence against the labour laws of this country, proceedings have been and are put into motion straight away to bring about prosecutions for those offences.
In a somewhat cavalier fashion the hon. Member for Westhoughton remarked that the fines were very small and that the smallness of those fines was due to the presence on the bench of those who were controlling certain departments of industry. I hope that ay hon. Friend was entirely wrong in that assertion. I hope that no such thing exists. As one who in other places has not hesitated to criticise the work of the magistrates when circumstances have so justified, I do not think it is right to state that such a thing does take place. If such cases were brought to the notice of the Home Office I feel sure that they would be dealt with at once by official activity, because there must be no such thing in the courts of this country, whether dealing with the provisions of our labour laws or anything else, as intervention with the proper course of justice and the prevention of adequate fines in proper cases, because of some tampering with the tribunal. One hon. Member said that we pride ourselves upon our working conditions, and so we do, and we pride ourselves no less upon our traditions of our criminal justice. It would be a terrible thing, and I hope it will never for one moment be allowed, if there were any interference with the course of justice in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Westhoughton. If the Home Office, having regard to the seriousness with which these offences are properly considered and the great need there is for protecting men, women and young persons in their employment, are of the opinion that the law is not sufficiently strong, I hope they will ask for further powers from the House to strengthen the law for the protection of the people in their employment.
I would add my endorsement of the hope that has been expressed that from the International Labour Office there may arise a bettering of conditions all over the Continent. If the Home Office can tell us next year in their report that they are bringing about better relations with other countries with a view to improving their conditions of life and labour and making them conform more with the very highest conditions, I am sure that we shall again express our appreciation of the work of the Department. I hope the time will come soon when the question of the ratification of the Washington Convention will be before us as a real thing and not merely as an ideal. The Report of the Home Office deals with industry from every angle. It shows a different conception of industry from that which prevailed years ago, and I hope that in that spirit of co-operation, good will and mutual endeavour we shall get from all sides engaged in industry a real anxiety to work together for one common good, and general prosperity.
I do not intend to detain the Committee very long, because I understand the intention is to get on to other business, but as the representative of a constituency adjoining that represented by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) I desire to associate myself with what he has said, and also with what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord). Having had some little experience of workmen's compensation cases in that industrial area, particularly colliery cases, I desire to say, as was pointed out by the hon. and learned Member for Norwood, that the indemnity clubs con- cerned are only concerned with compensation and the fighting of cases. They are only concerned with payment in fatal cases. In other cases the compensation is borne entirely by the employers so that when, as unfortunately has happened in St. Helens, a company goes into liquidation one finds a company being quite unable to pay any compensation because a proper market value cannot be obtained for the colliery in question.
In fairness, one must say of the colliery owners in that district who are running other collieries that when that occurred and I made inquiries what they were doing the colliery owners told me that they were working out schemes whereby that sort of thing would not happen in the future. One must realise at the present time to ask these owners or the clubs to come along and try to find the necessary amount of capital money which is required would be extremely hard not merely on the colliery owners themselves but upon the clubs and would have a most adverse effect upon the finances of the mutual clubs. They have informed me that they are doing their best in the circumstances and have empowered me to indicate to the Home Office that they are looking into this matter and doing their best to see that this sort of thing shall not happen in the future.
I should like to say a few words on the question of miners' nystagmus. One meets with a tremendous lot of these cases in the Lancashire courts. So far as these cases are concerned, except for those colliery companies which have failed, they are paying weekly, monthly or yearly the compensation. It is extremely difficult for employers to get these cases of nystagmus off their books. Once a man has got nystagmus it is extremely difficult to get such men off the compensation books. So long as miners are suffering from nystagmus so long will they continue to be paid workmen's compensation. It may be that there are some cases where they prefer to take a lump sum in settlement, but that lump sum has to be approved by the registrar of the county court, and if he is not satisfied it must be approved by the county court judge. As one who has had some experience in these matters I can safely say that either the registrar or the county court judge sees to it that the workman is properly treated. Having regard to what has happened in Lancashire, in St. Helens and close to Wigan, I felt that it was only right that the employers' side of the case should be put, in order to show what they are doing.
I should like to draw attention to the position of nystagmus cases in Scotland, particularly in Lanarkshire. If a man is unable to follow his employment as a miner in Lanarkshire on account of nystagmus, when he has been for some short time in receipt of compensation he is certified fit for light employment, but there is no employment to be got in the colliery. The coalowners are insured through insurance companies and such a man can find no employment in any pit. If he goes to a colliery and is successful in finding employment, the manager makes inquiry and he must sign a certificate that he has never suffered from nystagmus. If he denies that he has suffered from nystagmus and he gets work and the nystagmus recurs and he claims compensation, he is refused compensation on the ground that he has fraudulently obtained employment. I do not know a worse instance of injustice to men willing to work and doing their utmost to get work than that they should be refused employment unless they sign an untrue statement. If such men do obtain employment and the disease recurs, as it frequently does, they are deprived of their compensation. I should like to know whether the Home Office, with their knowledge of these cases, are prepared to have the law amended to some extent in order to make it possible for a man who is suffering from this disease to be allowed to work when he is fit for work, and if not that he should be continued in compensation. It is about time that this question was dealt with and the anomaly removed in some way or other.
I should not have taken part in this discussion but for what has been said about the employers. As an employer of labour I feel that it is my duty to point out that the things which have been said against employers are not true. No one welcomes this report, upon which I congratulate the Home Office, more than the employers. It is all to their interest that machinery should be protected and the working people looked after. Nor is the employer always against the employé; indeed it is generally the reverse. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) referred to the working of two shifts and tried to suggest that the same people worked on both shifts. These shifts are worked from six o'clock until two, and from two o'clock until 10, and instead of reducing the wages in proportion to the reduction in hours it means that the employer pays wages on the rate of the full 48 hours week. It is not to the advantage of the employer as far as wages are concerned so much as he is able to use his machinery to the best advantage in turning out more work. It provides work for two sections instead of one. Unfortunately, owing to the depression, which is what I would term a seasonal depression, because I do not believe it is as acute as some people would have us suppose—I think it is a seasonal depression which takes place every year—
In certain trades they work up to what is termed the spring season, and then after a certain time there is a holiday appearance in the trade; work generally comes to an end after what is called the spring season. In fact, nine months out of 12 you have pretty regular employment and three months during which it is of a very indifferent character. That has been the case for many years past. The hon. Member for Westhoughton would also have us believe that the inspectors are not carrying out their duties. I object to such a statement. I know that the inspectors are doing their work splendidly, they are interested in their work, and to talk about one inspector visiting a factory once a year is almost an insult to the way in which they are carrying out their duties. Then there is the question of the magisterial bench. For a speaker like the hon. Member with his ability and capabilities, to make such observations, I thought was a little bit too low. The magistrates in this country are above suspicion, and to imagine for a moment that a man would so belittle himself as to give a verdict against an employé for a small offence is not worth consideration. As to the number of accidents I am sure that we ought to con- gratulate ourselves that they are so few. It only shows that we have the most wonderful system in the world; and the report bears that out in every particular.
I want to enforce the remarks of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham). I do not know whether the treatment he described regarding miners in Scotland who are temporarily affected by nystagmus is the same throughout the coalfields of Great Britain, if so it is really time something was done. It is no use for this Government and individuals in the Government being nice and affable—
I must rise to a point of Order. I do not want to curtail the discussion, but I am in a position of some difficulty because the hon. Member and the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) are discussing a question which would require fresh legislation and I do not know whether, when my turn comes, it will be in order for me to discuss a matter which requires fresh legislation?
It is quite obvious that matters which entail legislation cannot be discussed in Committee of Supply, but I am a little uncertain as to the exact working of the Act. I think the hon. Member is entitled to refer to the working of the Act although he must not go into details. He may ask whether it is practicable to take any steps, but he must not go beyond that.
I can assure you that I have no desire to go into the matter. All I wish to do is to draw the attention of the House and the country to the fact that this Government is of no use. It has done nothing to deal with the hardship of the working classes; it has not touched the hem of the garment. That is my point, and with all due respect to the Under-Secretary, for whom I have a great regard, you will see that I got under his skin at once—the truth always cats keener than a two-edged sword. I have accomplished all I wanted to do. This is a tragedy which is being enacted in working-class life. We raise the question of this disease and the treatment of the miners from time to time, and we get no further. If we could live on promises we should all be well off; but we cannot. The Under-Secretary could use his influence with the Government to do something definite in this matter. He tells us that it would require fresh legislation. We know that; and we have to use every legitimate means within our power in order to worry him, just as worried the Secretary for Mines yesterday, to do something. There is no doubt that this Government promised what they would do for the people of the country, but if there is one section for which they have done nothing it is the miners, whose condition to-day is worse than ever it was—
That is just what I am coming to. I want compensation. But I will leave that now. The hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Eady) did not need to tell us that he was an employer of labour. It was quite unnecessary. Immediately he started to make his speech anybody knew that he was not a member of the working classes and that he was speaking on behalf of the employers. I appreciate a man who comes here and says what he thinks. He says that employers of labour welcome this report. I have known employers of labour for 40 years, and they would never welcome this report. He also said that they welcomed the safeguards which the Board of Trade insist on being put on machinery. Did anybody ever hear such nonsense? We have had to fight the matter out in the House of Commons, and have been fighting it since my boyhood days.
I will leave that point of Order with you, Captain Bourne. The hon. Member says that every machine that is turned out to-day is provided with safeguards in order to fulfil the requirements of the Board of Trade. That is perfectly true; but it was because we had to come to this House, before I was a Member of Parliament, and lobby Members and ask them to block a certain Bill in order to see that proper safeguards were put on all machinery; on machinery that was going into Bradford. Nobody knows that better than the hon. Member for Central Bradford himself. So much for the guards. The hon. Member said something further which astonished me. I interrupted him when he said that he did not agree that there was a general depression abroad. He said that it was only seasonal, that we had been suffering from the seasonal depressions for many years. He mentioned the spring season. He said it was in the spring quarter of the year that the workers would be unemployed. To me that would be Merrie England in earnest, but I have searched this land from one end of it to the other in vain for that country that I have read so much about, Merrie England, and neither you, Mr. Chairman, nor I have yet discovered it so far as the working class is concerned. But the hon. Member for Central Bradford gave us an indication that it existed, because he said that the workers were off for three months in the year.
You read your speech to-morrow and you will see that that is what you said, that the men were off for three months and were working for nine months, and that that had gone on for years. That would be an ideal state of affairs. Three months holiday. That is what I have been striving to get for my class for 40 years. But it does not exist. This Committee knows perfectly well that the depression is a general depression. Even the Government make out my case when they try to excuse the thing. They tell us that we are better off than those in Germany, that every country is worse off than we are. Therefore the depression is not just local or national, but is a depression all over the world. Again the hon. Member said that the depression is something that has come on us in the last year or so. My answer is that the depression has been going on to my knowledge for 10 years. My own trade union, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, has spent £11,000,000 in unemployment benefits to its members. My trade is just like every other trade. All trades have been hit.
We have no work to do. The present Prime Minister when he took office with the Labour Government started a new Department to find work for the unemployed. But the Government could not find work for the unemployed, and the present Government cannot find it now. When they dispensed with that Department they appointed a committee.
No, but with all due deference to you, Mr. Chairman, I think I am entitled to reply to a speech to which I have just listened, and that is the line on which the hon. Member for Central Bradford went. I do not wish to cross swords with the Chair unnecessarily, but I hold that I have my rights as a Member of this House, sent here by tens of thousands of votes, not by a few votes, and representing one of the most powerful trade unions in the country. I do not think I should just be turned down immediately I rise to reply to another hon. Member. I try to keep within the rules, and I do not want simply to be put down because my method of approach may not happen to suit certain individuals. I want to tell you that I was not five minutes on my feet, not two minutes, before the man in charge, the Under-Secretary, got up and drew the attention of the then Deputy-Chairman that he thought I was not in order. I protest that if it is to be a fight for my rights in this House there is no one more capable of fighting for them and going the whole road. But I do not want to do anything of the kind. I resent the idea that we have to sit here and listen to individuals because they claim to be employers of labour—to listen to them absolutely insulting my class. I am not going to stand it. If I am to defend my class in a decent, intelligent, straightforward and constitutional fashion, I will do it. Am I going to be held up on every occasion when rise to put the point of view of the workers? Have I not a right to reply to statements made by hon. Members opposite?
Unfortunately, as the lion. Gentleman has said, I was not here during the previous speeches or at the beginning of his speech. I do not want to stop him from answering anything that was said, but at the same time it did occur to me, when I took the Chair just now, that it was very difficult to find a connection between this Vote and the hon. Member's speech. There is still less connection between the Vote and the hon. Member's admirable qualities as representative of his constituency. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member will leave that subject and answer what he wants to answer.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your manner of approach. I know that this House has a great regard for dignity as a House, but I have my dignity also, and I have my rights. I feel that you would not deprive me of my rights. I feel that that is true. But there is no doubt that the hon. Member for Central Bradford was allowed to go along certain lines. I have sat here and listened to the speeches, and I think I am justified in replying to what the hon. Member for Central Bradford stated. As far as I was able to understand, and as far as the workers in the workshops understand, the things the hon. Member said are not the case. But I have no desire to speak longer and delay the Committee, for we have a good deal of business to do. I have accomplished all that I set out to accomplish, and I thank both you and the Committee.
Hon. Members will agree that there is a general desire to proceed to the very important business which is to be discussed later. Therefore I make no apology for rising now to answer the numerous questions which have been put to me. I am sure that hon. Members will neither expect nor desire that I should make anything in the nature of a general statement or explanation of this report of the Chief Inspector of Factories, but would wish me to confine myself to such points as have been raised. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) with his usual courtesy supplied me before the Debate with notes of the points that he wished to raise, and I hope to deal with the more important of them. First of all I would thank him and join with him in the tribute that he paid to the late Chief Inspector of Factories, Sir Gerald Bellhouse, whose last report this is. All those who came in contact with Sir Gerald or watched the work of the Department during the last few years when he was in charge, have realised how much he added to its prestige, and how much he improved the standard of work. I am sure the hon. Member for Westhoughton would like to join with me in wishing to Sir Gerald's successor equally good fortune and equal success in the conduct of the Department.
But, having paid such a tribute to Sir Gerald Bellhouse, the hon. Member for Westhoughton rather proceeded to take away from it by alleging that the report and the introduction to it, which Sir Gerald signed, were tainted with political bias. In support of that he made some references to a passage in which it is stated that owing to the Gold Standard and to tariffs certain industries have improved. Apparently the hon. Member thought that that was a political statement. I would rather say that it was a statement of fact, and that no one could deny that by the imposition of tariffs certain industries have improved. I certainly have never met a Free Trader—a few years ago I used to meet a great many Free Traders—who denied that the imposition of tariffs would help certain industries. The only question was whether the imposition at the same time that it helped some industries, would not injure others. I really cannot think that the hon. Member for Westhoughton was serious when he alleged some form of political bias in the Chief Inspector in stating that certain definite and specified industries had benefited from the imposition of a tariff.
I think the hon. Member need not be frightened that there has been any widening of the political gulf between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and myself, and that that widening is in any way shown in the passage in this report. The agreement to differ still remains and has not been extended. The hon. Member alleged that while this prominence was given to certain industries where, owing to these political measures, conditions have improved, nothing was said about the general condition of industry, and that the general depression was glossed over. There, again, I feel that the hon. Member cannot be serious. He has only to look at page 8 of the report to see a full statement as to the general industry of the country. It begins—
Employment in industry generally was very bad during the greater part of the year.
He alludes to the immense decrease in the number of workshops but he will realize that that is not a phenomenon peculiar to this year or connected with this year's depression. It has been a phenomenon for many years in the past and largely denotes the passage of the small-scale unit of production and the increase of the large-scale units. I now pass from what I may perhaps describe as the less serious part of the hon. Gentleman's speech and come to the more serious points raised by him. First, with regard to safety in factories, he complained that we were getting, what I believe he will agree is a very satisfactory and improving standard of safety in factories, not by the imposition of a compulsory safety order but by co-operation with the employers. If he is satisfied that the standard now is a good one and is rapidly improving, I cannot see why he should want to act in the teeth of the employers and by compulsion rather than in co-operation with them and with their help. I believe, and, in this view I am reinforced by the excellent speech of the hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. L. Jones), that there is much more to be got out of the present excellent relations between the Home Office and the employers on this point than by the sudden introduction of a compulsory order which might only have the effect of upsetting a great deal of the advantage now being secured.
As far as I am aware, we have had very satisfactory co-operation with all kinds of employers, and I feel certain that the hon. Gentleman himself will agree that if the system has been giving good results, we ought not to consider the possibility of changing it until we begin to see those results disappearing. I take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the employers organisation which has co-operated with us in this matter. The hon. Gentleman referred to what he called an international Convention on the prevention of accidents, but he is under a misapprehension in terming it a convention. It was nothing more than a general recommendation and did not require legislation or ratification. In substance, the recommendation confirms the basis of the safety provisions which, with the co-operation of the employers, we are gradually introducing. He also mentioned the question of foreign firms who are establishing themselves in this country, and I think he permitted himself something which he would not permit to the Chief Inspector when he added "as a result of the tariff."
He asked us what steps we were taking to see that these firms knew the law with regard to factories. He will understand that we cannot and will not do anything which would detract from the obligation of everyone, foreigner and citizen alike, to know the law. We cannot allow it to be thought that it is not necessary for a foreign firm which is established here to observe the factory laws, until the factory inspector has been round to tell them what those laws are. We expect them to carry out the ordinary obligation which is on anyone who settles in this country to ascertain what the laws are, but we take the earliest possible opportunity of visiting any new factory established by a foreign firm, to see that the law is being observed. The hon. Gentleman, with all his fervour on the subject, was not able to produce any complaint that any foreign firm had disregarded the provisions of the Factory Acts. It is true he complained that they had disregarded trade union rates of wages, but that is not a matter which comes within the purview of our inspectors.
I have received information that certain foreign firms recently established here are working girls for as long as 14 hours a day. Is that matter which would come within the purview of the Department?
If there is any ease of that kind I shall be only too glad to have information which will enable us to inquire into it and, if necessary, take action. The hon. Gentleman referred to the two-shift system. We had a very full discussion on that point on the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, and on that occasion I permitted myself a little surprise at the courage of the hon. Gentleman in making such a vigorous attack on the system. When he tells us that this system was never meant to be anything but temporary, and that it was intended by Parliament that it should come to an end three or four years ago, I can only remind him that of the three or four years by which its life has exceeded the contemplation of Parliament, two or three were under the auspices of a Government of the party to which the hon. Member himself belongs. The number of orders granted under the two-shift system, within the tenure of office of the Labour Government, was only limited by the lack of applications and not by that Government's dislike of them or refusal to grant. them.
The reason, of course, for the sudden increase in recent months is not any change of policy on the part of the Home Office with regard to the granting of these applications. It has resulted from the tremendous increase in the number of applications which followed leaving the Gold Standard, and the sudden impetus then given to the export trade, particularly in the textile industry. This meant that orders for goods were given suddenly and had to be executed suddenly or else refused. It is in those circumstances that the two-shift system is of value in our industrial life. It enables firms to execute rush orders by working in two shifts, instead of working overtime. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that of the two alternatives the two-shift system is the better one. It also enables an industry, such as the textile industry, which has been going through a period of great depression and which is suddenly faced with rush orders to fill those orders on existing machinery and not to embark on the installation of further machinery until they are assured that the sudden impetus has something continuing behind it and is going to result in a lasting improvement which will justify such an installation. I think, indeed, that the two-shift system has justified itself during this period. We shall, of course, continue to see that the interests of the workers under it are safeguarded and that it is used to make certain that better welfare accommodation is provided, and that in no case is an application granted unless the free and uncompelled assent of the workers has been obtained.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned one point with regard to the accident figures. He commented that, although the figures for accidents had decreased and appeared to show an improvement, it was impossible to tell whether the improvement was real or fictitious unless we knew the number of people employed. I think that, there, he is wrong. I do not think that figures of the number employed would give any clearer picture of the situation than is given now. It depends, not on the number of people employed but on the number of hours worked by the number of people employed. In other words, the only figures which would give a real basis of comparison would be the figures of man-hours worked, if we were able to give them. There are certain industries—an increasing number—keeping statistics of that kind which are made available to us and which we, in these reports, make available to the public. But we feel that for the present it is too elaborate a system of statistics-keeping to impose upon industry as a whole. We shall endeavour to persuade other industries to start this system but I cannot hold out any hope that we shall impose it as by law upon industry generally.
I now come to the points raised by the hon. Gentleman in regard to industrial diseases. I did not quite understand his reference to the return of anthrax cases. He said he was disappointed with the figures, but it seemed to me that the figures in that particular table are about the most satisfactory of all the returns of this kind showing as they do that between 1930 and 1931 there has been a fall of over 50 per cent. in the number of cases, following a fall in previous years.
We cannot expect miracles in a moment. It is satisfactory, at any rate, that there has been in past years a steady decline and in the last year a sharp decline in the number of anthrax cases. In regard to silicosis, he mentioned the dissatisfaction of the Miners' Federation with regard to certain aspects of this question. I am aware of that dissatisfaction because I have been approached by the Miners' Federation as to receiving a deputation. Naturally I have expressed my willingness to do so, and we are, at the moment, trying to fix a date which will be convenient to both parties as I understand that the Miners' Federation have rather important conferences in the immediate future.
Then with regard to lead paint poisoning, I think the hon. Gentleman is under a complete misapprehension. He referred to advertisements of lead paint for use inside buildings and asked me to do something about them, on the ground that the use of lead paint inside buildings was illegal, and therefore these advertisements were inciting people to do something against the law. The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. There is no la at against the use of lead paint inside buildings. No doubt it is prohibited by the convention, but the convention was not ratified by this country. We have proceeded without prohibition, but by means of regulation. With regard to flour milling and the use of the 280 lb. sack, I may say that the use of these sacks has been abandoned by practically all the mills in the country. There are, however, a few which, although they themselves use the smaller type, still supply these larger types at the request of customers. In response to a request made by an hon. Gentleman opposite we have undertaken that inquiry shall be made into the special circumstances which have led to the retention of this custom by a few firms and when we are in possession of the facts it will be possible to see what steps can be taken.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the small amount of the fines resulting from prosecutions under the Factory Acts and made a suggestion which, I frankly confess, I think he ought not to have made unless he is prepared to substantiate it with something a great deal more definite. That was the suggestion that the smallness of the fines was due to the presence of a large number of employers on the bench. I think the hon. Gentleman himself, when he thinks over this matter, will deprecate the use of generalities of that kind unless one is prepared to substantiate them with definite cases. I assure him and the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) that in my belief there is no foundation for such an accusation. Of course the Home Office has nothing to do with the amount of the fines which are imposed, and I agree that the sum total is small. But I will say that whether the fines imposed are small or large, prosecution still remains an effective deterrent, and I have no doubt whatsoever that the ordinary firm in this country extremely dislikes being prosecuted for breaches of the Factory Acts, even if eventually the fine imposed is only small. They dislike the publicity which is entailed when they are haled before the court, whether the fine imposed is small or great. The hon. Member raised a case with regard to the Truck Acts, and the particular case he referred to was of a 17s. 6d. fine for damaging material. I understand that in that case the money was refunded. As a matter of fact, the reports we get from the inspectors with regard to breaches of the Truck Acts show that such breaches are very rare indeed.
Now I will pass from the speech of the hon. Member for Westhoughton, which, if I may say so without offence, was not only extremely helpful in tone, but showed a real knowledge of the subject, to the equally helpful speech of the hon. Member for West Swansea. I am sorry he is not in his place now, because, employer as he is, it was particularly gratifying, not only to me but to the Department, to hear his tribute to the factory inspectors and that he looked upon the visit of an inspector not as an irritating process of law, but as the visit of someone who really could be of help. In his absence, I will not answer the particular questions he raised.
The hon. Member is referring now to an employer who is a big employer and who welcomes the factory inspector. The charge of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) and my charge is that it is not the big employers, but the small employers who do not welcome the factory inspectors, and we want the inspectors to look after them and to see that they are brought up to scratch.
I think the hon. Member has rather missed the point of what I said. We do look after the small employer, and we look after the big one too, but it is gratifying to find that an hon. Member who is an employer, whether large or small, looks on those visits, not as an irritating process to see that he is keeping the law, but as something helpful. The hon. Member will agree that whereas large employers now welcome factory inspectors' visits, that would not have been the case 20 or 30 years ago, and what large employers think to-day, small employers may well be induced to think to-morrow.
I want now to refer to the most important point, raised by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), namely, the unfortunate results of colliery liquidations on those workmen who are entitled to accident compensation. As the hon. Member will appreciate, I am in a considerable difficulty when I discuss this matter, because he will realise that what he asks for and what anybody could ask for is not within the administrative power of the Home Office, and that it would need full and detailed discussion and legislation if this subject were really to be tackled. But let me say at once that I fully appreciate the great injustice and the great suffering which are caused to these men, who are suddenly deprived of the settled income to which the law has found them entitled, by the failure of a colliery company over which they have no say whatever. I shall not refer to the two cases which the hon. Member men- tioned, because he was not able to give me notice of them, and I am not cognisant of the details, but—
I did not deal with the two cases to which the hon. Member referred because he had not given me notice of them, and I cannot be expected to say whether in those cases the bankruptcy proceedings have been unnecessarily delayed or not, but I will naturally promise that what lies within our power, in my office, to speed up bankruptcy proceedings shall be done, although I must say offhand, without consideration, that it seems to me that it has nothing to do with my Department; but I will convey the matter to the Department whose concern it is. There is something much more serious than the mere delay, and that is the general question. One way of dealing with it is by dealing directly with the compensation. I do not think I could go further than to say that my right hon. Friend, almost from his coming into office, has been particularly interested in this question. The difficulties are very great, as hon. Members opposite who were associated with the inquiries which were made during the Labour Government's tenure of office will agree. We are at the moment in touch with the Mining Association with regard to this question, and until we receive their reply it is impossible for me to say anything to the Committee, but I can assure the hon. Member opposite that I fully realise the gravity of his case. It is a case which largely concerns the coal industry, because, so far at any rate, we have had few examples outside that industry. It is a matter of which we certainly will not lose sight, even if delay is necessary to overcome the many difficulties which are in the way, and I am sure the Committee will be grateful to the hon. Member for Leigh for having raised this very difficult but very important question.
The only other point that I wish to deal with was that raised by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham), with regard to miners' nystagmus. I cannot deal with matters requiring legislation, but he will no doubt be aware that a scheme was proposed a year or two ago, that it was submitted both to the owners and to the men, and that it was not found acceptable by either of them. At the moment a special inquiry is being carried out by the Medical Research Council, and it is possible that as a result of that inquiry we may have further proposals to submit to both sides. We realise the great difficulties that we or anybody else who has tried to tackle this problem are under to-day owing to the almost impossibility of finding jobs above ground for the nystagmus worker and the undesirability of his returning below ground.
The hon. Member will agree that that is a case with which we could not deal without legislation, and from the difficulties which I have had with legislation of that kind in another case, I very much doubt if it is a case which can be dealt with by legislation at all. We are having a special inquiry made by the Medical Research Council, and we will consider the whole matter. I think that has dealt with the principal points raised in the Debate, but if any have been left untouched, I shall be only too glad afterwards to have a word with hon. Members about them. In view of the general desire of the House to proceed with the important business which awaits us, I hope the Committee will now be prepared to give us this Vote.
The Chairman then proceeded, pursuant to the Order of the House this Day, forthwith to put sererally the Questions (which he is directed to put at Ten of the clock under paragraph 7 of Standing Order No. 15), That the total amounts of the Votes outstanding in the several Classes of the Civil Estimates, including a Supplementary Estimate and the total amounts of the Votes outstanding in the Estimates for the Navy, Army, Air and Revenue Departments, be granted for the Services defined in those Classes and Estimates.