§ SECOND READING.
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ *(12.41.) MR. PROVAND: (Glasgow, Blackfriars, &c.)
I rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill, the object of which is to amend the law relating to the employment of women and young persons in shops. The only Act which applies to the employés in shops is the Shop Hours Regulation Act, passed in 1886, for three years, and which consequently expired in 1889, though it has been annually renewed since. That Act, however, only applies to young persons, and the difference between it and the Bill now before the House is that we, in this Bill, desire to bring women within the provisions of that Act, in fact we desire to re-enact the whole of it, adding the application of it to women. That is the only change we propose to make in the law. The effect of the Shop Hours Regulation Act has been much less than it was expected it would be at the time it was passed, and this chiefly arises from the limitations in the Act itself. There was no machinery provided for putting the Act in force, there was no Inspection Clause included, although the Select Committee, to whom the Bill was referred before it was passed, spoke favourably of a clause covering Government inspection, saying it would be of very great service. But no such clause was inserted in the Act, and consequently it is no man's business to see that the law is carried out. The law then became inoperative, and I doubt if one shopkeeper in three knows of the law he 1130 should observe. But there has, been some benefit from that Act, even with the limited operation it has had, and for what has been done under the Act we are chiefly indebted to the Early Closing Association in London, and other Associations of a similar kind throughout the country. These Associations have sometimes notified offending shopkeepers and sometimes have instituted prosecutions. In asking that women should be included in the Act, we are not, as every hon. Member knows, endeavouring to enact any fresh principle in law. Nearly 50 years ago there was an Act passed limiting the working hours of women to 60 in the week, and since then there has been a steady succession of Factory and Workshops Acts, in all of which some provision has been inserted ameliorating the conditions, and in many cases shortening the hours women are expected to work in factories and workshops. There can be no doubt whatever about the benefit resulting from such legislation. I might quote from many speeches delivered from the Government Bench and from Home Secretaries commenting upon the effect of these Acts. I might quote from the evidence of witnesses who have given testimony before Select Committees of this House; and from many other sources I might provide abundant evidence to show that the results of the Factory and Workshops Acts, so far as they have applied to adult women or had anything to do with adult female labour, have been beneficial. Perhaps the shortest way in which I can place a little of this proof before the House will be by referring to the Report of the Select Committee on the Shop Hours Regulation Bill of 1886. That Committee took a great deal of evidence, and recommended the Bill to the House, and it passed into law. In speaking generally on this part of the question, the Committee said—The great majority of witnesses expressed their opinion that though voluntary action had effected much improvement, little could be expected from it in the poorer neighbourhoods, and that nothing short of legislation would be effective.As regards medical testimony, I will quote only one opinion—that of Dr. Abbot. He, examined as to his opinion 1131 respecting the effect of the labour of shop assistants, said:—"The labour in shops is as exhausting and trying as attending to machinery in factories and workshops for a corresponding time."Factory Inspectors have also been examined on this point, and much evidence will be found in the Report of the proceedings of the Commission which sat in 1878, before the Workshops Act was passed. Mr. Taylor, the Inspector for the North-West District of Lancashire, before the Committee of 1886, said:—"It appears that a large majority of Inspectors of Factories are in favour of some legislative regulation of the hours of labour in shops."In addition, I need only quote the last paragraph of the Committee's Report, in which they say:—In conclusion, your Committee are satisfied that the hours of shop assistants, ranging from 84 to 85 hours a week, must be generally injurious, and often ruinous to health."I do not think it is necessary that I should place any further evidence before the House, or read more quotations from the opinions expressed by different witnesses. The Committee I have referred to was the last which sat on this question. This particular question did not come immediately before the Committee which sat last year. But think what 84 or 85 hours a week mean! Fourteen hours, for each of the six days, standing in shops —from 8 o'clock in the morning until 10 o'clock at night. That, I think, will be quite sufficient to show the necessity for some protection to adult women under the law, in the same way that protection is at the present time given to young persons. But in legislating for any class it is important to consider whether the legislation proposed will operate to any extent, and in what way, against the interests of those we desire to protect. It is important to be quite certain, assuming that this Bill becomes law, that women will not thereby lose any opportunity for obtaining employment which is open to them now. On that point I have some experience to lay before the House. Four years ago evidence was collected on this point, and it all went to show that women would not be 1132 affected in this respect if their hours of employment were restricted to 74 hours a week, including meal times, which is the proposition in this Bill. I candidly admit that the opinion of the Early Closing Association was to some extent hostile to my view at that time. I, therefore, proceeded to collect further evidence, and I saw many representatives of institutions interested in the employment of women, and the opinion at which I arrived was confirmed by further testimony collected by the Early Closing Association. The Association sent a circular to the officials of every working women's club or society whose address could be obtained, and the replies received afforded substantial testimony in favour of this Bill. This circular set forth that the Association was very anxious to have full and authentic information from the several bodies representing the interests of female labour as to the merits of the Shop Hours Bill, and invited expressions of opinion as to how far, if at all, such a Bill, if passed into law, would be likely to prejudice or interfere with female labour; to what extent such legislation was received with favour or otherwise by those parties interested in the question; and to what extent, if at all, the labour of women would be likely to be brought into competition with that of men. I do not think the circular letter could have been better framed for collecting evidence from working women as to the limit of 74 hours a week in shops and similar places. I wrote to the Association to see what replies had been obtained, the circular being, as I have said, sent to every Association of the kind whose existence and address could be discovered, and I was informed that the inquiries had not brought forth any hostile criticism of the Bill whatever. This was evidence that public opinion on the subject had been ripening from the first idea, only a few years previous, that such legislation would injuriously affect the opportunities of women to obtain employment. Let me just briefly allude to Clause 9 of the Bill, which defines the word "shop." This is taken as including licensed public houses and refreshment houses of all kinds, which, with drapers, are the 1133 chief offenders in reference to the overworking of women. I might put forth hundreds of cases where the health of women has been permanently injured on account of the long hours of employment in such shops. They have been published; there are two volumes of such cases. There is confirmatory evidence from medical authorities; all the hospitals have examples of such cases. The Early Closing Association has got together many records of them, but I do not desire to work on the feelings of the House or occupy time unnecessarily, for it is sufficient to refer to the paragraph of the Report on the evidence taken in 1886, in which the Committee have recorded their opinion that such long hours must be generally injurious and often ruinous to health. It is impossible to get over the evidence on this point given only five years ago in reference to an Act of which this is an amending Bill. Clause 10 in the present Bill exempts all members of the same family who may carry on a business together—that is to say, this Bill will only apply to assistants engaged by an employer, and not to the members of a family who keep a shop for and by themselves; these may carry on their employment for any number of hours they may think proper. There is one clause in the Bill—Clause 8—which has not a place in the original Act, a clause providing for the appointment of Inspectors. I have taken this clause, as it stands, from the Factory and Workshops Act, 1878, and I have done so because the Committee of 1886 drew attention to the absence of a clause from the Bill before them dealing with Government inspection, and expressed an opinion that a clause of that kind would have very considerable effect. We know now that it was the absence of such a clause that rendered the Act of 1886 to a large extent inoperative. These clauses will be dealt with in Committee, and for the present I have only to ask the House to accept the principle of the Bill that adult women shall be brought under the law, which at the present time applies only to young persons. I intend to accept the proposal of the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Lubbock), that the Bill shall be referred to a Select Committee, and if 1134 the Government agree to accept the Second Reading upon this understanding, I need not occupy the time of the House much longer. I believe that even with this brief statement of the reasons for the Bill I have made out a strong case; but if I were to add anything further it would be to point out how little it is we are asking by this Bill. I have mentioned already that the work of women was legislated for nearly 50 years ago; and if I were to take the last Act passed in this direction 13 years ago and compare it with this Bill, how meagre will the regulations appear which we ask for on their behalf. The Act of 1878, besides limiting the working hours to 60 in the week, has many other regulating and limiting clauses, of which there are none in this Bill. That Act regulates the number of hours during which women are to be continuously employed in factories and workshops: it regulates the holidays and half-holidays; it requires certificates as to the fitness of young persons before they undertake the work required from them; it requires surgical certificates; it makes precise stipulations as to meals, as to the time set apart for them, and as to where and when they shall be taken; and the Act also deals elaborately with the sanitary conditions of the places of employment, ventilation, and so on. There are many other controlling clauses for the regulation of the conditions under which women are employed in factories and workshops. Nothing of the kind is proposed in the present Bill. We are content with the inclusion of adult women in the law now applied to young persons. I do not say that 74 hours a-week are not too long for employment. I do think they are too long. Nevertheless, I think it is better that the Act should pass in the simple form presented by the Bill, and then, having seen the effect produced, experience will guide us to decide what further requirements may be necessary. One reason strongly in favour of bringing adult women under the law now applied to young persons is to be found in the difficulty women have in combining to provide for their own general benefit. Even when men find both money and management to 1135 assist them to combine it is difficult to keep them together on the Trade Union principle. They will fall away, and, therefore, are entitled to a protection from the law which may be withheld from adult men. Simple as the Bill is, it may have an effect in shortening the hours for men. In many establishments assistants of both sexes are engaged. If half the staff can only be employed for 74 hours in the week, doubtless the effect will be to shorten the hours for the whole of the staff. It will have the effect of shortening the hours of employment for men just as the Factory Acts, though adult men were not included, have shortened the hours of employment all round. I need not occupy the time of the House any longer. With these brief reasons I commend the Bill to the House for a Second Reading, with the understanding that it shall then be referred to a Select Committee, in accordance with the Motion standing in the name of the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Lubbock).
§ (1.2.) MR. BAUMANN (Camberwell, Peckham)
I rise to second the Motion for Second Reading, and, in doing so, I shall deal briefly, but, at the same time, broadly, with the general principles of the measure, without entering into details; both because the Second Reading is not the occasion for dealing with clauses, and because the Motion standing in the name of the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir John Lubbock) is to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, where will be offered a far better opportunity for dealing with details than a Second Reading Debate in this House presents. The principle of protecting the labour of women has been affirmed and extended by the Legislature during the past 40 years, and the proposal of the measure now before us is to extend that protection a little further, from women employed in factories and workshops to women employed in retail shops, as defined in the 9th clause. Now, as a matter of principle, I ask, why should that protection not be extended from factories to shops? Is the labour of women in shops less exhausting, less trying to the female frame, than their labour in factories? There is medical evidence to prove that continuously standing 1136 for more than twelve hours a day in shops is not less, but more exhausting, and more trying for women, than work in the mills. It, is perfectly notorious that there is a certain class of disorders and diseases which are induced by the continuous standing of shop assistants. The variety of muscular action brought into play by the more varied occupations of the factory and workshop is less trying to a woman than the cruel standing in a shop for twelve or more hours. What does the Bill ask you to do? To limit these hours to 74 in the week. That is more than twelve hours a day, because in the shops to which the Act would probably apply there is, unfortunately, no Saturday half-holiday. So we must take the six days of the week, giving an average of over twelve hours a day. Will any gentleman rise in this House, will any employer of shop labour here rise, and say that a day of over twelve hours—approaching 13 hours—is not enough, and more than enough, for women to be employed throughout the year? And what are the objections to this proposal? The most respectable of the objections is the inconvenience to the public. Of course, in the poorer districts, customers have to do their shopping in the early hours of the morning or the late hours of the evening, often between the hours of 8 and 10. So it is thought inconvenience will arise from the earlier closing of shops. But that is a matter of arrangement, and I cannot see why a shopkeeper, in the slack hours of the morning and afternoon, could not give his employés, in turn, an opportunity for rest or for leaving the shop to take fresh air. Another objection equally respectable, and even more formidable, is that the effect of this Bill may be to deprive women of employment, and that it may lead to the substitution of male labour for female labour, and I read a letter today on that point in the Morning Post. I do not believe the Bill will have any such effect, because men's labour is, of course, dearer than women's labour; and if this measure should lead to anything like a wholesale dismissal of shop-girls and large additions to the employment of male assistants, then we know the wages of men assistants 1137 would rise beyond the point at which they now stand, making the expenses of the shopkeeper too great. Another argument is that the restriction of women's work will diminish the profits of the shopkeepers; but shopkeepers are the only people who make enormous fortunes in these days: we see evidence of it on every side. One shopkeeper buys a mountain in Scotland for a deer-run; another pays a patrimony for a racehorse; so that the clipping of the profits of these commercial leviathans cannot be weighed against the health and happiness of the women who contribute in some degree to making those fortunes. There are some who object to interference with shopkeepers in the management of their own business; but I quite agree with Carlyle, that there are occasions when you must put a collar upon a man, and compel him to do that which is right. I am in favour of putting a collar upon some of our shopkeepers, to compel them to treat their shopwomen with care and humanity. There is another class of political philosophers opposed to legislation of this kind, who style themselves Individualists, the forlorn and fading remnant of an exploded school. I am an Individualist, but I am in favour of protecting, and not oppressing, the individual. In the struggle between the feeble and the strong, it is liberty which oppresses; it is the law which enfranchises and protects. I should ill discharge my task if I did not say a word or two upon the manner by which it is proposed to give effect to this Bill. It is notorious that the staff of Inspectors of factories and workshops is ludicrously under-manned for the work of the large towns, and I should be quite willing to very largely increase that staff. It is said that to carry out this legislation we should want an army of Inspectors. Very well, let us have an army of Inspectors. Nothing is more discreditable to the Government of this country than the niggardly manner in which the Treasury refuses to consent to the expenditure of a few hundreds of thousands upon an efficient staff of Inspectors, whilst Parliament votes ten millions to assist Irish tenants and English yeomen. I hold that the 1138 health of shopwomen in our large towns is as sufficient an object for the paternal, or even maternal, protection of the State as a British yeomanry. I. must refer to an Amendment which stands on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. W. M'Laren), and I shall do so for the purpose of adducing a collateral political reason why the House should read this Bill a second time. The hon. Member proposes to ask the House not to read this Bill until the franchise has been extended to women; and without discussing the Amendment, I would ask if women had votes, what would be the attitude of this House towards the Motion of my hon. Friend? I am an opponent of the enfranchisement of women, but if women had votes this Motion would be moved not from those Benches, but from that (the Treasury) Bench; and we should be all tumbling over one another's heels in our anxiety to support and defend the interests of Mary Ann, just as we are now tumbling over one another's heels to protect the interests of poor Hodge, who has been so long neglected. I ask the House to show, by their willingness to attend to the just demands of the female portion of the community, that it is not necessary to extend the franchise to women in order to secure for them the protection of legislation.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Provand.)
§ MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Stockport)
In the absence of the Member for Crewe, I propose to move the Amendment which stands on the Paper in his name, and I therefore at once meet the challenge of my hon. Friend who has just sat down. If I thought that those sensible women, who I hope will before long obtain a vote, were with anything like unanimity in favour of this Bill, I should certainly vote for it, without waiting for them to get a vote; but it does not seem to me that there is any proof before the House of any general demand on the part of women for this measure. First, I doubt whether there is any demand at all; and, secondly, whether if there be, it is a just one. At all events it would be very much wiser for the 1139 House to pause until we can ascertain whether women desire an alteration in the laws such as is now proposed. The hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill put it before us as a very small matter indeed, and said he was proposing to introduce "only women." But women form half the human race, at all events. We remember how there was found an envelope left by Dean Swift with the superscription "only a woman's hair." To my mind that was very pathetic; but to some people it was a mere nothing, and that is apparently the opinion of the hon. Member who introduced the Bill as affecting "only women," as to his own proposal.
§ MR. PROVAND
May I correct the hon. Member? I did not say it was a small matter; but I said it was a simple question, because I refused to overload the Bill with any details of any kind, and confine it to bringing women within the scope of the law which now applies to young persons.
§ *MR. GEDGE
I do not see any difference between calling it a simple matter and a small matter, and to my mind it is a very large and important matter. We all agree in the desire that women should not be overworked. None of us contend that 74 hours a week is not quite sufficient time for young women to be compulsorily employed. But my first objection to this Bill is, that while it professes to give protection, it really imposes restraint. The hon. Member who spoke last said "liberty is oppression, but the law enfranchises and protects." One part of the hon. Member's sentence contradicts the other. I am in favour of protecting women by giving them votes, but I hold that they should be able to sell their work as much as they like without any restraint on the part of the law. No doubt the principle of the law interfering to protect those who cannot protect themselves has been admitted for 40 years. But that principle was first strenuously resisted by Mr. Cobden, Mr. John Bright, and the leaders of the Radical school. (A cry of "More shame for them.") Well, De mortuis nil nisi bonum. I was not particularly fond of those gentlemen when they were living, but I should be sorry to say anything to their dis- 1140 credit now. But Lord Shaftesbury and those who worked with him succeeded in overruling that objection by showing that you might push any principle too far. Are we, then, because we have gone so far, to be bound to go still further? If so, where are you going to stop? If you say, because we interfere in cases where the work is of an arduous character, are we bound to extend the same principle of interference for the protection of women to other work? If so, you will have to carry that principle into homes. I have no doubt I could bring a considerable number of cases to show that servant maids have very long hours in houses, and that women who are in employment—if you call their husbands employers—are working a great number of hours. If you vote for this Bill merely because we have admitted the principle of interference, you will be compelled to vote for restriction of every kind proposed in this House. With regard to the clauses, I wish to ask whether a married woman is considered to be employed by her husband, and whether it is intended, under this Bill, to prevent any married woman from being employed in the shops?
§ *MR. GEDGE
Clause 10 of the Bill is—"Nothing in this Act shall apply to shops where only persons are employed who are at home; that is to say, are members of the same family dwelling there, or to members of the employer's family dwelling in the house to which the shop is attached."Why is such a foolish distinction as that made? Because the promoters of the Bill know that without such an exception we should all rise against it. I want to know what employment means? When a woman sits at a desk all day exercising general superintendence, is that employment? We have felt bound to restrict the employment of women in factories, because we know that, if they were worn out by it, when they married they would have very weak children, whom the State would probably have to maintain. But I know of no other ground of interference with the employment of adult women. We have only the right to interfere for the protection of the 1141 State. That is a very different matter. to work in shops. Refreshment rooms are included in this Bill. In the Refreshment Room of this House young women serve us with tea, and, although they are busy at times, they have a very pleasant life at other times. It is the same at railway stations, and in City dining-rooms, where they work hard at breakfast, luncheon, and in the evening; but where, during the greater part of the day, there is very little for them to do. Yet those who employ them are to be subject to penalties. It is said the Workshop Hours Regulation Bill is not of much good, because we have not an army of Inspectors; but I suspect if there had been Inspectors poking their noses into the shops all over the country, you would have had such an outcry against that legislation as you could not have resisted. I am afraid that under this Bill you will have Inspectors making inquiries and getting up cases against employers, and the result of such an obnoxious system would be a repeal of the law. The hon. Member thinks nothing of spending a few hundreds of thousands of pounds upon Inspectors; but I think my constituents would look rather askance at me if I voted for such additional taxation as that. With regard to the Amendment, I demur to the proposition that this House will not legislate for the reasonable wants of any of Her Majesty's subjects until they have votes. Long before the agriculturists had votes the Conservatives had done all in their power for their benefit; and when complaints are made of defects in the law, it should not be forgotten that the Member for Midlothian and his Party have been in power during the greater part of the time which has elapsed since 1831. But we do not know what the wishes of women are, and we want to have them constitutionally expressed. The late Mr. Forster, as I remember, stated that he was not in favour of the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Church of England being considered by Parliament until women had votes, because generally they had more to do with the clergy than men. If that were true on such a subject, how much more true is that argument when the Bill before us affects "only women." 1142 It is because they will be materially injured by the restraint of this Bill that I am against it, and in favour of the Amendment. I am in favour of liberty all round, and while I heartily desire that no woman should have to work longer than this Bill provides, yet I hold we have no right to prevent a woman from working longer if she chooses to do so, and we have no right to interfere until we have ascertained her opinion. I beg to move that this House decline to further interfere with the hours of labour of adult women until women have the constitutional means of expressing their opinions by the Parliamentary Franchise.
Amendment proposed,To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "This House declines to further interfere with the hours of labour of adult women until women have the constitutional means of expressing their opinions by the 'Parliamentary Franchise.'"—(Mr. Sydney Gedge.)
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ (1.40.) MR. A. C. CORBETT (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I was much surprised, Sir, at the speech we have just listened to, and at the suggestion that legislation should be deferred till we have the enfranchisement of women. If we have any extension of the franchise which falls short of woman suffrage, the women for whom we plead would not be affected by it. The only objection that might be urged against the Bill is that what we want can be secured by voluntary effort. Any one familiar with the facts must realise that voluntary action will not adequately meet the case. As Chairman of the Board of the Early Closing Association, I have had special opportunity of making myself familiar with the facts bearing on that point. That Association has been in existence 50 years, and has spent £50,000 in endeavouring to cultivate voluntary early closing. If you consider the facts, you will find that those who have done most in the way of securing early closing are those who cry out most for legislative assistance in securing their object. If we desire to get early closing or a half-holiday in a district, we have to get the unanimous consent 1143 of all the shopkeepers, or all the shopkeepers of one kind, in that district, and when we go to a man he says he is willing to close if the others will do the same. In a large district in London, about 18 months ago, hundreds of shopkeepers agreed to our proposal, but they were kept back by one man, who, however, had no ill-feeling in the matter. I would not have it supposed for a moment that I regard lightly the usefulness of voluntary effort. Last year there were no fewer than 2,243 shopkeepers who were induced by our labours to grant a weekly half-holiday, but those who did most to get it are most anxious to have it put on a more enduring foundation, so that no one or two men can by their selfish action disturb it. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last spoke as if there were no demand for early closing. Why, Sir, there are many Associations demanding it, and on behalf of the young women shop assistants, surely the women's Clubs and Associations have as much right to speak for them as would the new electors introduced from a different class, if you have woman suffrage. With regard to the young persons employed in shops, the Act introduced by the right hon. Member for the University of London has given us some chance of judging the value of such legislation. The number of prosecutions of employers for keeping them too long hours show that boys of 14 have been employed as much as 90 hours a week—that is an average of 13 hours a day, for seven days a week. The boys so employed are in a weak position, and it is difficult for them to come into a court of law and give evidence against their employers. If hon. Members knew the peril to which these boys would be subject they would hesitate before they recommended them to give evidence against their employers. We know, however, that that Act has done good, and that our warnings to employers have been obeyed; but we have found also that there is an enormous number of cases in which the law is daily violated. We want the House to realise that after having provided that no young person shall be employed more than 74 hours a week, the responsibility is on it to see that the law is faithfully carried out. If you want to see that 1144 is not carried out you want to go to the East End, where the usual hour of opening is 8 o'clock, and the boy who does the cleaning has to be there half-an-hour before; the hour for closing is on ordinary days 9.30., and on Saturdays 12 o'clock. We ask the House to pass this Bill, and secure for us that we shall have Inspectors to enforce the law. The boys and girls are afraid to give evidence, but if we have Inspectors they can collect evidence and see that the law is enforced. If hon. Members had the opportunities I have had they would know that the immense majority of shopkeepers are in favour of such reforms, and that they feel very strongly on the subject. I trust also that they will realise that it is not a day when the House of Commons has a light responsibility, and that if young people are employed for 90 hours a week it is a matter which calls for the earnest and immediate attention of the House.
§ *(1.55.) MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
I should like to say a few words on this subject, as I had the honour of serving on the Committee of 1886, and of endeavouring to render what service I could in the course of its investigations. I must refer, first, to the speech of the hon. Member for Stockport, who seemed to object to any legislation affecting the work of women. I venture to think that his remarks came too late when we have the Factory and Workshops Acts regulating their employment in force; and when the principle has been accepted by Parliament, and the country generally has approved of it. My hon. Friend made some allusion to the position of married women. In our large manufacturing towns married women are employed largely in the factories and workshops, and I have never heard of any difficulty arising from their position as married women in the working of these Acts. The question of the exact meaning of the word "employment" should be carefully considered by the Select Committee, if the Bill were referred to one. I believe that if Inspectors had been employed in enforcing the Act of 1886 when passed it would have been unpopular. This is another point which the Committee 1145 could fairly consider. I do, however, object most strongly to the Amendment of my hon. Friend. I am not one of those who advocate, the enfranchisement of women; but I am quite certain that it will be accomplished, if accomplished at all, later rather than sooner, and I am not willing to postpone the second reading of this Bill with a view to investigation by a Committee, until that has taken place. I do not accuse my hon. Friend of anything disingenuous, or dishonest, but I do prefer a more manly method of procedure in opposing the Bill. I come now to the Report of, and evidence before, the Committee of 1886. I cannot help thinking that the balance of evidence was in favour of the Bill, yet I do think there was in that evidence an element of exaggeration. Nevertheless we have evidence of an unsatisfactory character in one sense, and of a conclusive character in another, that there was in many cases considerable suffering on the part of young persons from the long hours and unsanitary condition of the shops. But although there was in many districts undue prolongation of hours, there were many districts, particularly in Lancashire, where it was clearly shown that the hours were not excessive. In dealing with legislation of this class we must take care in removing evils where they do exist that we do not unduly interfere with the course of business. Very considerable progress has been made since 1886, and on inquiry in town after town we find that the hours of closing are becoming earlier, as far as is consistent with the wants of the district, and half-holidays are common, although not heard of 20 years ago. In my own town there is practically a half-holiday on Wednesday, the result of voluntary action, and I never heard of any complaint. The hon. Member spoke of boys commencing at 7.30 and going on till 9.30 and 12 o'clock, but the question is, whether the same boys are employed for the whole of that time? We have had evidence that the boys who begin early have a correspondingly early time of release, and are not employed for the whole time. I think before passing the Bill we ought to have fresh evidence; for if legislation of this 1146 character is to be permanent it must be as in previous cases carefully considered, or, if not, it will not be supported by public opinion, or be placed permanently on the Statute Book. The Factory Acts have proved successful because passed after inquiry, and because they carried public opinion with them. I will now point out what is the difference between this Bill and the Report of the Committee. The Report did not recommend inspection. It says:—"The Bill contains no provision for Government inspection, and although no doubt under the circumstances there may be some evasion of the law, still your Committee believe it will have considerable effect."That is one of the points which ought to be fully considered by the Select Committee. I do not know if the hon. Gentleman is aware of the provisions of the sections he imports into the Bill; they are most rigid and searching, and I am not sure that shopkeepers will be willing to receive Inspectors on the same lines as they are received in factories and workshops. As to its extension to all women, we want evidence of the opinions of women, and I think we are able to get it without waiting for woman suffrage. When there was a question as to the employment of women in some operations connected with our coal mines an army of women invaded the office of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and produced such an impression that their demands were immediately granted—a concession for which they are grateful to this hour. The next point of difference between the Committee's Report and the Bill is that part dealing with the employment of women in refreshment bars. The language used in the Report—and it is most guarded—is:—"The Bill exempts from its operation licensed public-houses and refreshment houses of all kinds. It appears to the Committee that the employment of young persons in such places must be at least as fatiguing, and in many cases at least as injurious, as in shops, but the Bill as referred to your Committee did not refer to them, and your Committee have not, therefore, taken evidence on the subject."I feel that there is no class of the community who deserve more consideration and possibly more compassion than the 1147 young women employed at railway stations and other similar places. The hours are prolonged, and though the labour may not be continuous, the attendance is, and they have no opportunity of recreation or exercise in the open air, and they have many difficulties to contend with. I do not say that the House would be right in restricting their labour, but am of opinion that there is a primâ facie case for inquiry by a Select Committee. Then there is the shop-keepers point of view. There may be wealthy shopkeepers, but as a class they are not such, and care must be exercised before the House take steps which might seriously embarass them, harassed as they already are by the competition of Co-operative Stores and other causes. We must be careful how we interfere with freedom. There is such a thing as mischievous and damaging philanthropy, and some of our legislation approaches very near to that limit. We must be careful how far we restrain trade, how far we interfere with the convenience of the community, and how far we impose disabilities and difficulties upon a worthy and deserving class. I hope this Bill will be referred to a Select Committee, and investigated by that tribunal.
§ *(2.40.) MR. ARTHUR B. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester)
The House will have observed that every Member who sat upon the Committee of 1886, and who has spoken, has expressed approval of the provisions of this Bill, and gentlemen who went on that Committee, supposed to entertain a hostile aspect, could not resist the conclusion which the evidence brought before the Committee so clearly pointed out. I think that is an important matter. There has been a general unanimity by every speaker who has taken part in this discussion, with the exception of one discordant note struck by the hon. Member for Stockport. I do not propose to answer him, because there was no argument he used which would not apply with equal force to every one of the Factory Acts, for the regulation of the hours of labour, which this House has passed in former years. He spoke against the restriction of labour, and actually went so far as to say that it would tend to make women less 1148 womanly! He spoke as if he were deeply anxious that there should be restraint in the hours of work; he fully admitted that the 74 hours' limit was ample, and he said he should be glad to see it brought about. But when he came to the question of the machinery to bring it about, and to carry his opinion into practice, then he fell back upon his admiration for voluntary work, and spoke about the results accomplished by a number of ladies in that regard. It is true there has been an Amendment moved to delay this legislation until Women's Suffrage has been passed; but I cannot understand anybody supporting that Amendment, whatever views hon. Members may hold upon the question of Woman's Suffrage. Those who oppose Woman's Suffrage, and who think that the House of Commons is ready, able, and even anxious to legislate for women, should be only too glad to support this Bill, so that they may give proof of what they profess. Those who think that the absence of women from the House is an explanation why women's interests and social questions generally are not sufficiently looked after, surely ought to be the last people to offer any stumbling-block or delay to the passing of this measure, which is for the advantage and benefit of a large class of the more helpless women of our country. I rise chiefly because, as an employer of female labour myself, I have been rather surprised at the arguments that have been used to-night about the oppression by employers; and I want to point out, to the great credit of the shopkeepers of this country, that the agitation that has been carried on in recent years, whether it has been for the weekly half-holiday, or for the shortening of the hours of labour, has had amongst its principal supporters the shopkeepers of this country. Speaking for Bristol and other large towns in the West, I believe there is a very general desire amongst all the better class of shopkeepers to carry out legislation of this sort. But it is always the selfish, grasping minority who stand in the way, and who are never happy unless they are getting the better of their fellow-men, and these men prevent the voluntary principle from being carried out. I believe 1149 I speak for employers of labour when I say that the Factory Acts have been of immense good to employers, and that you would get but a scanty few who would wish to go back to those days before the Factory Acts regulated the hours of labour; and I am sure it is a calumny upon employers of labour to say that, as a class, they are opposed to the reasonable shortening of the hours of labour. Some hon. Member has said that the shopkeepers would look upon the power in the Bill in regard to Inspectors in a more hostile spirit than the Inspectors appointed under the Factory Act; and I remember that the hon. Member for Stockport said that the Inspectors would "violate the sanctity" of the shop! It is absurd to talk about violating the sanctity of shops that are working their hands 80 or 90 hours a week, and in one case where I understand not less than 105 hours. I hold that in such cases the "Sanctity" deserves to be violated. My own opinion is, that this Bill is so exceedingly reasonable and so exceedingly moderate that I should like it better if it went a little further. I believe that work in a shop is as hard on the average as in a factory, and I fail to see why the same number of hours per week should not be enforced as in the case of textile factories for women and children —namely, 55 and 56. During the past quarter of a century there has been great improvement in machinery; wonderful discoveries in science; we have had the telegraph, and telephone, and many other scientific discoveries; there have been great provisions made for the community in the way of improved locomotion. All these things have tended to increase the productiveness of labour, while machinery has enormously increased it. Of course, I know there will be people who will rejoice if the House is so foolish as to reject this proposal. This Bill does not propose to touch adult male labour; and I hold it is most moderate in all its provisions. For the last quarter of a century, as I have said, all these improvements in machinery have been enabling men who are in business to carry on business with great economy of labour, and with greater profit to 1150 themselves; and the time has come when this demand for some part of the result in more leisure for the workers—a natural demand, a wise demand, and a right demand—should be fallen in with. The Bill does not largely affect those who live in country districts, but who reside in large and populous districts. The hours of labour are not unreasonable in country shops; but it is the daughters of the farmer and the labourer, who find their way to the great cities, who are interested, and there is not one of us who have not a constituency who are not regarding this question with the deepest interest. It is a great matter for the village girl when she comes to-the city to have this matter legislated upon, and I submit that every Member of an agricultural constituency should take this view of it. The Member for Stockport used one argument, which I call the "mother argument," and that was that they would not produce such strong and healthy children. There is a stronger argument, not the argument of mere expediency and profit, but the Christian argument. We have the right and we have the responsibility to see that the weak should not work unreasonable hours; and if the hon. Member could prove to me that the longer the work of a woman the stronger and healthier she will be, and the stronger her children, then I could understand his contention. I hope this will be only the beginning of other Bills in the same direction to make the lives of women and children brighter and happier than they are.
§ *(2.40.) MR. LEWIS H. ISAACS (Newington, Walworth)
I wish to say that I cannot vote either for the Motion or for the Amendment. In the first instance, I do not think the Bill is in the right direction, and my reason for declining to support the Amendment is because I think it a most shabby attempt to set aside a Bill which has some merit in it by a proposal that it should be postponed, so as to fit in with another Bill not absolutely analogous to it or on all fours with it. I fail to see why a Bill to regulate the hours of shop labour should be deferred until this House has determined whether the franchise is to be conferred on women or not. That fran- 1151 chise, if conferred, would not reach, at any rate in the present day, those who are immediately concerned in the Bill now under the consideration of the House. But if I am unable to support the Amendment, I regret that I am also unable to support the Motion "That the Bill be now read a second time." And perhaps the House will be somewhat startled if I say that my reason for not supporting the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill is that I do not think that it goes far enough, that it fails to deal with the class who are more immediately affected than those who are to come under the purview of this Bill, and that with regard to its inquisitorial character, that that inquisitorial character does not go far enough. I am of opinion that if there be one class of people more than another that should receive attention from this House with regard to the hours of labour in which they are engaged, it is the class of domestic servants. And I think we need only refer to our own establishments, and go no further back than yesterday to satisfy ourselves that if it is necessary at all to interfere in this direction the domestic servant has far more need of protection than even those for whom this Bill proposes to interfere. I remember last night, or rather this morning, getting to my house at something like 1 o'clock, and then not going to bed. The servants had to wait on me, and probably it was 2 o'clock in the morning before they got to bed, and they would have to resume their duties at 8 o'clock. I object to this Bill, also, because I think it interferes with what is a most salutary action on the part of the public, that is, the voluntary effort to reduce the hours of labour with which we are now dealing. If that voluntary effort be allowed to continue, I am sure it will eventually result in a satisfactory solution of this question. I may say that the Early Closing Association with which I am connected on the other side of the river, which has only one year's experience, held its first general meeting the other day, and they were able to make the announcement that by voluntary effort on the part of those interested, not by seeking to apply any coercion whatever, they had managed to get the result 1152 sought for in the case of no less than 7,000 employés. And if the feeling in that direction be allowed to expand and be not interfered with by vexatious and troublesome and inquisitorial action such as that proposed by this Bill, it will in itself accomplish all that the promoters of this measure seek to obtain. I object, therefore, to further legislation in this direction. While unable to support the Amendment, I regret that I also am not in a position to give a vote to allow this Bill to go to a Second Reading.
§ (2.45.) MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
I agree with one of the hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House who said we ought not to mix up with this Bill the question of women suffrage. I think we should discuss this Bill on its merits, and not in reference to future questions of legislative reform. With another part of the hon. Member's speech I also heartily agree—namely, that this Bill is not intended to be a complete and final Bill with regard to all manner of employments. This Bill is only intended to deal with a certain description of employments. It is not a Bill which is intended to deal with every class of employment. But this I am bound to say, that there is this new principle involved in it which no doubt the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary will use as as an objection to it—namely, that while in most of our coercive legislation in the past we have dealt with those persons employed in production, in this Bill we deal with those who are employed in distribution. But this Bill is divided into two parts; and I hope the House, if it cannot agree with that part of it affecting women labour, will, at all events, agree with that part of it which makes effective the measure introduced by the right hon. Member for the London University (Sir John Lubbock) a few years ago. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary will take this matter into his serious consideration, and as the House a few years ago definitely decided by a large majority that these young persons in shops should be protected, that he will now accept the means proposed by my hon Friend behind me (Mr. Provand) to make that proposal really 1153 effective; and as regards the latter part of the Bill, which, in my mind, in some way more or less extends the principle of interference with women labour to shops for the first time, I hope he will also assent to that principle as well. I am not going to trouble the House with the particulars which have been already given in reference to the absolute necessity there is for further legislation in respect to this matter. But there is one great advantage which this Bill has over other Bills which have been brought before us—namely, its considerable elasticity. The great objection to the Bill introduced by the right hon. Baronet behind me—the Shop Hours Bill—was that it provided a fixed closing hour for every day in the week.
§ MR. S. BUXTON
Yes. It was opposed by hon. Members on the ground that it provided that there should be fixed hours for closing instead of leaving to the different districts a certain amount of elasticity for working it out. This Bill provides that the maximum number of hours in the week should be 74. The hon. Member for Wigan said there had been a great deal of exaggeration in regard to the number of hours worked by persons in shops; but I think he will agree that 74 hours a week is sufficient, but further hours than that can be provided. These 74 hours can be spread over the week in the way best suited to the particular trades and particular localities; therefore, the argument that it is too hard-and-fast a rule cannot be urged against this Bill. Then the hon. Member for Wigan said we should be very careful in regard to this matter, because we might injure the trades of shops; but I think that was completely answered by the very admirable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow when he pointed out that, after all, there is no foreign competition in connection with this matter. It seems to me that the great advantage of this Bill will be that it will take a step further in the right direction; that it will see that the Act of a few years ago, in reference to these young 1154 persons, is properly carried out; and be a first step in further restriction in regard to the hours of those employed in shops. I think it is perfectly clear, from what I have heard from previous speakers, that the bulk of the women themselves are in favour of this proposal. No doubt the Home Secretary will use the argument which he used over and over again when we were discussing the Factory Acts—namely, that he is not prepared to take the responsibility on his shoulders; that his Inspectors were not prepared to undertake such labour as this. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has a very considerable number of Inspectors to carry out the present Factory and Workshops Act. Last year we put aside from the Home Office a great deal of the responsibility in reference to the workshops, in regard to sanitary and other conditions, and I say that to add this particular duty to those already existing will not be throwing too heavy a burden upon him, and I believe it will be carried out with considerable ease. I firmly believe, also, that the employers themselves will be very glad of legislation of this sort, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow has said. I think voluntary closing may be possible in certain country districts and small towns, but it is impossible in very large towns and large cities; whereas, if the employers themselves were on terms of equality with regard to hours of closing, they would gladly carry out such an Act as this.
§ *(2.50.) VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Lancashire, N.E., Darwen)
I had the honour of being a member of the Grand Committee which dealt very closely with the Factory Acts last Session. I do not propose to support the Amendment, as I cannot understand why we should mix this question up with so intricate a matter as women suffrage, which divides this House, not merely by Party lines,but into fragments. The matter on which I propose to make a few remarks is with respect to the clause which includes women in the purview of this Bill. I fully admit that it very possibly, and very probably, is the case, that there are many women employed in shops who live a life of great hardship, which we should all de- 1155 sire to mitigate as far as we can; and I cannot say that it would be contrary to the spirit of former legislation to do so, because with the Factory Acts staring us in the face—in which this House and Parliament has agreed to limit the hours of labour of adult women in factories—there is no reason why we should not extend that principle to the limiting of their labour in shops. But I have had representations made to me, not only last year, but this, on behalf of the women themselves, who are unwilling that such legislation should be passed. And the reason they allege—rightly or wrongly and I am far from pretending that I have sufficient knowledge to pronounce upon it—but the reason they allege is that if the hours are limited, in many cases it will be the custom of owners and shop proprietors to dispense with women labour altogether, and employ none but men. Now, in my judgment, and, I think, in the judgment of the House, it would be better that these women should work, and work too hard, than not work at all; it would be better they should earn wages—even that they should endure a great deal of hardship—than that they and their families should be deprived of this money, which goes to keep the house over them, and to keep themselves and their families. And there is no one who was present at the Debates of the Grand Committee last year but will bear me out when I say that this matter is a very important one. There was a speech delivered by an hon. Gentleman in the Grand Committee which to me let in a flood of light upon this question. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green, whom I do not see in his place at this moment, speaking with respect to women labour—not in regard to shops, but in regard to women labour in the chain-making districts of Staffordshire—urged as one of the reasons why the hours should be limited that, even if it led to the cessation of women labour altogether, it would raise the wages of the men. It was not cynically said; he believed it would be an advantage to the community at large even if women did not work at all, if the wages of the men could be raised. I say that is a principle we cannot assent to, and have no right 1156 to assent to. These women are given by Providence powers for work and earning money, and they have every right to use them, and we have no right to restrain them from earning what they can for the common good. I believe that is the view of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and the hon. Member for Poplar. I believe the hon. Member for Poplar would be only too glad if he could have stopped women's work altogether.
§ * VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
Well, at any rate he is in favour of the restriction of their hours of labour, and he would be inclined to restrict the hours of labour of men as well as women. I do not at all agree with the arguments applied to the matter of the restraint of the hours of labour used by hon. Members opposite, and therefore I cannot support this Bill at the present stage. But no doubt the matter is full of interest, and it would be a public benefit if some method could be devised whereby in many hard cases of overwork on the part of these unfortunate women some remedy could be applied; and therefore I confess that I welcome the Motion which has been put upon the Paper in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London, that this matter should be referred to a Select Committee. I have no fear of the result of the Select Committee. I believe the result of the Select Committee would show the essential difficulty of dealing with this subject, but it might be fruitful in some suggestion which might benefit these unfortunate women.
§ *(3.4.) MR. THOMAS HENRY BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
I hardly like to give a silent vote upon this Bill, as I have some difficulty in dealing with it. As the noble Lord has said, the subject is full of interest, and is one appealing very strongly to our sympathies. I do not suppose anyone suggests that the legislation in reference to young persons should be repealed. I believe the general feeling is that this legislation should be re-considered, with the view of making it practically effective; and if the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the 1157 University of London were carried out, and the Bill referred to a Select Committee, that Committee would no doubt primarily turn their attention to the legislation with reference to young persons, as to how in any way it could be strengthened so as to give full effect to it. But the Bill presents very serious difficulties in connection with the limitation of the hours of labour of women employed in shops. Of course, we all sympathise very much with these women, who, in many cases, are not very strong in health, who labour very many hours in very tedious employment in shops. But how far we are justified in prohibiting the employment of women—who have just as much right to be employed as men—beyond a certain period of time, and placing them to that extent at a disadvantage with men, is another and a much more serious question. I doubt very much whether there has been any strong expression of opinion by any large number of women with reference to this matter; and no legislation of this kind could be justified, much less enforced, unless there were a very strong popular feeling behind it. This Bill proposes not only to prohibit the employment of women in shops, but " about" shops—"in and about shops." I do not know what is meant exactly by that word "about," but I think that expression has a very extensive, and may have a very sweeping effect. The Bill defines a shop. It includes a retail as well as a wholesale shop, a market stall, a warehouse, and licensed public-house, and refreshment house of any kind. There may be very good reasons for limiting the hours of labour, if practicable, in factories and wholesale shops; but when you come to carry that still further to retail shops and places where a few persons are employed, many of them with the members of the family in the same house, I think you are making a proposition of extreme difficulty. Many of these employments are employments that are not continuous during the whole day; they are intermittent. Take, for instance, the case of refreshment houses, where women are largely employed. There is a press of business in the middle of the day in certain 1158 quarters of the City, and after that there is comparatively very little to be done. In the West-End they are not so busy in the early part of the day, but very busy in the later part of the day. Again, in the suburban shops there are periods in the day when they are busy, and when almost all the business is done. But if you, without any qualification, apply to those shops a sweeping law of this kind, it will be a strong thing. Again, Sir, there are many highly-paid women in West-End shops who are obliged, at certain seasons of the year, to work almost night and day. For the remainder of the year they have comparatively little to do. Is it desirable that they should be interfered with? I have no particular hesitation in dealing with the large places of business; but I desire to say a word in favour of that numerous class of struggling shopkeepers whose business will not admit of them keeping a large and qualified staff of assistants. I feel, as strongly as anybody can do, against the overwork in shops, but I am not prepared to go in advance of public opinion. I think the Bill should be read a second time, as most of us agree with a portion of it, and should go to a Committee; but it should go free from any influence or sanction on the part of this House. The Committee can take evidence, and I hope that some practical result will be the outcome of its labours.
§ *(3.15.) MR. J. R. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)
In the absence of any sufficient indication of opinion on the part of the large section of the community more immediately concerned, I do not think the Government can, or ought, to support this Bill. What do the shop girls and the small shopkeepers think about it? That is what we want to know. As regards the Amendment upon the Paper, I was certainly astonished it should have found its way there; but I confess I was astounded that it should have been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport. It is a women's suffrage Amendment, and what do the few widows and scatter-brained spinsters, who are ratepayers, know of the wishes of tens of thousands of girls in humble life? How are they to know 1159 them? I was astounded to find the names of the hon. Members for Stockport, St. Helen's, and the Accrington Division of Lancashire on the back of the Bill. I should like to know what the small shopkeepers in their constituencies have to say to it. I should also like to know what the small shopkeepers all over England will have to say to it? The hon. Member for Peckham said—"We must compel the shopkeepers to treat their assistants with humanity." What does this involve, but a wholly unjustifiable charge against all who keep shop-assistants? Now, Sir, I should like to say that I have gone into hundreds of shops for the purpose of ascertaining whether they were in favour of early closing, and I found that it is not the shopkeepers who are to blame for the shops being kept open late, but the public who will not shop early. Induce the public to shop early, and there will be no necessity whatever for this Bill. Sir, the hon. Member for Peckham made use of an argument respecting the profits of shopkeepers, which I think he ought not to have employed, for it was practically that this House ought not to refuse to pass the Bill because those profits would be diminished. What does this House care about the profits of shopkeepers? In the suburbs of London, as I can tell him, there are very few shopkeepers who employ more than one assistant, and generally she has some claim upon them—either because she is a family connection, or for some other reason, and I know she is not treated as a servant would be treated by his master, but really as a member of his family. Moreover, I can say that, so far from making enormous fortunes, 999 out of every 1,000 shopkeepers find it a very difficult thing to live, and to make both ends meet. Sir, some astonishment has been expressed to my knowledge, as to why some servants are included in this Bill. If hon. Members will turn to the Definition Clause, they will find that the Bill will include all the cases of hotels. This Bill is so recklessly drawn that the kitchenmaids, and the chambermaids, after a certain number of hours will have to be turned into the street, until the time comes for them to return to go to bed. There is an invitation to 1160 the employers to do that, for the person must not be in or about a shop, or in or about an hotel, and the hotelkeeper could not escape conviction and punishment under this Bill, unless he turned his poor girls into the street for some hours at night. There is great force in what has been said by the noble and learned Member for Darwen. Women feel that there is a disposition to drive them altogether from employment. They claim, and I think they have a right to claim, to be at liberty to sell their labour when they like, to whom they like, and for what they like. So far as the Shop Hours Regulation Act goes, we have no objection to its renewal. We will vote for its being made perpetual at any moment. If. that Act was properly enforced—and there is no reason why it should not be—there would be ample protection given to those who ought to be protected. Women of 18 years and upwards do not desire to be treated as children, and they ought to be allowed to go into the market and make their own terms. If this Bill passed, the first effect would be to compel small tradesmen to consider whether they should have assistants or not, and this would mean that wages would be reduced. But, Sir, I say that until there has been some real demand on the part of those for whom it is sought to legislate, the House should not allow the Bill to pass. The shopkeepers, so far as we know, are not in favour of this Bill, though, of course, they would be only too glad to limit the hours during which they are now obliged to keep their shops open. But until we have some knowledge of the feelings of those who will be affected, I hope the House will not allow this Bill to be advanced.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ (3.33.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
The hon. Member for Camberwell seemingly spent a great deal of time in making observations in regard to the feelings of shopkeepers in relation to this question.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT
Then the hon. Member introduced a matter which had no reference to this question at all, but something which occurred two or three years ago.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT
Well, I am not aware of the reason of the interruption, because I do not think there is any difference between us. I look upon this subject with a very great amount of jealousy. I am as much in favour of liberty as the hon. Member for Camberwell can be. But the Home Secretary knows that when he was dealing with the Workshops Act a year ago, I took the liberty of expressing to the right hon. Gentleman that he should deal with the hours of shops. In the workshops there is more difficulty about the visitations of Inspectors than in the case of sale shops. In the case of sale shops nobody has found the slightest fault with the intrusion of Inspectors, who are always courteous and who often make valuable suggestions in regard to matters of importance. A good deal was said by the hon. Member for Camberwell with regard to young women, and I maintain that to allege that the class of women who receive employment at our counters are going out, as he insinuated in an infamous way, into the streets is a slander.
§ MR. KELLY
The hon. Member must not make me say that. It is not fair. I said precisely the opposite. I said one danger of this Bill was, that it was so recklessly drawn that if it were applied, as it must be, to domestic servants of hotels, I do not see how an 1162 hotel-keeper could help being summoned unless he drove his people out on the streets.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT
I shall not again give way to the interruption of the hon. Member; but I repeat, and I am in the recollection of the House, that the hon. Member emphasised it again and again, that the consequence of passing this Bill would be to drive those young women on to the streets. No other deduction could be made from the statement of the hon. Member for Camberwell. He has not withdrawn that statement.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I hope the Debate will be continued without personal altercations between the two hon. Gentlemen.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT
I am the last Member of this House to engage in an altercation; but I must respectfully enter my protest against the hon. Member for Camberwell making any statement which would imply that the passing of this Bill would in any way undermine the virtue of the persons who are at present engaged in shops. I challenge the Member for Camberwell to bring any proof that young women in shops desire to work more than 74 hours a week. My objection to the Bill is that it contains Clause 10; but I shall vote for the Second Reading, in order that it may go before a Select Committee.
§ (3.48.) MR. C. GRAY (Maldon, Essex)
I am not at present convinced that those of us who sympathise with the large class of young ladies who come up from the country and are employed in the large towns would not show that sympathy in a more marked way if they were to vote for the Second Reading, and relegate the question to a Committee, rather than if they refused a Second Reading, and relegated the question to a party that perhaps would be altogether beyond the control of this Parliament. I want this question to be looked into as speedily as possible. We have heard from the noble Lord the Member for Darwen and others, to whom this House always listens with 1163 respect, that if this Bill becomes law female labour would be hardly wanted in the labour market. But there is a good deal these ladies do which could not be done by the male sex, and there is not the slightest danger that the Bill, after going through a careful sifting in a Select Committee, would be put on the Statute Book in such a form as to prevent the employment of ladies in those businesses for which they are pre-eminently adapted. The hon. Member for Camberwell challenged us to produce any evidence from the ladies themselves as to this legislation being wanted. If he had seen, as I have seen on many occasions, the daughters of our farmers, in counties near London, coming up rosy and stalwart girls, and then, after a few months of these long hours, going back home with all the roses gone from their cheeks, he would say there was evidence which should not be treated lightly. In the interests of country girls I beg the House to read this Bill a second time.
§ *(3.53.) SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow on having secured the first place for his Bill on this occasion. I think the House will agree that this is one of the most important questions that could be brought before us, and it is remarkable that no single Member who has spoken has distinctly intimated his intention of going so far as to vote against the Second Reading. The hon. Member for Walworth criticised the Bill as not going far enough, but let us invite him to go with us as far as it goes. The hon. Member for Camberwell spoke of the evils of the proposal as affecting public-houses. He could not have been aware that it is at present the law, so far as young persons are concerned; and, therefore, if the evils he foresaw are likely to ensue, they would have occurred already, so far as young persons are concerned. The change now proposed, so far as public-houses are concerned, is, that the law, in regard to young persons, should be extended to women. The hon. Member said there was no demand for any legislation as regards shops, 1164 and challenged the Member for Peckham on the point. I am unable to say what is the opinion there, but in the neighbouring district of Dulwich, inquiry has shown that 95 per cent. of the shopkeepers in the poorest quarters were in favour of some legislation. This is not a question between class and class, nor between employer and employed; and having attended a large number of meetings in favour of legislation for shop hours, I say unhesitatingly that the shopkeepers are almost as anxious as the assistants for some such legislation. In Liverpool, a few years ago, a circular was sent out to 2,000 shopkeepers, and it was found that 1,770 were in favour of legislation, and only 200 against it. The editor of the Chemist and Druggist sent out a circular to the chemists of the country, and received answers from 2,000, showing that 1,330 of that number were in favour of legislation and only 600 against it. Until within the last few years the Early Closing Association themselves were opposed to all such legislation; but they were so struck by the evidence of the Committee, over which I had the honour to preside in 1886, that they took steps to ascertain the feelings of several thousand shopkeepers in the poorest districts of London, and found there was a very large majority of them who wished for some legislation. There has never yet been a meeting of shopkeepers in London or in any great city which has opposed legislation on the subject. One was called for the purpose, which I attended in the South of London, but it ended by passing a unanimous resolution in favour of our Half-Holiday Bill. I believe it would be popular with the shopkeepers if Her Majesty's Government could see their way to allow this Bill to be read a second time, and referred to a Select Committee. As regards the feeling of customers, it is important that the Trade Council of London, as well as those of Glasgow and elsewhere, have passed unanimous resolutions asking the House to deal with this evil. I had the honour, two or three years ago, of presenting a petition, signed by the Presidents of the College of Surgeons and Physicians, Sir J. 1165 Paget, and most of the other leaders of the medical profession, and more than 300 medical men practising in London, calling attention to the fact that the health of shop-women was suffering terribly. I have also presented other petitions signed, amongst others, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, several other Bishops, and several hundred clergymen, as well as by Cardinal Manning, and by a large portion of the Roman Catholic priests of London, and by many Dissenting ministers of the Metropolis, praying this House to pass some legislation, because, at present, small shopkeepers and their assistants have no opportunity or time for religious offices. The evidence we had before us in Committee was very strong, to the effect that work in shops was often more exhausting than even in factories. I think, however, the noble Lord the Member for Darwen made a very sensible speech on this subject, and I believe that the House would act wisely and prudently if it were to refer this matter to a Select Committee, which would take evidence, and I, for one, should be glad, to a certain extent, to suspend my judgment as to the proposal to extend this present Act to women. At the same time, I feel that the necessity for some interference is so great that I hope the House will refer the Bill, in order that we may examine the matter and take evidence. The second main point is the question of the appointment of Inspectors to carry out the provisions of the Shop Hours Regulation Act of 1886. That Act has done a great amount of good, it has done much to diminish the long hours of labour for boys and girls, but I never did think it would entirely meet that great evil. I should like the Committee to have power to deal with that point also. We are told that a whole army of Inspectors will be necessary, and thousands of pounds will have to be spent on them, but I do not think so at all. I believe that a much smaller measure than that suggested opposite might effect the whole object. Only yesterday, in the evidence of the Licensed Victuallers before the Committee on the Hours of 1166 Labour, it was said that the hours of barmaids were very much exaggerated, they were not 100, but only 81 a week; surely that is a great deal too much. When the Early Closing Association hears of a case of long hours, there is great difficulty in getting the evidence in a form they can take into a Court of Law; the boy or girl, and the parents also, are reluctant to offer testimony, because it means unpleasantness between them and the employer. But if they could go to the Inspector quietly, and he could then go to the employer and say that he had reason to believe that young persons were employed there longer than was authorised by law, that would often lead to the remedying of the state of affairs. The number of prosecutions under the Act is no measure of the good it has done, because in many cases the employer shortens the hours when his attention is called to the matter. If, however, a few Inspectors were appointed, the Early Closing Association might go to one of them and say, "We have reliable evidence that the Act is not being complied with in such and such an establishment, will you inquire into the matter?" The Inspector would inquire for himself, and there would be nothing more invidious than in the case of the Factory Acts. I should propose, therefore, with the consent of my hon. Friend, if the Bill be read a second time, to move that it be referred to a Select Committee. If we do that, it will be a step which will be heartily supported by the vast majority of shopkeepers in the country. No hon. Member has expressed any doubt that thousands and thousands of shop assistants and small shopkeepers are being employed for 80 to 90 hours a week, and that is incompatible with maintaining the health of the population. Surely, this House, when the facts are brought before it, will make an effort to alter the state of things; they will not put this Bill on one side and say, We will not allow it to be inquired into. I would implore the House and the Government to let the Bill be read a second time and referred to a Select Committee: in that case the House will earn the gratitude of 1167 thousands of our countrymen and women, and have passed a piece of legislation which will be most enduring and beneficent in its effects.
*THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS, Birmingham, E.)
This is one of those measures in which the Government does not think necessary to intervene between the Mover and the House, and in the few observations I am about to make I am stating my own opinion, and not the opinion of the Government. As an individual Member of the House, such opinions as I have been able to form from the materials before me are certainly not favourable to the Bill. I quite agree that the hours of labour have been reduced in factories and workshops, and the argument is, why not go a step further and reduce the hours in shops? Because if they did that, some philanthropist would come forward and say, why not reduce the hours of labour in private houses? You deal here with the labours of women in a way in which you have not dealt with it in the Factory Acts. You had a general rule for the limitation of hours, but that was subject to many exceptions, and you introduced a provision allowing overtime in cases of pressure of work, and other cases. No shop assistant or shopkeeper is allowed by this Bill the slightest latitude in cases of emergency, such as are provided in the Factory Acts. In those Acts there are exceptional cases of overtime, such as the case of the Jews, which are dealt with. I belong to the exploded school of Individualism, which the hon. Member for Peckham derided. I am still old-fashioned enough to think that those who desire to shorten the hours of labour of adult persons, male or female, ought to make out an overwhelming case in their favour. I should be extremely sorry if the House were to adopt a slipshod mode of procedure, and say, We have restricted labour in one direction, and we are going to do it in every other. The only ground I have heard urged in favour of this Bill is the medical ground. It was said that the hours worked by women in shops were so injurious that the House ought to inter- 1168 fere on the ground of health. I cannot contradict that on my own personal knowledge, but in such documents as I have access to there is no evidence to support that view. In the Report of the Committee of 1886, to which so much reference has been made, there is nothing to show that the hours of labour of young women in shops—hours long and excessive, if you please—produced such injurious effects on their health as to form a fitting basis and ground for legislation in this House. It is true there was one medical man, the retained official of the Early Closing Association; Dr. Abbott, cited by the Mover of the Bill, who appeared to think that the work in a shop was more fatiguing and put greater strain on the feminine system than did work in a factory. The machinery in the latter was always the same, while in the former the customers were numerous and their humours variable. I do not think that many medical men will agree that a woman spending ten hours before a spinning-jenny—a machine requiring extreme watchfulness, and in a constant go and whirl—is not worked harder than one who waited on those whose tastes in ribbons were difficult to satisfy. The independent doctors who were called before the Committee of 1886 confined their observations to the cases of growing girls between the ages of 15 and 21—"young people" said one, "girls under 18" said another. They were the people in whose cases arose physical injury in consequence of the long hours kept in many of the shops of the country. I cannot find any evidence in regard to adult women. I applied to the Registrar General, and asked him whether he could throw any light on the question, and whether the mortality of shop assistants was higher than that of other classes of the population, and the information I received was, that no material exists for making any positive statement on the subject. If anybody asserts that shop women suffer in excess of other women, and have shorter lives, I should like to know the basis on which they found the assertion. According to my evidence it is mere supposition. If hon. Members will turn to 1169 the last Report of the Registrar General they will find, it is true, no statistics relating to women, but the shopkeepers and the men employed as assistants are lumped together, and they have a lower mortality than many other occupations. Therefore the medical ground, which, so far as I know, is the only ground for supporting this legislation—exceptional, though not unprecedented—is not proven. That it is an interference with the labour of adult men and women it is impossible to deny. I do not feel sure, I confess, as to what extent this Bill, if passed, will interfere with the legitimate and proper employment of women, but I feel that it would tend to largely displace women from those classes of labour which they now occupy. There are shops in which you cannot dispense with the women assistants, but there are many shops, warehouses, markets, stalls, public-houses, and refreshment houses where you might well dispense with their services altogether; and I feel that in such places they would be largely displaced by men, and mainly by foreigners. The hon. Member for Poplar, who knows the factory legislation and its benefit to this country, will at once see the embarrassment of the case if a Factory Inspector had to decide when a young woman, employed, say, at an hotel, was at work. Is she at work when she is dawdling about waiting for a bell to ring? That would always arise when you are dealing with intermittent and non-continuous employment.
§ MR. S. BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
We, on this side, are agreed that the Bill should go to a Select Committee, in order that these points should there be dealt with.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I cannot help thinking that the Bill will seriously interfere with trade, and for that I have not heard a sufficient reason advanced. I do not know whether the House has noticed the fact [...] all the figures quoted are from our [...]friend the Early Closing Association, revived in a new cause. This House has rejected the Early Closing Bill by a majority of three to one; but in a speech made earlier in the day by the hon. 1170 Member for the Tradeston Division it was frankly admitted and avowed that this is an Early Closing Bill, the object of which is to bring about the simultaneous closing at an early hour of all the shops in the country. I do not know if hon. Members have altered their minds on that point; I have not, and should be prepared to vote against early closing, as on previous occasions. I suppose that no one would suggest that a small shopkeeper should have one assistant to attend during the earlier hours of business and another to attend during the later hours. We all know the conditions under which the small shops are kept open; if they were not, the customers would be discontented. Therefore, you must either have discontent or the shift system. Those leviathan establishments against which the hon. Member for Peckham directed what I must think were valedictory sarcasms—on the undue wealth which was to be squeezed out of them—will not be touched by this Bill. Take Marshall and Snelgrove's, and those great establishments, they are not open twelve hours in a day; they do not begin till 10, and are all shut up at 7. The persons who would be affected are the small struggling tradesmen in the suburbs, who painfully works to gain a slight livelihood out of the business done with his poor customers in the early hours of the morning before they go to work, and in the late hours of the evening when they come back. I have seen statements by working men as to how impossible it would be for them to get home, have their supper, and get their shopping done before closing time if an Early Closing Bill were passed. One word I must say on the question of the machinery of the Bill. Again, my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham welcomes the idea of an army of Inspectors, and hundreds of thousands of pounds being spent upon the working of the Bill. I would ask the House to consider seriously, from the taxpayers' point of view, what would be the pecuniary result of a measure which must necessarily apply to every petty huckster's shop, warehouse, stall, and market 1171 throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. And, speaking of Ireland, I must say that I am sorry the Members for Ireland have not raised their voice in the course of this Debate, as I am sure I know very little about the retail shop trade in Ireland, or of the conditions under which it is carried on; and, therefore, in the absence of the hon. Members who represent Ireland, I am unable to say how the measure would affect that part of the country. If this Bill were passed, every one of the shops I have mentioned would have to be visited by Inspectors appointed and controlled by the Government, and this, I believe, to be impracticable. Again, let me refer to the interesting speech of the hon. Member for the Tradeston Division of Glasgow, who, I am sorry to see, has left his place. He told us, as the Chairman of a large Association that is active in the matter of early closing, of a prosecution instituted against the employers of a young boy of 14 years having failed. Why did it fail? Because he said it was very difficult to get a lad so circumstanced to give evidence against his employer, as he did not wish to lose his situation. That is the great difficulty. Do you think the Inspector under this Bill would have any magic wand which would compel women to give evidence? Those are the very difficulties we have to deal with under the Factory Act, and you cannot suppose it easier for an Inspector to detect cases of over-work in shops than it would be under the present Factory Act. I believe that unless a Factory Inspector remained on the premises all day it would be impossible for him to detect whether, in particular cases, the prescribed number of hours had been exceeded or not; so that in that respect the Bill would be only a failure, and I should be sorry to see it passed. I would most strenuously urge upon the House not to throw upon a Government Department such a task, as I believe no Government Department would be equal to the burden. When it is said that these Inspectors would not be more annoying to the shopkeeper than they are to the owner of a factory, I confess I 1172 cannot accept the suggestion, nor do I see the truth of the observation. When is the Inspector to pursue his inquiry? When is he to enter the shop ? During the business hours, when the shop is open to customers? Imagine what would be the effect on the customers if an Inspector came in during business hours, called away young women engaged behind counters, and proceeded to enter upon inquiries as to the hours of employment. Is it suggested that that would not be an annoyance; that it would not be highly resented both by the shopkeeper and the customer? All these things seem to me not to have been very much considered by the framers of the Bill, and they seem to me to add to the matter considerable difficulty. These are grounds which incline me personally to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill; but, on the other hand, if the House is of opinion that this is a subject upon which inquiry can throw useful light, I should be very sorry to oppose that inquiry. It seems to me immaterial whether we read the Bill a second time and refer it to a Select Committee, or whether the Bill is withdrawn and we appoint a Hybrid Committee to inquire into the subject. I hope the inquiry may be useful; I am sure it will be interesting; and I, for one, would not be disposed personally to resist inquiry either by a Select Committee or by a Hybrid Committee. But, while consenting to such a course, I must, however, carefully guard both myself and the Government from any suggestion that we are assenting to the principle, and still less to the details, of the Bill before the House. When the Inquiry of 1886 took place nobody proposed at that time to go into these provisions, and it would, in my opinion, be most rash on the part of the House of Commons to embark on this legislation without the fullest inquiry being made in regard to those new provisions, as they would affect every part of the Kingdom. The inquiry would be an experiment, and an interesting one, I am sure. The result may possibly change the feeling, both on the part of shop assistants and shopkeepers, but, certainly, until I am convinced by the results of an inquiry of that sort, I 1173 must decline to support the Bill, and shall reserve my consent either to its principles or to its details.
§ *(4.35.) MR. WALTER S. B. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)
I rise to move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months. I confess I feel very strongly upon this Bill myself, but, of course, for my part, if it had been limited to young persons of 18, or even 21 years of age, I should not have opposed the Second Reading. It would, in my opinion, be most unwise to embark on legislation of this kind without the very fullest inquiry. I listened upon this point with great pleasure to the speech of the Home Secretary, and agree with him that if we pass the Second Reading, and if, by a Second Reading, we are to affirm the principle of the Bill, we should be embarking upon a course of legislation of a very serious character. But a Second Reading would affirm the principle of it, which principle is this, that women should not work more than a certain number of hours; and to pass the Second Reading without inquiry into that principle, without ascertaining at all whether it would be a good thing to do or the reverse, would, I contend, be putting the cart before the horse. By all means let the Bill be rejected, and let the inquiry be made. We have already got a Royal Commission sitting upon this very question. We have a Royal Commission sitting upon the Labour Question, and that Royal Commission is about to appoint four lady Sub-Commissioners to deal with this very branch of the Labour Question; and, under those circumstances, it would be a most ridiculous thing to ask the House, while that Commission is sitting, and when it is about to appoint lady Sub-Commissioners, to forestall the judgment of the Commissioners. The speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeen was practically a speech in favour of the general early closing movement. Very little in the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Member for London University was directed to the principle of this Bill. It was directed principally to early closing. There is a great deal to be said for general early closing; 1174 but the early closing movement applies to men and women alike, and it is therefore free from the strongest objection which can be urged against this Bill—namely, that if it became law it would exclude from employment a very large number of women. The hon. Member for Aberdeen argued that excessive hours should not prevail anywhere, and the right hon. Baronet the Member for London University spoke almost entirely about the necessity for early closing legislation; but let it be borne in mind that if they pass this Bill they do not ensure early closing at all. It simply, in other words, means this: that, in the competition amongst shops, those shops that employ men only can keep open as long as they like, and get all the late customers, which would be so valuable to them; while those employing women would have to close early, because it would not be worth while to keep their shops open when, say, two-thirds of their employées, who would be women, had gone home. This would give a great advantage to any establishment that employed only men. There is a desire upon the part of small shopkeepers to keep open longer than this Bill would allow them, as they wish to accommodate late customers, and the direct result would be that these small shopkeepers would at once dismiss all their female hands, and dispense with female labour. I think, therefore, this is a very serious thing for the House to legislate upon, without having any evidence before it that this is desired by women. I admit that the hours are long—in a great many cases they are far too long—and I have no desire to see them so long as they are. I would support the Early Closing Bill, because it is an optional Bill with regard to where it may be put into force; and, secondly, because it would not necessitate the discharge of women, but deals fairly with both sexes. I believe there is no evidence that women desire this; there has been no effort made to obtain it. It might be obtained by a Committee, and I think it will be obtained by the Royal Commission. I dare say if you go to a number of shop assistants and ask them whether they prefer to work 1175 74 hours to working 80 hours, they will say "Yes"; but if they were asked whether they preferred being paid for 74 hours to being paid for 80 hours they would say "No." Wages will be reduced as the hours are reduced, and I certainly think that one of the direct results of this Bill would be that the wages of women and girls would be reduced; and, for this simple reason, that I believe that a large number of women would be dismissed in consequence of the passing of the Bill. These women, being thrown out of their employment, would compete in the labour market with others, and the result would be that the wages would go down. Now we desire to raise the wages of women, and that cannot be done by increasing competition of women among themselves, but by removing all artificial restrictions to their employment. This Bill has not been brought before the women of the country; it has not been submitted to them, and there are very few women in the country that have the slightest idea that it is before Parliament; therefore, you are asked to deal with the liberty of women to sell their labour in open market, without these women having been consulted. Not a Member of this House has authority for saying that he knows the women of this country are in favour of this measure. This is a principle of legislation I entirely disapprove of, and it is not the way in which Bills dealing with labour should be submitted to this House. This is not the way in which similar questions affecting other persons have been approached by the House. We had the opinion of the miners of the country taken for and against the Eight Hours Bill affecting the miners' hours of labour. I do not know, and the House does not know, the opinion of women upon this subject; yet the House is invited to legislate in entire ignorance of their views. I can only suppose that the reason is that the House has always classified women and children together; but I think we are not entitled to interfere with the working of women unless we know that it is the strong desire of the women of the country that we 1176 should do so. I put down an Amendment upon the Paper which was moved in my absence, and which has been withdrawn; but I desire to say that it is my opinion it would not be desirable to further control the hours of female Labour until we have the views of women expressed by the election of Members to this House. If there were some other equally efficacious means of ascertaining their opinion, it might be another matter. During the passing of the Mines Regulation Act the House was invited to prevent women working at the pits' brow, and they declined to do so. In the Factory and Workshops Act the House was again asked to interfere in regard to the chainmakers, and the House again rejected the proposal; and therefore I ask the House to reject this Bill, and follow out the conduct they have adopted on two other occasions, as I believe this very important matter will not suffer by being left over for further inquiry, and until the House is satisfied by further inquiry, it would not be right to pass it into law.
§ (5.45.) 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. Walter M'Laren.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ (4.55.) MR. HENRY SETON-KARR (St. Helen's)
I have listened with great attention to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, and to what I may call the humanity argument he advanced. It seems to me that what the right hon. Gentleman said was a very strong reason for the passing of the Second Reading of this Bill, and surely a Select Committee is the right tribunal to examine into these things. I have listened to a good many speeches upon this question; amongst others, I listened with some attention to the remarks of the hon. Member for Camberwell. I find myself unable to agree with the hon. Member in the argu- 1177 ments he advanced against the Bill. The hon. Member said there was a very easy remedy, for shop assistants could readily go into domestic service, where they could get employment and secure a means of livelihood. I never heard a more extraordinary argument advanced. How could you say to one class of women, who were brought up to the shop system, go into domestic service, which is a wholly different sort of employment? I think very few people would employ as a domestic servant a person who had no training for that kind of work, but for work of a totally different kind. Another objection of the hon. Member for Camberwell was that in regard to the application of the Bill to hotels. The hotel proprietors would have, I think he said, at some time in the evening, to turn all the servants working in the hotels out into the streets. It would be perfectly easy so to frame this Bill that it would not apply to barmaids and women serving in that capacity; and probably it was not intended to apply altogether to house work. But it seems to me that it would be perfectly easy so to frame it as to do away altogether with that objection. All these objections to some of the details could be easily remedied in going through Committee. The Home Secretary, the hon. Member who has just sat down, and the hon. Member for Poplar all used arguments founded on the statement that this Bill will reduce wages. Well, I cannot for the life of me see how the Bill will reduce wages; the amount of goods that purchasers are going to purchase in certain shops is still going to be purchased. The early closing movement to reduce the hours of labour has been organised by Associations without the authority of the people to whom these restrictions would apply. The result has been that some small shops have been infringing the restrictions just because there was no Parliamentary sanction given to those restrictions. The authority was not strong enough to enforce it. But if we pass legislation on the subject, it seems to me these objections will be done away with; and all these small shops will be obliged to comply with the restrictions, and customers 1178 will buy all the goods they were going to buy just the same. The only result will be that they will do it in a shorter time. The customers of all these shops will continue the same, the trade will continue as good, and therefore I see no reason whatever why, on that ground, wages should be reduced. It seems to me that the answer to the suggestion that this Bill, if passed, would throw a large number of women out of work is to be found in the fact that the greater part of this employment could only be performed by women. And with regard to large establishments, such as the Army and Navy Stores, and Marshall and Snelgrove's, it appears to me that this Bill will not apply to these establishments at all. It will chiefly apply to the small shops in the small towns. I should not have intervened in this Debate at all except that my name happened to be on the back of the Bill, and that I am an ardent supporter of it, and I desired to answer one or two points which the hon. Member for Camberwell had started. I hope the House will pass the Second Reading of the Bill; and if we have a bad case, that can be ascertained before a Select Committee.
§ *(5.0.) MR. HENRY JOHN ROBY (Lancashire, S.E., Eccles)
I desire to say a few words in support of this Bill, partly on account of what has fallen from the hon. Member for Crewe, and partly because I am myself an employer of young women in a cotton factory. This Bill only proposes to lay down a certain number of hours in the week; and that would allow a considerable modification for the particular days in the week. I see no difficulty whatever in the proposal that, in order to make up for the extension of hours on some days, there should be some diminution on other days of the week. I cannot myself see that to restrict women in shops to 74 hours per week can possibly lead to throwing a large number of women out of employment. I do not think there is any ground for that. At the same time, it is no doubt a perfectly reasonable thing that we 1179 should be well on our guard against it. In this matter of the limitation of the hours of employment, I am not inclined to go simply on one general rule, or on logical grounds to apply the restriction where it would lead to inconvenience. In my opinion, it is a difficult subject, and a subject that ought to have progressive treatment. I am prepared to see Parliament interfere with more than one industrial trade, but I wish it done only gradually—I wish to see it done by taking certain employments at a time, and seeing how far it can be carried out with regard to these employments; and it ought not to be carried out at all unless the great majority of those employed are in favour of it. Then comes the question whether we should have a Select Committee first, and then propose a Bill; or whether we should take the Second Reading of this Bill, and then have a Select Committee. My own belief is that we should be more likely to get the evidence of the willingness or unwillingness of those concerned in those restrictions if we passed the Second Reading of the Bill, and had the Select Committee afterwards. That would be better than if we refused the Second Reading, thereby implying to the country that this matter is not worth consideration. On that account I shall vote heartily for the Second Reading, reserving to myself the power to act afterwards in accordance with the evidence produced, and after consideration of such Amendments as may be proposed.
§ *(5.6.) SIR CHARLES DALRYMPLE (Ipswich)
I rise to make a suggestion exactly opposite to that which has been made by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I understood that the Secretary of State, while he did not approve of the Bill, favoured an inquiry by a Select Committee. I would suggest to the promoters of the Bill whether the wiser course for them to adopt would not be to withdraw the Bill (cries of "No") on condition that they receive from Her Majesty's Government an undertaking to appoint a Select Committee to inquire into the subject. I make this suggestion, being favourable to the 1180 proposal for a Select Committee. I think it very possible, if hon. Gentlemen insist on going to a Division, that the Bill might be defeated, in which case they will lose everything.
§ (5.7.) MR. CHARLES FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
I rise simply for the purpose of replying to a statement made by the hon. Member for Crewe, which I shall do in a sentence. His statement was to the effect that there was no demand made by those interested in this question for such a limitation of their hours as is proposed in the Bill of my hon. Friend below me. Perhaps the hon. Member for Crewe will allow that I have an opportunity of knowing, probably better than he has, that the opposite of his statement is the fact, and that there is a considerable demand on the part of those that would be affected by the provisions of this Bill, that some such diminution should be made in the hours of labour which they are now compelled to work; and only at the recent Trades Union Congress, held at Newcastle-on-Tyne, a resolution was submitted by the representative of the shop-assistants to this effect. It is perfectly true that that resolution was not submitted to the judgment of the Congress; but I think that, judging from the expressions of opinion which I had an opportunity of listening to at the Congress, there is not the slightest doubt that if the resolution had been submitted to the judgment of the Congress, it would have been passed by a very large majority indeed. The resolution was afterwards submitted to the judgment of the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress—a Committee composed of gentlemen who take opposite views on the question as to the Parliamentary or legal limitation of hours of labour, and I am in a position to say that that resolution was endorsed unanimously by the members of the Parliamentary 1181 Committee; and, therefore, it has the same sanction in the opinion of the organised trades of the country as if it had been endorsed by a large majority voting in the Congress itself; so that, therefore, the House will see that there has been an expression of opinion, at all events, from those interested in this subject. But my hon. Friend has gone further. He has said that as there is no demand on this subject, there can be no inquiry, and I think he has adopted a course which, if the House will follow him, would prevent the possibility of immediate inquiry on this subject, because we have no guarantee from the Government that if the Bill be withdrawn they will constitute that Committee which he says the House is anxious they should constitute. While I reserve to myself the right to take whatever course may seem wise and prudent to me with regard to the provisions of the Bill when it comes back again to the House from the Committee, without committing myself to the details of the Bill in any way, I believe it would be wise on the part of the House to allow the Second Reading of the Bill to be carried, and send the Bill to a Select Committee, so that we may have the proposals contained in the Bill fully and freely considered. Hence I shall have no hesitation in supporting the Second Reading of the Bill.
(5.10.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
Though I think it is not a question upon which the Government, as such, propose to offer advice to the House, I may perhaps be permitted to give my own view as to what would be expedient for the promoters of the Bill to do on the present occasion, and I think it is the view of hon. Members generally on both sides of the House. It appears to be the general opinion that there are sufficient precedents in our legislation for interfering with the labour of adult women to prevent it being a matter of principle to reject the Bill. I also think it is the general opinion that in some 1182 cases there may be a certain amount of undue length of employment during the week of women in shops and other places in large towns. But I do not think anybody could have listened to the Debate without also coming to the conclusion that the Bill before us is impracticable; that it cannot be carried out; that if we attempted to carry it out at all in the form in which the hon. Gentleman has introduced it, it would prove to be a wholly unworkable measure; and that if it is possible to apply the hon. Gentleman's principle at all, it is not possible to apply it without the most careful preliminary consideration of all the difficulties surrounding a most difficult subject, Now, I must observe to the hon. Gentleman, that that being the view of a very large number of Gentlemen in the House, including my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and others, he will, in a Division upon this Bill, have against him many persons not averse to legislation of this kind, if the necessity for such legislation can be shown, but altogether averse to committing the House of Commons to a scheme which they believe to be radically impracticable. Hon. Gentlemen opposite must be aware that if this Bill were carried against that large amount of opinion to which I have adverted, all that could then happen to it would be to refer it to a Select Committee, either to be rejected or knocked into some sort of shape very different from that which it now presents to the House, and its friends would be weakened by the opinion expressed by a very large section of the House of Commons that this Bill before us was not one that should be passed into law. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said he would vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, because he approved of its principle.
§ MR. FENWICK
Might I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman? I did not say that I approved of the principle. I approve of inquiry, and reserve to myself liberty of action when the Report of that inquiry was submitted to the House. It is because the issue, as I 1183 understand it, clearly before the House at present is whether there shall or shall not be an inquiry into the subject that I propose to vote for the Second Reading.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Then I understand the hon. Gentleman does not even approve of the principle of the Bill?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
He does not commit himself to an approval of the principle of the Bill, but what he desires is an inquiry. What we are prepared to give is an inquiry; but what we are unwilling to give, and what I think many hon. Members in this House are unwilling to give, is the apparent adhesion of the House to a proposal which they do not think a workable proposal. I would therefore seriously suggest to the hon. Member and his friends that his object may be better carried out, or that he would get his end effected, with much less friction and with far more unanimity, if he would consent to withdraw the Bill, which even those who are going to vote for it do not commit themselves to approval of; and if he would consent to accept the offer made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary .at an early stage of this Debate, that this question should be referred to a Select Committee for critical examination.
§ * MR. A. D. PROVAND
I thank the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord for what he has said on this subject, and the Government for the statement that this is not to be a Party question. Nevertheless, I think we had better go to a Division. I stated, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, that, for my own part, I was prepared to accept the Amendment placed upon the Paper by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for London University, and I am still prepared to do so. The Bill, when it goes before a Select Committee, will there be inquired into in any way they 1184 please. If they condemn it, why then we shall hear no more of it in this House; but if they approve of it in any form, it will then come back. Therefore I cannot accept the compromise which the First Lord has offered, and I think it better to take our chance in a Division.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 175; Noes 152.—(Div. List, No. 6.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.