HC Deb 18 February 1886 vol 302 cc678-89

Order for Second Reading read.


I hope the House will allow me to proceed with the second reading of this Bill. The object of the measure is to provide that no child or young person employed in a shop shall be worked for more than 12 hours in a day. The second reading was passed by the House last year without a division. It has been said that the Bill has since undergone some modifications; but that is not so. The Bill is practically the same measure as was adopted last year. We did not propose any inspection last year, nor do we do so now; because we believe that it would be to the interests of all shopkeepers that the others should conform to the law. This is no question between shopkeepers and their assistants. The great majority of shopkeepers are anxious to close earlier. I have been several times asked whether there is really any need for this Bill; whether it is possible that any large number of young persons are actually employed for more than 12 hours in the day? On this point I may remind the House that last year I had the honour to present Petitions from almost all our large cities, and finally one monster Petition containing many thousands of signatures. A meeting was held last June in support of this Bill, which was warmly supported by the Bishop of London, Cardinal Manning, Earl Stanhope, Lady John Manners, and Mr. P. Harrison, while the Chair was taken by that eminent Judge, Lord Bramwell. Lord Bramwell is well known as a staunch supporter of individual independence, and an opponent of Government interference and over-legislation. But he warmly supported the present Bill. He said— No one had a doubt of the propriety of laws for the prevention of cruelty to animals. That must be admitted to be a right thing. Why? Because they were helpless; because they could not protect themselves. But they were not more helpless than the child—a two-footed creature, who was subjected to the orders and control of those against whom he was powerless to struggle. It could not be doubted that the Bill which Sir John Lubbock had brought forward was one which ought to receive the approval of that meeting. He believed a shortening of the shop hours would be a good thing for everybody concerned. He believed it would be a good thing not only for those who worked in the shop, but for their employers. It would diminish expenses, and the workpeople would be fresher and more vigorous in the service of their master than they could possibly be now. The Shop Hours' League have also collected a great deal of evidence on the subject—evidence which I am sure no one can read without warm sympathy and compassion. To make my case complete the House will, I hope, allow me to give one or two cases. Louisa B——, aged 19, drapery, four and a half years at Battersea. My hours are from 8.30 a.m. to 9.30 p.m., and on Saturdays until 12 p.m. As to meals, we are supposed to eat our food as quickly as possible, and then return to the shop. I was in perfect health when I entered the business, now I often feel ready to sink down for want of fresh air and rest. Before the end of the day, and especially on a Saturday, I feel exceedingly weary and depressed, and have difficulty in standing until the clock strikes 12. I am quite unfit to attend a place of worship on Sunday morning. Amy J. L——, aged 19, drapery, King's Gross. I have been in business three years at Poplar, Hackney, and where I am now. At Poplar the hours were 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., at the other places from 8.15 and 8.30 a.m. to 9.30 and 10 p.m., and at 12 p.m. on Saturdays. It is often 12.30 and 1 on a Sunday morning before we get out of the shop. Meal times, about 20 and 25 minutes for dinner, and 15 minutes for other meals. I was in perfect health when I first went into the business. During the last 18 months I have been away from business three times through illnesses, which the doctor said was through the long hours. If I had a little out-of-door exercise I should be much better; and I think it might be arranged for us to sit some time during the day when we are not busy. I am always thankful when Sunday comes; but I am never fit to go to a place of worship till night. E.M.—in a shop in Camberwell—says— Went into business between 15 and 16 years of age. The average hours are from 8 and 8.30 a.m. to 9.30 and 10 p.m., and from 11.30 to 12 p.m. on Saturdays. In my present situation we have no stated time for meals. We eat as quickly as possible, and then hurry back to the shop. Never before I went into business did I know what illness was; but since have scarcely known what it is to be free from pain. I have overflowing of blood to the head, which causes me to swoon after standing a long time. I scarcely know what it is to stand with ease for the violent pains in my feet and legs. My feelings at the end of the day are so dreadfully low and weak that I scarcely have the strength to undress. I never feel thoroughly rested when I have to get up. Another girl, in a shop at Deptford, said— I begin at 8 a.m. and leave at 10 p.m., Saturdays 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. We have from 15 to 20 minutes allowed for each meal. We are very often called forward from our meals to the shop to attend to customers. We leave our meals half consumed, and then the food is either cold or we get no more. When apprenticed to the drapery my health was good; but it is gradually failing, and the doctor says I am in a consumption. I am, therefore, obliged to leave at the end of the month. I have never been able to get for a walk except on a Sunday, as no respectable girl cares to go out between 10 and 11 at night. After the fatigue and worry of the week I am so thoroughly worn out that my only thought is to rest on a Sunday; but it goes too quickly, and the other days drag on slowly. It is stated that probably one-half of the drapers' assistants in London never enter a place of worship, and those who do are so drowsy that they can scarcely keep awake. The cases I have given are by no means of an exceptional character. In Islington, out of 250 shops counted, 200 were open at 9.30 p.m.; at Hackney, 150 out of 200 at 9.30; in Hammersmith, 200 out of 250; in Kentish Town, 120 out of 175; in Bow, 125 out of 175; in Bermondsey, 320 out of 400 at 10 p.m.; in Lambeth, 350 out of 450; in Battersea, 140 out of 200; Poplar, 120 out of 150; at Stoke Newington, 225 out of 300; in Whitechapel, 475 out of GOO at 10.15; while on Saturdays a large proportion of these shops continue at work till midnight. It must also, of course, be remembered that the assistants have to go on writing some time after the shops are closed. I have no reason to suppose that these districts are worse than others; they are merely taken as samples. Thus, as the assistants begin work, on an average, about 8 in the morning, their actual working hours are from 1G to 17 in one day, and from 13 to 14 on five days in the week. Probably it would be within the mark to say that the majority of shopkeepers' assistants work from 75 to 90 hours a-week. I have taken these illustrations from London; but the evil is by no means confined to the Metropolis. In Liverpool it is deeply felt, and my hon. Friend the Member for that City had last year a Bill dealing with the subject. The Shop Hours' League have instituted inquiries, and they state that at Brighton, for instance, the hours are about the same as in London; in Bristol they are excessively long; at Chester, Derby, Huddersfield, Leeds, York, and elsewhere they are about 80 per week. At Manchester most of the retail shops have terribly long hours. At Rochdale "they are far too long, and we do not know how to shorten them." The Bill contains no new principle; it merely extends to shops that which is already the law in workshops; it suggests no machinery or inspection; it involves no expense; it would not interfere with trade; there would not be a yard of stuff or an ounce of tea sold less than now; and we should lengthen and brighten the lives of thousands of these poor children. Just let me ask the House to consider what 14 hours of work mean. We cannot reckon less than seven for sloop, one for breakfast or supper, half-an-hour for dressing and undressing, one hour for buying necessaries, doing their room, &c., and if we allow an hour for getting backwards and forwards we have accounted for the whole 24; and not a moment is loft for amusement, or self-improvement, for fresh air or family life, for any of those occupations which cheer, brighten, and ennoble life—in fact, we literally say that not only have they not a moment to themselves, but they are so hard worked that at the end of the week they are fit to drop with fatigue. I am convinced that all London would gain if the shop assistants had greater opportunities of intellectual, moral, and spiritual improvement. Moreover, the cruel effect of the long hours is considerably increased by the fact that the unfortunate assistants have to stand the whole time. This long standing is a terrible evil. How injurious standing is we may clearly see from the fact that though customers remain in a shop for so comparatively short a time they are invariably accommodated with seats. Considering, however, the relative need of rest as between the assistants and their customers, it must be admitted that the seats are on the wrong side of the counter. This is, happily, no question between shopkeepers and their assistants. There is no such difference. I believe the shopkeepers are almost as anxious to close as the assistants themselves. Perhaps, then, it may be said, why not leave the matter in their hands? Because in almost every case the arrangements for early closing have been rendered nugatory by the action of some very small minority among the shopkeepers. Over and over again we read that the shopkeepers in a given district are anxious to close, and have all agreed to do so with, perhaps, a single exception. But that single exception is fatal. One after another the rest gradually open again, and the whole thing breaks down, and thus a small minority tyrannize over the rest. It seems clear that nothing but legislation can remedy the evil. Voluntary action has been tried and failed over and over again. For instance, in 1872 a South London Drapers' Association was formed in order to shorten the hours. An influential Committee was formed, and about 250 drapers joined the Association. After much labour and expense, and a great deal of canvassing, they agreed to close at 8. This arrangement began on the 2nd of September; but it lasted only about a fortnight. One by one the shops kept open. At last only the 20 Committee men were left, and then the whole movement collapsed; but before finally breaking up they met and passed a unanimous resolution that nothing short of legislation would suffice to shorten the hours of labour in retail shops. I might quote many other cases, but will only refer to one. At Sunderland a similar attempt was made, but very soon broke down in the same way. Indeed, the great majority of shopkeepers would, I believe, welcome a Bill which would prevent a small minority of unprincipled competitors from obtaining an unfair advantage. The question naturally arises whether the passage of this Bill would have the effect of throwing young persons out of employment? Now, in the first place, it is estimated that from one-half to two-thirds of the shop assistants are young persons ranging from 12 to 21 years of age, and the conditions which regulate their employment would govern the rest. Moreover, the great majority of shopkeepers would be only too glad to close if the remainder would do so. There is, indeed, one objection to factory legislation which does not apply to a Bill like the present. It is obvious that interference with manufacturers, if carried too far, might drive them out of the country, and thus, by depriving our factory population of work, defeat its own object. In such a measure as I am venturing to recommend there is no such danger. The shops, on the whole, will obviously do as much business, whether they are open 12 hours or 14, though the shopkeeper who keeps open may fetch away a little business from his more merciful or considerate neighbour. No one, then, can say that our proposals are of a character to injure trade, while they would brighten and prolong the lives of thousands of our countrymen and countrywomen. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving that the Bill be read a second time.

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


I entirely agree with the principle of the Bill. I think it is a sound one, in the interests of the community and of young people themselves. I certainly feel that young persons between 13 and 18 years of age ought not to be allowed to work more than 12 hours a-day; but I believe that the Bill will not entirely meet the circumstances of the case. I have had a great deal of communication with persons engaged in business on the South side of London; and I venture to say that the circumstances under which the businesses are carried on there are altogether different from those which apply to businesses in the West End of London, and that it might be injurious to the interests of trade to include indiscriminately all businesses in this Bill. I hope, therefore, although I cannot object to the second reading of the Bill, that after it has been read a second time my hon. Friend will agree to refer it to a Select Committee. I hold in my hand a letter from one of the principal traders of South London—the head of a very large firm indeed—and he tells me that they are obliged to begin business at 8.30 in the morning. They have to carry on the business, which is that of a drapery establishment, until 12 o'clock in the day, when the business itself begins to slacken; and from that time until 8 in the evening—I am speaking of a part of the Metropolis where almost the whole of the community are a labouring people—the writer informs mo that he might, for all practical purposes, shut up his shop. But at 8 in the evening the business begins again, and it is found necessary to conduct the greater part of it between 8 and 12 o'clock at night. I cannot help thinking that if the Bill of my hon. Friend were referred to a Select Committee we should get evidence from persons engaged in business under different cir- cumstances from the shopkeepers and tradesmen of the West End, and that we should get some evidence which might enable us to modify the provisions of the Bill, so as to render it useful to all classes of the community. I am afraid that if we pass it in its present form it may press hardly upon many persons who are not in over-flourishing circumstances at the present moment, and who will feel inclined to say that we have been legislating for the poorer parts of London on lines altogether inapplicable, however suitable they may be for the West End of the Metropolis. Firms like those of Marshall and Snelgrove and others may be able to shut up their establishments at 6 or 7 o'clock in the evening; but in districts inhabited by the poorer classes I am quite certain that the shops have to be kept open for a much longer time. This correspondent of mine says— From 8 until 9.30 we take as much or more money as in the whole of the previous part of the day. He states, further— Trade is not prosperous at the present moment. And, speaking, perhaps, a little angrily, he asks— What is the need of legislation of this kind? He calls attention to the fact that most of the shops at present voluntarily close at 5 p.m. upon one day in the week; and he adds that the condition of the assistants employed in the shops is improving every year without pressure being brought to bear upon the employer. I believe that that is the case. I cannot, as I said at first, resist, and I do not think that I ought to resist, in the interests of humanity and good sense, the second reading of this Bill; but I do trust that when it has been read a second time my hon. Friend will have no objection to refer it to a Select Committee. The time of the Session is very early; and I hope that every Member who would serve upon the Committee would be anxious to report at as early a date as possible. I hope, also, that the Committee would be able to find out means by which businesses which require longer hours than others may be satisfactorily conducted.


I should like to say a few words before the Bill is read a second time, seeing that the matter is one which must come under the cognizance of the Home Office. I have not yet had time thoroughly to consider the whole question; but as far as this Bill lays down that young persons between the ages of 13 and 18 should not be worked more than 12 hours in the day, which is the main provision of the Bill, I think that everyone in this House will agree that young persons of that ago should not be overworked. The Home Office look upon women and young persons such as these as being under their charge with respect to the amount of work which they may be called upon to do; and I cannot deny that it is a sound principle they should not be worked more than 12 hours. That is the principle of the Bill, and on that ground I shall not object to the second reading. But I am bound to say that, in my opinion, the Bill as it stands is altogether unworkable, and that it would not be possible to accept its provisions. My hon. Friend the Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock) says that the Bill proposes to exclude from its operation those employed in licensed public-houses and refreshment bars; but these appear to me to be the persons who, of all others, require protection, and who should not be allowed to be employed for more than 12 hours a-day. Therefore, I do not think that that is a provision which the House ought to adopt. Then I understand my hon. Friend to say that the Bill does not propose to appoint any additional Inspectors; and yet the object of the Bill is to extend the provisions of the Factories and Workshops Act of 1873 to persons employed in shops. But if you do not employ persons to carry on the duty of inspection, how are you to enact that these young people employed in shops are to come under the provisions of that Act? Without some provision in regard to inspection I am afraid the Bill would be altogether unworkable. I will only say that I will consider very carefully the nature of the provisions of the Bill, and will be prepared to state my view at a later stage. I would, therefore, respectfully recommend the House to allow the second reading of the Bill to pass; but I hope my hon. Friend will allow some interval to elapse—say six weeks or so—before taking the next stage, so that we might, in the meantime, have the advantage of the advice and opinion of those who are interested in the matter, and who will necessarily be entrusted with the working of a measure of this kind. As to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Thorold Rogers) that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, I have no very strong opinion upon the matter; but I will be prepared to accept the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock), if he will consent to defer the Committee stage for a few weeks.


I hope that we are not going to discuss all the Bills that are down upon the Paper. I think it would be a wise plan to adjourn the House after we shall have disposed of this Bill. In my opinion it would be wise to adjourn before we come to the next Order of the Day. ["No!"] The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has said that he agrees with the principle of the Bill. I confess that I do not see anything in the principle of the measure, or the form in which it has been drawn, to which I object; but I would strongly recommend the hon. Baronet in charge of it (Sir John Lubbock), at this early period of the Session, and after the appeal which has been made to him by the right hon. Gentleman, either to postpone the Committee stage for six weeks, or else to refer it to a Select Committee. Such accurse would not amount to the shelving of the Bill, but would simply insure that the question would receive full consideration, especially in regard to the difficulty which has been raised as to the class of persons to which it ought to apply. My own view is that the very wisest course to take, at this early period of the Session, would be to refer it at once to a Select Committee, in order that its provisions may be thoroughly discussed. I am quite sure that a Select Committee would be able to report long before the six weeks which the right hon. Gentleman has referred to. I therefore hope that the hon. Baronet will accept the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Thorold Rogers), and refer the measure to a Select Committee; and after this Bill has been disposed of I hope the House will consent to ad- journ without proceeding to discuss any of the remaining Orders of the Day.


Sir, I should wish to make one or two observations, as I happened to be the Chairman of the Factory and Workshops Committee, which some years ago sat and considered this very question. I may say that while we were very ready to give relief to young persons employed for long hours, yet, for the reasons given in our Report, we did not see our way to do so in the case of shop-workers. If the House will refer to this Report of the Committee they will find a great deal of information given on the evidence of persons from many quarters of the Kingdom. The question presented a good deal of difficulty; and I am of opinion that domestic industry is a thing with which it would be inexpedient to interfere, and that legislation upon it would probably do more harm than good. We must all feel very much sympathy with young persons, women especially, who are employed for long hours; and it is within my knowledge that young women are often employed for 14 or 15 hours at refreshment bars. That is much longer than the time during which young people are employed in shops, or, at least, in such as are attached to dwellings where they take their meals. Therefore I am glad my right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) has exercised caution in giving assent to the Bill. I believe that hon. Members will, on consideration, see that there is great reason for caution before giving scope to their benevolent ideas with reference to this question.


Sir, I should be very glad to adopt the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Childers). If the House agrees to the second reading of the Bill I will then move that it be referred to a Select Committee.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee."—(Sir John Lubbock.)

Motion agreed to.


Sir, as the hour is late, and the next Bill on the Paper is an important one, which there will be plenty of opportunities of con- sidering hereafter, I shall now move the adjournment of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Beresford Hope.)


Sir, I rise to oppose the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman. The action of the right hon. Gentleman in moving the adjournment of the House is but too transparent, and it is one which I think ought not to be passed over without comment. At this hour I am not, of course, disposed to go against the will of the House; but I cannot agree to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman until it is ascertained. The next Bill upon the Paper is one of which the right hon. Gentleman does not entertain a high opinion; and that, no doubt, is the secret of his wish for the adjournment. But I do not see why we should not use the opportunity which is now before us of considering that Bill, as it is yet early—[Laughter]—in the morning. If I have the privilege of moving the second reading I shall not occupy more than five minutes in giving reasons in support of the Bill; and certainly there is no reason which I can see why the House should not be asked to agree to that Motion. I hope Her Majesty's Government will not accede to the Motion for the Adjournment without a more definite reason than that given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge, of whom the Earl of Beaconsfield once said that no sooner did we begin business in February than he wanted to know when we should rise for the Easter holidays. I trust the House will not agree to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 137; Noes 142: Majority 5.—(Div. List, No. 5.)