Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 16 Feb 1954

Vol. 144 No. 4

Factories Bill, 1953—Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

It is some time since the Minister made his Second Reading speech on this Bill. As well as I can remember, one of the things which he said was that it was largely a Committee Bill. With that statement, of course, we would all agree. So far as the principle of the Bill before us on the Second Reading is concerned, it is the principle whether we consider the legislation governing factories should or should not be revised. I think we would all agree, without any question, that that legislation should be revised. The original code goes back to 1901. The 1901 Act, as well as I can remember, was extremely complex and it is quite obvious that, after 50 years, many of its provisions require substantial amendment. The Act was previously amended, I think, on three occasions before 1922 and, of course, part of what was previously contained in the Factories Act was dealt with by us in the Conditions of Employment Act. We would all, therefore, agree that it is time that a Bill of this nature should be brought before the House to deal with modern requirements in respect of the health, welfare and safety of those working in factories. As I say, the earlier part of the old Factories Act of 1901, which dealt with the limitation of hours and so forth, has been already covered in the Conditions of Employment Act and therefore does not arise now.

The most striking thing I felt about the speech of the Minister on the last occasion, a matter which I verified since, was the fact that the Minister brought this Bill to the House without having any consultation with any of the people who would be primarily interested because they will have to work it and carry it out. I think it is extraordinary that the Minister should bring a Bill of this type to the House without first having had some consultation with the representatives, on the one hand, of the employers—say the Federated Union of Employers or the Chambers of Commerce—and, on the other hand, with the two Trade Union Congresses. There seems to be a sort of feeling somewhere amongst members of the present Government that the fact of having consultation with interested parties before measures are brought to this House means something subservient. It does not mean anything of the sort. It does not necessarily mean that one will slavishly adopt and accept everything that is put up to the Government. Surely, when the efficacy of a Bill such as this depends on the goodwill of those who have to work it on both sides—the employers on the one hand and the employees on the other—it is not too much to expect that there would be consultation on general lines before the Bill is introduced.

I know in advance the attitude the Minister is going to adopt but I disagree with his view. His view is that it is better to introduce a Bill, put it through the House to the public, and then leave it to interested parties to examine its provisions between Second Reading and Committee Stage. I disagree totally with that idea. We know that it is far more difficult to deal with a matter in that way than if there were some consultation before the Bill came to the House. I understood the Minister on the last night to say that he had no such consultation and all my inquiries rather led to the same view. I did hope also that the Minister, when he was introducing the Second Reading, would have given us some indication of the record and pattern of accidents, so that we could evaluate the requirements of legislation by reference to that record. But the Minister did not do so, nor give us any indication of trends in that respect at all and I am quite positive there must be very substantial records and very substantial analyses in his office.

So far as details of this Bill are concerned I think it is a good thing that it goes some distance towards trying to solve the problem of when is a factory not a factory, in respect of the travelling crane for example which is the old case. It goes some way in that direction and also towards dealing with engineering construction works.

The Minister to, I think, has had—in fact I know he has had—representations made to him about a provision that is in the Bill which requires a very substantial amendment in wording and detail in order to meet the desire that we all have in respect of basement bakehouses. The section as phrased dealing with basement bakehouses takes no account whatever of the situation which will arise where there is a town built on the side of a hill. You may have a premises built on the side of a hill—the effect there is to give very substantial head room and very large light and airy bakehouses but, nevertheless, because of the wording of this Bill—that the measurement must be taken from the nearest point of ground—such premises would be put out of commission under the terms of the section as it stands. Of course, I appreciate that that is a question of drafting and that it is not with advertence to that that the section as such was drafted. The idea that the Minister had and the idea that is in the Bill was to ensure that there would not be what I might call more clearly "dungeon bakehouses". There are certain ones which require to be very substantially modified in that respect, but where you have a bakehouse which has a very large, high ceiling, a very large number of cubic feet per worker employed, it should be by reference to that that the adequacy or otherwise of the premises should be considered and not to an entirely extraneous position of where the level of the nearest point of ground is to be taken.

I know one premises where in the front the premises are exactly level with the street and the bakehouses are far and away higher than any normal allowances that are made for the personnel that are employed. The first floor of that premises is actually under ground level at the back, and as I read the section because the premises are built on the side of a hill you must consider ground level at the back and not the ground level at the front because you go through a door in one section of the premises and it is a cutoff room. That is a matter which will require to be considered during the passage of the Bill in Committee Stage. There are, no doubt, many other similar things which will require to be considered but as the Minister said, it is a Committee Bill and it is not proper to discuss them now. I merely mention that because I think it is the type of thing that could have been avoided if there had been consultation before rather than consultation during the passage of the Bill itself through the Oireachtas.

It is a peculiar thing that this is the first occasion in the 32 years of native government that we have been offered an opportunity of dealing with matters which in fact should have been basic to the whole policy of industrial development which we are assured so repeatedly has been pursued by the present Minister and the present Government. It is correct that under the Conditions of Employment Act and the Holidays (Employees) Act, we did touch upon certain aspects of workers' welfare which ordinarily might be included under the provisions of the Factories Acts but so far as the pure question of factory safety and factory welfare is concerned this is the first approach we have made to try and bring in our own legislation and establish our own standards. That is worthy of comment because of the fact that whether we listen to Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil— both of them assure us that during their respective periods of office a policy of industrial expansion was pursued—the relative claims of the two Parties to have made progress are not material to the point at the moment. The point is that we set out to expand the industrial basis of our community and in so far as the prime factor in industry is concerned we left it to British legislation to afford protection to the human element in industry and we are now proposing in the present Bill to establish our own standards and measures of safety for Irish workers in Irish industry.

While making that somewhat critical comment it does not mean in any way that the Bill is not welcome. But it is worth while making that comment so far as those 32 years which have passed before we have been given an opportunity of trying to establish our own independent code of factory safety and welfare. There is also the other factor—that this is 1954 and I am personally particularly interested to know why the delay since 1947, because I recall hearing from the Minister for Industry and Commerce that in the autumn of 1947 a Factory Bill was practically completed so far as drafting was concerned. Now it appears at the end of 1953 and we are discussing it in 1954. When the present Minister left office I, naturally, and other representatives of trade unions, bore in mind his remark of that date as to the state of readiness of that Bill and its very early availability for consideration both by the trade unions and the employers. I was somewhat amazed a little later when we inquired from his successor as to when the Bill would be ready, and over a period of some two years during which there was very consistent questioning both in the House and outside it we were never able to trace the Bill at all. Whether the Bill to which the Tánaiste referred in 1947 was regarded as his particular brain-child and had to be placed in the archives of the Department until he returned or not I do not know. We were never able to trace that Bill of 1947 but I am quite sure that there is not much difference between that Bill of 1947—I take it there was a Bill almost completed in draft form—and the Bill we have before us at the present time. Why delay over seven years unless in the meantime there were alterations in legislation in other countries that might have given rise to further study, I do not know.

The Bill is welcome and even though these delays have taken place it is worth while drawing attention to them, but it should not make us too critical of the Bill. Of course, the Bill does not in any way attempt to establish what we are always advised should be our guide in this country, namely, native Irish standards. I will not say Gaelic standards, but we can use the words "Irish standards." A great many of us, when discussing economic and social questions, are advised by the pure-souled 100 per cent. Irish Irelanders that we should never look outside the shores of our country for inspiration and should not follow foreign systems of economics and social theories and still less political and legislative forms, but that all of our inspiration and guidance should be found within the four corners of our own country.

That advice is, of course, very often thrown at us from members of the Government Party, although they claim the main credit as far as the political life of the country is concerned for having brought about a very remarkable development in the capitalist system. That is by the way. There is no attempt in the Bill to provide or establish our own native standards in regard to the safety and the welfare of workers engaged in industry, factories and workshops of the country. We have not even gone out to embody in our legislation many of the conventions of the International Labour Office which are available to us. In introducing the Bill, the Minister referred to that in passing and pointed out that certain difficulties arose in so far as we did not accept the convention. Even if we did not accept the convention, I do not know why we could not have regard to it as a guide for legislation.

The Bill we are now dealing with is practically word for word the same as the Factories Act passed in the British House of Commons. It is almost section by section the same in regard to standards. In regard to the approach to the problem of welfare, there is no departure at all. That would not constitute an argument against the Bill because the legislation in the United Kingdom is very up to date. It is based on the original main Act of 1939, revised in 1948 and much of that legislation has been the outcome of submissions made by the British Trade Union Congress and the special study they made of the work in the main Act during a period when British industry as a whole was working subject to tremendous strains. Therefore, the weaknesses in any code of safety or welfare during the war years and the years immediately following it would very rapidly show themselves. As far as I understand it, a great many of the suggestions were used and embodied in the present legislation.

It is proper to comment, when we are so frequently reminded of the desirability of establishing our own standards inside the country based on our own conceptions of life, our own approach to economics, sociology and politics, that the standards we have accepted now are those which are embodied in the latest and most up to date legislation in the United Kingdom. There is very little that can be said on the Bill, on Second Reading. It is essentially a Bill for Committee work. I have no doubt we will give the Minister plenty to keep him occupied on the Committee Stage not in an obstructive way, because, like the Minister, we regard the Bill as very important. We will be as helpful as we can in making the Bill as effective as possible and try to provide that a proper code of safety and welfare for workers will be embodied in the final legislation. Possibly, this is one type of Bill which could be more effectively dealt with in Special Committee of the House. Unfortunately, we have the horrible example of Deputy Cowan in regard to the Defence Bill and we had better keep off that.

It is a good example.

I only want to make one or two general remarks at this stage. First of all, I think there is one weakness in the Bill. It is one which is very difficult to overcome. If we are going to try and establish standards, granted they must be minimum, in too many sections of the Bill there is an acceptance that under certain conditions even the minimum standard might not be imposed. I can quite understand that there are always exceptional cases. A very strong argument can be made for granting power to the Minister for making exclusion Orders in certain cases. I noticed that in certain sections of the Bill exclusion can even apply to new buildings. If there are minimum standards to be applied there may be a case made for granting exemption from the observances of standards where old buildings have to be adapted. I cannot see at the moment why there should be that exclusion when we are dealing with buildings yet to be constructed and where we hope not merely to provide safety and welfare under the conditions at present existing in so far as industrial structure is concerned but also to secure that industrial structure will conform to these new and higher standards of safety and welfare that should become over a period the common environment of workers in Irish industry.

Granted that there should be exclusion in certain exceptional cases, it is always difficult to keep track of the many regulations that flow out of Bills of this kind and which emanate from a Department subject to the control and supervision of the Minister's advisers as the final authority. We know to our cost in the case of the Social Welfare Act that regulations can become so great in volume that it is almost physically impossible to keep track of them.

On that question of regulation I want to make a comment. In many sections it seems to me that we have not sought to embody sufficient in the act of legislation itself but have left a great deal to be done through regulation by the Minister. I have no doubt there is a very good case for that. I think that, as we go through the sections, it will be necessary to examine very carefully how we can reduce the application of the Act by regulation to the very minimum and secure that the basic sections of the Act in regard to standards shall be defined in the Act and shall not be dependent on regulations.

Probably the most important part of the Act relates to the question of the enforcement of the Act. One of the bad features of existing legislation is the weakness of the machinery for enforcing the existing Factory Acts. One of the reasons for that was, of course, that during the period of the emergency there was a drastic reduction in the numbers of the inspectorate available for the enforcement of the various Factory Acts. At one time the number was so small that it was completely ineffective. There has been a gradual building up again of the numbers and I gather that when the present Bill becomes law there will be an addition to the staff of inspectors.

Even though the number of inspectors may be increased I would submit that the manner in which they are required to discharge their duties as inspectors should be reviewed. We have had the experience very frequntly in the trade union movement of submitting a complaint to the inspectors' section of the Department. I have no doubt the complaint was acted upon but it seems to be the policy of the Department that we can never find out until there is official action taken what has been the result of the complaint. If we want to find out whether an inspector has gone to a particular workshop we have to check with our own members there. We cannot be told if there was an inspector sent down and be given such information as: "We investigated your complaint and this was the result"; "Your complaint was found to be without foundation"; "It was partly correct and there was a certain justification for it"; or "It was completely supported by the inspector's visit and due process of law is now being instituted".

I believe there is a weakness in that respect. I do not want in any way to criticise factory inspectors in regard to their sense of responsibility but it is well known that on many occasions, possibly due to various reasons, their visits are very casual and haphazard and there is a great lack of faith among the ordinary workers in factory inspectors. Workers know a great deal more about the situation than even trade union officials because they are working in the workshops and factories. They know when a factory inspector goes around and when he does not go around. It would be helpful if, in regard to the machinery of the Act, it were possible to associate, in a constructive and helpful way, the machinery of the trade union movement and the support and active cooperation of workers in industry. Where the trade union receives from its members a complaint which the trade union checks upon as to whether there is any foundation for it and transmits that complaint to the inspectors' branch, they should be able to help, in consultation with the factory inspectors, to find out if inquiries have been made and whether in fact the complaint was found to be supported by the inspector's investigation.

On many occasions it may well be that when an inspector comes to check on a complaint he meets with certain difficulties. He finds it is not possible to pursue his inquiries in the way he would like. Further consultation with the trade union and the workers in a particular factory might prove very helpful to the inspector. The suggestion seems to be that if an employer comes under suspicion for having committed a breach of the Factory Acts we must play fair with him and give him every chance to get away from being found out. I submit the opposite is the case and that, subject to not trespassing on his rights as a citizen and granting him ordinary equity and justice in regard to investigations, every type of machinery that is available, whether it be through the trade unions or through the workers' welfare committees in factories, and so on, should be used by the inspectors to ensure that the protection which this House is providing for workers is made available and that there is no evasion or breach of the Act.

Because of this gap between the time the trade union make the complaint and the subsequent activities of the inspectors until you hear of a prosecution in court, it is very difficult at times not merely to submit a complaint but to follow it up in the same way as a member of this House follows up complaints made to any other Government Department. If I make a complaint, for example, to the public health section or the housing section of the corporation, I can keep ringing them up and following up the matter every day of the week. If at any time they meet with certain difficulties, I may be able to assist them to overcome those difficulties so that they can pursue their inquiries or avail of information which finally enables them to make a decision. However, our experience in the application of the Factories Acts—and this also applies to the enforcement of the regulations by the General Labour Committee in regard to wages and conditions—is that we have that gap which often reduces the enthusiasm not so much of trade union officials but of workers for bringing forward reports with which we could deal, because we are never able to tell them what particular action is taken in the matter. They just have to wait and see.

Secondly, in so far as the enforcement machinery itself is concerned, the Minister should take a somewhat bolder step than he apparently has decided to take in the Bill up to the moment by trying to associate the enforcement of the Act, particularly in regard to safety and also welfare, with the actual workers in the factories and workshops. While Section 48 is very indefinite the White Paper circulated with the Bill does indicate that "This section envisages the setting up of safety committees in factories." I gather possibly what the Minister has in mind that, taking advantage of that section, he will try in a tentative and timid way the establishment of some committees, and if they are successful and if they are not open to strong objection by the Federation of Irish Manufacturers and a number of other professional bodies, he may pursue the matter further.

I feel the Minister should grasp the nettle a little more firmly. If we are serious when we speak of the workers' participation in management—not talking about profits—and the workers' interest in increasing productivity, surely we should not hesitate to suggest that the workers should from the beginning be given definite statutory and legal rights in regard to their safety and welfare and particularly in regard to safety, that in factories and workshops of a certain minimum size there should be a statutory safety committee with representatives of workers on it. Furthermore, there should be an effort not merely to get them to accept the statutory duties but, through that, to take an interest in what is also part of production, that is, safe production. Many of the difficulties that we speak of as being obstacles to increased productivity are in many cases factors of safety and welfare to which nobody pays particular attention.

In regard also to the drafting of regulations under the various sections of the Act and also in regard to enforcement, there should be something in the nature of a consultative committee—I suppose I naturally would prefer only trade unions but I grant that the employers have an interest as well. There should be something in the way of consultative committees of a permanent character both in respect of the making of regulations and particularly in so far as regulations make it possible for the Minister to continue to apply an increasingly higher standard as industry expands and the conception of industrial safety and welfare improves. In the same manner, something in the way of permanent consultative committees should be available to the inspectorate branch and, in fact, the trade union should be tied in, in some degree, in a consultative capacity in regard to the effectiveness of the inspectorate machinery. I am not saying that every time a factory inspector goes into a workshop he should be accompanied by a trade union official. It could be done periodically, from an overall point of view, for the purpose of seeing whether the inspectorate machinery is proving effective.

I come now to the matter of enforcement. I notice that in the various sections where provision is made for penalties for breaches of a section, and also in the clause at the end of the Bill dealing with offences in general against the Bill, there is the usual provision that an offence will be subject to a fine not exceeding £10, £20 or whatever it may be. A special section which I welcome deals with penalties where fatal accidents occur because of breaches of statutory provisions. Another aspect of that matter is our experience of the attitude of the courts on many occasions to breaches of the existing factory legislation. Everyone is aware that the penalties in respect of breaches of the minimum wage regulations or of factory legislation itself or in regard to welfare are very often farcical. You read of an employer being prosecuted in respect, maybe, of 20 offences and that he is fined, say, 2/6 on each count. Granted that in the 20 cases there has been no serious breach, no serious injury to a worker, no fatal accident; that is the luck of the game. To impose a fine of 2/6, 5/-or 7/6 on an employer in a fairly substantial way of business, and to have that become known to his workers, is to disgrace the word "legislation" itself because that same man will go out of the court after the case has been heard and he will probably spend twice as much on a dinner. Yet, the fine is not merely to represent a penalty on him for his failure to observe the law; it is also intended to be an inducement to secure that, in future, he will observe the law. A fine which is brought down to shillings does not in any way bring about that point of view in the average employer. Certainly it will not bring about an acceptance of their moral as well as their legal obligations on the types of employers against whom this particular legislation is directed, i.e. the employer who will fail to take proper precautions for the safety of his workers; the employer who will fail to provide proper measures of welfare and the employer who, generally, is working his workshop on the cheapest basis he can.

Such an employer will not be unduly concerned if, after saving himself considerable expenditure on safety or welfare measures or on paying the minimum wage—after possibly saving himself hundreds or thousands of pounds—he is then given a light tap on the back and told that he is a bad boy and fined a few pounds. In my view, we should examine on the Committee Stage whether we can ensure that the courts will take the same view of breaches of legislation as this House does when it passes legislation. Granted that when we say a penalty will be subject to a fine not exceeding £20 we do not expect that in the case of every proven offence the maximum fine will be imposed, nevertheless, we expect that the punishment will be measured to the seriousness of the offence. Where we see that the maximum fine is £20 and then that a person is fined maybe 5/-, 7/6, 10/- or 12/6 on a number of offences, sometimes reaching as many as 20 or 30, I think that is departing from the spirit in which this House put through the legislation. I personally feel and I think it is generally accepted that if that will be our experience under the new code then, before the code finally leaves this House, we should try and remedy that defect and ensure that if it is accepted that industry has an obligation to the people working in it, and that the country has an obligation to the people who serve in industry— and if that obligation is embodied in the statutory code—then it should not be possible because of lack of proper understanding on the part of those who administer the law to permit those who break the law to escape too lightly and in complete contravention of what we intended when passing the code in this House.

Deputy Sweetman commented on the fact that there had been no consultation with representative organisations or other interested parties before the Bill was presented to the House. I do not think there is any point in that criticism. It was well known to everybody that this Bill was in course of preparation and I had made known publicly and to those who had approached me regarding its provisions that it was my intention to proceed by way of preparing and circulating a Bill, leaving it to the interested organisations and affected firms and individuals to make their representations as to desirable amendments between the Second Reading and the Committee Stages.

I had intended, as the House knows, to have the Second Reading debate concluded before the Christmas adjournment so that there would be the whole period of the adjournment between the two stages. That did not prove to be possible, but, nevertheless, most of the interests affected by the Bill have proceeded on the assumption that the Second Reading would be carried and that the Committee Stage would be taken this session. Quite a number of organisations—trade unions, employers' organisations and individual firms—have already made representations to my Department regarding provisions of the Bill and have suggested amendments and extensions of the Bill and these representations are being considered. Some of them may be the cause of amendments to be proposed by me on the Committee Stage.

It is not easy and, personally, I have no desire to attempt to answer Deputy Larkin's criticism about the delay in producing this Bill. For my own part, I may say that I recognised right at the beginning of the effort towards industrial development in this country that legislation of this character—legislation dealing with conditions of employment in factories—was necessary here. As I explained to the House when introducing the Bill, I had intended originally that there would be one comprehensive measure dealing with all issues affecting conditions of employment in factories.

When I was preparing that measure I was, however, forced to the conclusion that it would take a long time to complete it and get it on the Statute Book. I decided, therefore, in 1935 to divide the task into two parts. As I explained, one of these parts was completed when the Conditions of Employment Act came into operation in 1936, and then the completion of the second part was put in hands, the preparation of a Bill such as is now before the House. That was proceeding in the years between 1936 and 1939 and some progress had been made towards getting it to the Dáil when the war started. As I informed the Dáil then, I decided to postpone the attempt to reform the Factories Act until after the war because it would clearly be difficult to impose conditions upon factory owners, requiring the alteration or extension of factory premises in many cases at a time when materials were scarce and the problem with most factories was to keep them working. I do not think that I said a Bill was drafted in 1947. What I said was that I had taken decisions then upon the form of the Bill, upon each individual section that was to be comprised in the Bill, and had given instructions that its drafting was to proceed.

Deputy Larkin will not ask me to explain any delay between 1948 and 1951, but it will perhaps be realised by some Deputies that a Bill of this kind is always difficult to get out of the parliamentary draftsman's office. It is a complicated, technical Bill, to which the draftsmen, naturally, want to give very careful attention because every section in it will almost certainly be on some occasion the subject of proceedings in the courts, and there is always the tendency to put it back in favour of more urgent legislation.

When I took up the matter again, in 1951, I went back over the decisions I had taken in 1947. Some of them I decided to amend. There have been developments since 1947. First of all, there was the Report of the Commission on Youth Unemployment, which contained a number of recommendations bearing upon this legislation. Secondly, there was the intention to introduce new legislation by the Minister for Health and the Minister for Health and myself found it necessary to reconcile our views as to our respective functions in respect of the health of workers employed in factories. However, the drafting of the Bill was put in hands and the measure is now before the House.

Fifty years have passed since the existing law was enacted. It may be 50 years before there is another Bill of this kind before the Irish Legislature. I think, therefore, we should take our time over it. It is not the type of measure that should be rushed because it is unlikely that it will be casually amended merely because some sections of it are found to be slightly defective. If and when another Bill of this kind comes before the Legislature here it will be because of some fundamental change in the general outlook on factory legislation rather than because of a desire to effect minor adjustments in particular provisions.

I do not know what Deputy Larkin has in mind when he refers to Irish standards in legislation of this kind, nor do I think it is a criticism of the Bill to say that it has very close similarity to legislation passed by the British Parliament. We based the Bill to a very great extent on the Conventions of the International Labour Organisation. It is the aim of the International Labour Organisation to endeavour to get uniformity in legislation of this kind in all countries and it is, therefore, possibly true to say that this Bill also has a close similarity to corresponding legislation in other countries which have adopted the International Labour Office Conventions as their guide.

When this Bill is passed it will be possible for this country to ratify practically all the International Labour Office Conventions dealing with this matter. Where we will not be able to ratify them is where the International Labour Office mistakenly introduced in their conventions recommendations or proposals which were not properly the concern of factories legislation at all. While our law, in so far as it deals with employment in factories, will be in conformity with the recommendations of these conventions, formal ratification may not be possible.

There is another reason also why I think we should have special regard to the provisions in British legislation. Our present law is that which was enacted in Britain 50 years ago. The practice of the Department of Industry and Commerce in enforcing the law, the standards accepted by manufacturers and workers, have grown up in much the same way here as in Great Britain and any attempt to introduce some completely different set of principles would only cause unnecessary complication and would, I think, make our factories legislation ineffective, at least for a while.

As Deputy Larkin rightly remarked, the legislation in England is quite up to date. It represents the outcome of the experience of the British people— and they have more knowledge of the problems arising in manufacturing industries than we have—over a long period, and also the results of pressure by the British trade union movement, based upon their knowledge of what was required.

There may be other reasons also, of a practical nature, why we should try to keep our legislation in line with British legislation in this respect or, at any rate, not depart from it unless differences in our circumstances or some obvious advantage justify that course.

Many of our factory managers, many of the technical experts who are employed for the promotion of Irish industry have come here from Great Britain and, naturally, they would apply in their operations here the experience they secured in the operation of the British code.

I would agree with the general view expressed by Deputy Larkin that it is not desirable that we should make too many exceptions from the requirements of the Act to meet the difficulty of individual cases. Nevertheless, it is recognised that we may have to do so, particularly where the coming into force of this new Bill may require substantial alteration in existing factory premises. The power we take in the Bill is to postpone its full enforcement in particular cases where there is good reason for it. I agree, however, that ordinarily it would be undesirable that particular industrial firms should be excepted from maintaining the conditions and observing the regulations which are enforced on others.

I doubt that it will be practicable to avoid in many of these sections giving power to the Minister to make regulations nor would it be desirable to attempt to make the Bill too rigid by setting out in the legislation the details of the conditions that must exist in factories. By having power of regulation there is an element of elasticity introduced. The regulations can be changed more easily than the legislation can be changed and while it is desirable to state clearly in the law what factory owners must do, wherever it is possible to do so, if there is likelihood that these requirements may change with changing circumstances, it is better to take power to deal with these matters by regulation than by specific provisions.

Deputy Larkin spoke at some length on the subject of the enforcement of the legislation. He approached it, however, I think, from the basis that the problem of enforcement is solely to get employers to conform with regulations. It is true to say that there are far more factory accidents caused by the neglect of workers than by the neglect of employers.

That is why I mentioned workers' committees.

I was very interested in what the Deputy said in that connection. Anything that might get workers to appreciate that these regulations are made in their own interest would be helpful. We put the obligation, in the main, on the employer to see that the regulations are enforced. If the worker, for his convenience, removes the fencing off a machine or does not wear goggles when he should, or if girls in some factory think their permanent waves would be upset and do not conform with the regulations to keep their heads covered, the employer can be prosecuted. There would be introduced an element of difficulty in enforcement if the approach were solely from the point of view of seeing that the employer did his job.

I am not quite clear as to why the inspection branch of the Department is reluctant to tell trade unions of progress on the investigation of complaints made by them. I know that a great many of the special investigations follow on complaints received from individual workers who expressly urge that their names should not be made known to the particular employer, for fear of victimisation. There is, naturally, a tendency in the branch to keep their sources of information to themselves.

Might I interrupt the Minister? There was one case where a dispute was threatened, as to whether a particular place was safe to work in or not. The men asked the inspector to examine it and would have been prepared to accept his decision. He could not give it and they were faced with a dispute as to whether the place was dangerous or not. Was that an extraordinary case?

An inspector who cannot give a decision seems to be——

He could have prosecuted the employer but did not do so.

The normal practice of the inspection branch is not to prosecute unless a prosecution is necessary to get compliance. If the inspector visiting the factory finds that a regulation is not being observed—that a machine is not properly fenced or that the heating or ventilation are not right —he tells the employer: "Fix this and have it fixed before I am back again." It is only in the event of it being found on second inspection that the complaint has not been rectified that a prosecution would follow.

I sympathise with Deputy Larkin in his comments on the inadequacy of the penalty sometimes enforced by the courts. That is something we have to put up with. I think the practice of not prescribing minimum penalties in our legislation is quite sound. I had recourse to minimum penalties in some of the emergency measures and the result was not always what I expected. The tendency on the part of the justice who felt that the minimum penalty prescribed was too severe, was to acquit, so that the person charged, instead of being penalised to some extent, suffered no penalty at all.

It might be a good idea to give the justices some little training in factory operation and difficulties before appointing them as justices.

I will convey that suggestion to my colleague, the Minister for Justice. These are matters we can consider. I would like to see this factory inspection made efficient. We have to recognise there is some danger that the legislation, and the system of inspection under it, may be used to victimise either individual employers or individual workers by the making of frequent or unjustifiable complaints. There are certain safeguards we have to enforce but these are matters which I am quite prepared to consider on the Committee Stage. Subject to the general requirement that, while protecting the health and safety and welfare of our workers, we do not impose too heavy a burden on industry, I would be prepared to consider any amendments suggested.

There was a suggestion that this Bill could go to a Special Committee. I do not want to come to a decision on that until we see how many amendments we are likely to have. A number of trade unions, some individual firms and some groups of employers have already discussed the provisions of the Bill with us. At the moment, the indications are that no great difficulties will arise from their recommendations. In so far as it is decided to adopt them, quite simple amendments will cover them. It is only in the event of there being a clear gain in time that I would agree to a Special Committee. It is quite possible that, when we come down to details on individual sections, we will find the number of amendments may not be so abnormal as to require a Special Committee.

In regard to a Special Committee, it can only have value if the members appointed to it attend its meetings. I think the Minister will agree that is so. It has been on trial but if it has apparently not been successful the Minister will find that is due to the fact that a very substantial number of the members appointed did not attend the meetings.

There is another feature of the Bill which has a bearing on that point. This is not merely a Bill to amend the Factories Acts but also to codify them. Therefore, that involves the reproduction in this measure unchanged of sections already in force in the existing law.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 9th March.