HC Deb 24 February 1875 vol 222 cc795-807

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it established no new principle, but merely extended the operation of an Act which was passed in the year 1871, with the almost unanimous concurrence of Parliament. Previous to that time the holidays in this country were few and far between, fewer, in fact, than in any other country in Europe. The only holidays which were recognized were Good Friday, Christmas Day, and an occasional Thanksgiving Day or Day of Humiliation. It was only on those occasions that the merchant was able to close his office, and give his clerks a holiday; or the shopkeeper to close his shop, and release his assistants. In 1871, however, the hon. Baronet the Member for Maidstone (Sir John Lubbock) brought in a Bill which established four days in the year as Bank holidays. Parliament enlarged the Bill of the hon. Member, and gave it an even wider scope than was at first intended, and the Act had worked to the entire satisfaction of the whole community. The advantages which it had produced clearly showed that Parliament had acted wisely in the matter, and the discussions which took place clearly proved that it was never intended the Bill should apply to banks and bankers' clerks only. No doubt, bankers' clerks performed very important duties; but there were others also who had heavy responsibilities and performed equally important duties, and he had no doubt the intention of the Legislature was to include them within the scope of the Bill. Parliament evidently thought that by closing the banks and thus stopping, as it were, the sinews of trade, they would put a stop to all business transactions on the days which were appointed as Bank holidays, and that was shown by the adoption of the Marquess of Salisbury's Amendment, to the effect that no person should be compellable to make any payment or perform any act on such holidays, which he would not be compellable to make or do on Good Friday or Christmas Day. The Act was clearly intended to give the whole community a holiday on Bank holidays, and that expectation had been realized with one or two exceptions. Merchants' offices and shops were closed, as were also insurance offices, Lloyd's, the Stock Exchange, the Mincing Lane market, the Baltic, the Corn Exchange, the receiving offices of the railway companies, and now the Law Courts. The exceptions to the general rule it was the object of the Bill to remove, and the most important of these was the Custom House. On the occasion of every Bank holiday, attention had been drawn to this exception, always in terms of disapproval and regret, particularly by letters to The Times and references to the working of the Act in its Money Article; and application had been made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to excuse the attendance of Government employés on Bank holidays; but his reply had been that the days on which the Custom House should be open and closed were fixed by Act of Parliament, and therefore no change could be made without the authority of an Act. The work done on Bank holidays was insignificant compared with the average. On the last Bank holiday in London five vessels cleared out; there were 22 entries as against a daily average of 3,000; and the payments amounted to £211 against a daily average of £31,242. At Liverpool six vessels cleared out; there were 22 entries as against 447, and the payments amounted to £224 as against £15,095. The last Bank holiday was the day after Christmas Day, and the work done was so small, that it was clear the trade did not require the Custom House to be kept open. The fact that it was kept open occasioned heart-burnings among the employés through some being excused and others not; and it involved the attendance of a large number of persons at the places of business of shipbrokers, of ship-store dealers, and of many merchants, as well as at the docks and bonding warehouses, to receive goods that were not sent, and give out goods that were not applied for. The Superintendent of the largest dock in London said there was nothing done on Bank holidays now. The East and West India Docks, which have a daily average of 102 vessels working, were reduced to 25, and a daily average of 472 deliveries and receipts was reduced to 27, while not a single vessel left on the last Bank holiday. In the bonding warehouses 42 bills were paid, as against a daily average of 1,050; 122 documents were issued, as against a daily average of 2,820; and the number of persons who called to transact the business was 64, as against a daily average of 2,280. The amount of business done was clearly insufficient to warrant the bringing down of such a large number of employés. It had been said that in instituting these holidays in the way he proposed, a large number of labourers would be deprived of the means of earning their wages upon these four days. Well, the House might not be aware of it, but in the docks there were two classes of labourers—the permanent staff, who would not suffer, and those who were only employed casually as they were wanted; many of the latter, in consequence of the time they were employed in the docks being so short, had other employments which they carried on at homo, and when the holidays came round, if they were anxious to work and did not wish to avail themselves of the holidays, they would occupy themselves in the ordinary way at home. It must also be recollected that with the docks open as at present on the Bank holidays, only one-fourth of the average number of labourers were employed; while if they did not work on that day, they would make overtime on the following days, so that the total loss to them was more apparent than real. But even if a small number were to lose 2s, 6d., that would be no argument against thousands of persons being allowed the opportunity of enjoying the holidays. With reference to the necessity for having some one at the docks to attend to certain Continental vessels which it was necessary to unload and load quickly, he could dispose of the objection by pointing out that in the case of a foreign vessel requiring to be looked after on one of the four days, a special application to one of the authorities such as was at present made in the case of public holidays, as the Queen's birthday, for instance, would always insure the attendance of a sufficient number of men to do the necessary work, and the expense would be but trifling. The Bill was supported by almost all the large owners of ships and steam vessels. The Liverpool owners were in favour of it, and he had inquired of the Cunard line, the White Star line, the Pacific line, and others, and the reply he had received was in the highest degree satisfactory. It was said that consignees would be deprived of one day for applying for their goods; but, in point of fact, there would be no interference with the time it would take to unload a vessel, for vessels were always unloaded more quickly than was required by their charter-party. The measure, no doubt, appeared somewhat stringent and likely to prevent any work being done on these holidays at the docks; but it was not his intention to prevent that, but to enable the same amount of work to be done on those days as was at present carried on on Christmas Day and Good Friday; but in order to make the measure more definite he would add, in Committee, the following Amendment to the 1st clause:— That nothing herein contained shall prevent the performance of such work or services in any dock or docks as may be deemed expedient by the directors of such dock or docks for the convenience of the shipping.

That Amendment would remove any fears as to the jeopardizing of shipping in the Humber, or the delay of vessels which made short and frequent voyages to and from Hull—fears which had been expressed in a Petition from that port. The Petitioners had endeavoured to secure the assistance of some of the London docks in their opposition to the Bill, but had failed to do so. The directors of the East and West India Docks approved the Bill and hoped it would pass; and it was unanimously asked for by Custom House officers, wharfingers, clerks, and other employés. Of course, every Bill of the kind must interfere with a few; the Factory Acts for instance, reduced the profits of manufacturers. The proprietors of the Hull Docks had petitioned against the Bill, but there were some people who were opposed to holidays altogether, looking upon every day a man did not labour as so much taken from the industrial wealth of the country, and their objections he was not concerned to meet. He hoped that the House would not take that view of the case; but as the Bill would confer a benefit on thousands by securing them four days' holiday in the year, on that ground he trusted it would meet with its approval. He would move the second reading.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Ritchie.)


, in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months said, his attention had been called to the Bill by the Hull Dock Company, with a request that he would oppose it. In whatever way London and Liverpool might regard it, the persons connected with the trade of the Northern and North-eastern ports disapproved of it, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) could not point to any Petition proceeding from those ports which had been presented in favour of it. Moreover, it was to be observed that the Bill was not backed by the name of any hon. Member for Liverpool, or for any of the Eastern ports, and the arguments of the hon. Mover had reference chiefly to London. He (Mr. Wilson) represented six docks on the Eastern Coast, in which the capital employed amounted to several millions; from these there had not come a single Petition in favour of the Bill, while the Hull Dock Company and the North-Eastern Railway had petitioned against it. It appeared to him that the hon. Gentleman overlooked a great difference between clerks and labourers. The original Act was intended to apply to clerks who would receive salaries without deductions for holidays; but this Bill would impose four days of un-paid-for idleness upon day labourers, who in the Eastern ports were often de- prived of work during three or four months of winter, and who could ill afford to lose four days through the operation of the Bill. Their condition was sometimes so bad from enforced idleness that subscriptions had to be repeatedly made for them in order to alleviate in some measure the distress of themselves and their wives and families. The figures relating to the business done on the last Bank holiday were not so conclusive as they would otherwise have been, if the holiday had not been the day after Christmas Day, when less work than usual would have been done under any circumstances. Since 1871 he believed there had been more holidays in England than in any other country of Europe, for the working men had taken many holidays contrary to the wishes of their employers, and had thereby greatly contributed to the present depression of our trade. Our national prosperity depended on our national industry, and if the House enforced idleness by Act of Parliament on the working classes of this country, they were initiating a ruinous principle, which would tend still further to give the advantages which foreign countries were now obtaining over us in all our great national industries, for which, up to this time, this country had been preeminent. He objected to men being forced to idleness by Act of Parliament and thus have to use extra exertion on the following day to make up their loss. The labourers about the London Docks, he believed, earned 6s. a-day instead of 2s. 6d., and 12s. a-night; sometimes, by the aid of their unions, they took the law into their own hands; and they were able to take any holidays which they required. If the principle of the measure were pushed to its logical conclusion it would involve the stoppage of railway traffic, the use of hackney carriages, and interfere with trade generally on the days in question. Moreover he believed the Bill would be found to act injuriously by giving the working classes increased facilities for drinking.


, in seconding the Amendment, said, his objection to the Bill would be removed, if the clauses relating to docks were struck out, because, if they were retained, it would interfere with the coal trade of the North of England, where about 15,000 tons of coal were shipped daily. It was necessary to have coal in trucks ready at particular times, and the inevitable effect of this legislation would be to stop the labour, not only of the dock men, but there would not be any empty trucks to send back to the mines; so that during all the next day the men employed in the collieries, who earned much higher wages than the dock labourers, would have to undergo a forced state of idleness. He spoke on behalf of 40,000 men employed in the Durham collieries, who did not wish to be so treated, especially as by an arrangement among themselves they already took a holiday every alternate Saturday. He called especial attention to the fact that the name of the hon. Baronet the Member for Maidstone (Sir John Lubbock) was not upon the back of the Bill—a signification that he did not consider the case of these men and that of the bank clerks the same, for the latter received their salaries during holidays. The Bill would be a mischief rather than an advantage to those who would be affected by it In many parts of the North, the labouring population being able to take a holiday when they pleased, had run holiday mad, and he feared the tendency of the Bill would be to increase the evil.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Wilson.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill seemed to be under the impression that London, and London alone, was the particular district for which legislation was practically asked. He begged to say—notwithstanding the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Wilson) had pointed out that there was no name belonging to the North-eastern ports behind the Bill, that his (Mr. Wheelhouse's) name was there, and he claimed to know somewhat of the feeling of the North-eastern ports in regard to this question. As far as concerned railway directors and dock proprietors, it might perfectly suit those gentlemen to consider that they alone had the interest of the parties who would be affected by the Bill at heart; but there were two stand-points from which the question could be viewed—one the workman's position—if he might say so—and the other that of railway directors and dock companies. He could state, however much the latter bodies opposed the measure, the working classes looked with great favour upon it. He denied the allegation that they had gone holiday mad; and so far as the argument of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Leeman) was concerned, with respect to the enforced idleness of the colliers by reason of the waggons not being sent back from the docks the day after the holiday, if there was any force in it, it would apply equally to every Monday in the year. But they all knew that on those days the 40,000 men on whose behalf the hon. Gentleman had spoken were busily employed. As regarded the clerks employed in the Government Departments, he knew that in the borough of Leeds, where there was a very large amount of duty paid, the clerks employed in the Inland Revenue Office had nothing whatever to do on the Bank holidays. If there was over a strong and reasonable Bill which under the circumstances did not in any way interfere with the trade of the country, it was the Bill before the House, and he hoped his hon. Friend Would succeed in passing it.


, in opposing the Bill, said, he had no objection to the further carrying out of the great principles laid down by the Bank Holidays Act; but if the Bill had any meaning at all, it would introduce an entirely new principle which had not been introduced into legislation before. By the Bank Holidays Act, bills falling due on the holidays were made payable the day after, and so the banker did not require the attendance of his clerks; but he was not aware that that Act compelled a banker to close his doors. He thought that, without any legislation whatever on the subject, the object desired by the hon. Member was in fact actually taking place, so far as it could be accomplished, by the voluntary consent of the parties interested, and there was no desire on the part of the working classes for a measure of this kind, who would lose their day's pay by the enforced holiday. To the compulsory extension of its provisions he altogether objected. Besides, he failed to see how the Bill would work on the River Tyne, providing, as it did, for a "close holiday" inside the docks, while work might go on on the river outside the clocks. He advised the hon. Gentleman either to confine the Bill to London, or to withdraw the part which related to docks.


said, he wished to make a suggestion to the hon. Member who introduced the Bill—namely, that he should extend its provisions to public-houses, as well as docks and Custom houses.


said, he was opposed to the measure, inasmuch as it materially differed in principle from the Bank Holidays Act, which was an Act passed with the general assent of the bankers themselves, who were willing to bear the pecuniary loss which the holiday entailed upon them, and thus the clerks themselves lost nothing. The case would be different with the dock labourers, so that it appeared to him that the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) wished to be generous at the expense of the dock companies and their labourers, and contrary to their wishes. A philanthropist, to be consistent, should be prepared to make some sacrifice. He, however, was afraid they were running philanthropically mad, in endeavouring by Acts of Parliament to interfere with the ordinary course of business. In his view, the hon. Member had failed to grasp the extent of his proposals, which would affect large commercial interests, in addition to shipping, and hundreds of thousands of people. Our dock population had too many unemployed days at present. Many of the working men in the docks were living from hand to mouth; and if the proposed holidays were enforced, the wages that might have been earned on those days would be a serious loss to them. He protested against legislative restrictions upon the disposal of their labour by working men.


said, in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it was his duty to say a few words in reference to the Bill. It was not in any sense a Government Bill, nor did they desire to use their strength in its favour; but, on the other hand, so far as their own employés were concerned, they did not see sufficient reason for opposing it. The important considerations urged on behalf of the Northern ports, and other shipping interests, were of such a grave character that it would be necessary to secure that full liberty should be reserved for the carrying on of trade on these days without check or hindrance. Neither the Treasury nor the Custom House authorities wished public servants to be on duty when there was no work to be done; but, at the same time, they were anxious that the most complete opportunity should be allowed under the Bill for the carrying on of trade generally. A Return which he had received from the Customs of the number of entries, &c., taken at London on the four Bank holidays of last year, showed the following results:—April 6—Entries, 31; number of vessels reported, 41; number of bonds, 36; amount of duty received, £119 6s. 3d. May 25—Entries, 28; vessels reported, 29; bonds, 48; duty, £154 16s. August 3—Entries, 40; vessels reported, 88; bonds, 42; duty, £394 9s. 2d. December 26—Entries, 22; vessels reported, 30; bonds, 18; duty, £211 1s. 5d. On an ordinary day the average number of entries was 3,163; bonds, 221; and duty, £36,628. [Mr. NORWOOD asked, whether there was a similar Return from the out-ports?] He had not obtained the statistics from other ports; but if the hon. Member wished it, there would be no objection to supply them at a future stage of the Bill. From those figures it appeared to those concerned in the government of the Customs that they were bringing down a large number of persons to the Customs and docks on days when there was really a very small amount of work to be done, but they had no power to relieve them of that attendance except by Act of Parliament. The question had also been referred to the Inland Revenue Commissioners, and their answer was, that they had no objection to the provisions of the present Bill being extended to their Department. The last thing the Government would propose would be to suspend business on any day on which it was ordinarily transacted; but the fact was, the Bank Holidays Act appeared to have put a stop to ordinary business to a great extent, and it was represented to the Government that it was vexatious and unnecessary to require gentlemen to sit in offices where no work was to be done. So far as the Government offices were concerned, therefore, the Bill, as he had remarked, was unobjectionable, but it would certainly be necessary to provide against any such interruption of trade as hon. Members had indicated. He ventured to say that without that provision, the Bill would not pass, and he suggested that if the House would allow the Bill to he read a second time that day, the Committee should be fixed for a late date, in order that representations might be made from all the interests affected, and that ample time should be afforded for the introduction of Amendments. He was not certain that it might not be possible to omit docks from the Bill altogether, but he refrained from expressing any opinion on this point, because he did not know how far the attendance of the Custom House officers at docks was necessary. [Mr. NORWOOD: How about the Ferriers' holiday?] That was an ancient right, and he did not think that he could propose to touch the right without exciting an amount of popular feeling, which he did not wish to excite. He trusted that the House would understand that he was not arguing in favour of a new holiday, and he thought there was a great deal of force in the argument which had fallen from hon. Gentlemen in reference to that matter. All he was arguing for was that, a holiday already existing, a large number of persons should not be compelled to attend in an empty room, where there was no work of any kind to be undertaken.


said, that the whole course of the debate showed that the Bank Holiday's Act ought to be confined to London alone, and so far he fully sympathised with the Bill. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Leeman) had certainly neither exaggerated nor overstated the case when he said that if the Bill was extended to the case of the docks it would have the effect of totally suspending the business of the whole district. If docks were closed in any of the ports throughout the North of England, it would have the effect of closing the railways, the collieries, and most of the manufacturing establishments throughout the North. They had, therefore, not only to consider the loss that would be inflicted on the employers and the employed, but the loss that would be caused to the whole district. He believed that the Bill did not receive the approval of the working men as a body, especially in the North, for the loss that was already occasioned in that part of the country by the number of holidays was already excessive, and they were now asked by legislation to make a large and material increase to it. He should therefore support the Amendment, because he knew that the Bill would inflict considerable loss on the employers and the employed, besides greatly injuring the trade generally of the North of England.


thought the view of the last speaker an exaggerated one. His experience of commercial life in the seaports was as extensive as that of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Palmer), and as the result of his experience, he was convinced that the adoption of the principle of the Bill would involve no suspension of trade whatever. If it was thought that inconvenience or possible loss would result from including docks in the provisions of the Bill, it would be easy to propose their omission when the Bill got into Committee. When the Bank Holidays Act was passed, it struck him as being invidious to make a selection from the different classes of public servants who should be the recipients of the boon, and after the thoroughly liberal and equitable explanation which had been made by the Secretary to the Treasury of the views of the Government, he should support the second reading of the Bill.


said, it might seem invidious to oppose a Bill which provided for the recreation of the people, but he had been very much struck by the arguments of those hon. Gentlemen who held that the measure would interfere with private enterprize, and would be introducing a new and very dangerous principle. He believed that that difficulty had arisen because the Bill was, to some extent, a departure from the principle of the Bank Holidays Act. The object of that Act was to give certain holidays to salaried clerks and others who were not paid by the day; but this Bill did not adhere to that principle, and that was the great difference between it and the Act of 1871. If the docks were excluded from the operation of the Bill, the great objection to it would be withdrawn. It would, however, be a dangerous precedent if the House tried to provide holidays for day labourers, and might lead to applications from railway labourers, colliers, and men engaged in other great industrial interests. If the Bill was not made applicable to docks, he did not see any great objection to it, but unless they were to be excluded, he would vote against it.


said, that although objection had been taken to the fact that the names of Representatives of the great seaports were not to be found on the back of the Bill, one of the hon. Members for Liverpool had expressed himself in favour of the principle involved. The reason for his name being found among those of the hon. Members who prepared and brought in the measure was, that he was the first to introduce the question of Bank holidays to the House, the principle of his Bill having been sanctioned by a Committee of which he was Chairman. Speaking personally, he was of opinion that the Bank Holidays Act of 1871 did not go far enough. He would, for instance, have preferred to see included in its provisions the employés in the Savings Banks department of the Post Office, and also that the holidays in the Law Courts should have been arranged for the days prescribed by the Act.


, in reply, said, he should be glad to accede to the suggestion of the Government, and put the Committee down for a distant day. When the Bill reached that stage, if the Government considered it necessary and if it was the wish of the House, he should have no objection to exclude docks from the operation of the Bill. He trusted that course would obviate any opposition to the measure.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 90; Noes 64: Majority 26.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday 16th March.

House adjourned at Three o'clock.