§ SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University),
in rising to call attention to the excessive and unnecessarily long hours of labour in shops; and to move—That, in the opinion of this House, the excessive and unnecessarily long hours of labour in shops are injurious to the comfort, health, and well-being of all concerned; and that it is desirable to give to Local Authorities such powers as may be necessary to enable them to carry out the general wishes of the shopkeeping community with reference to the hours of closing,said: The Resolution dealt with a subject of urgent importance, and yet it had been strangely neglected by statesmen. It was ignored in the Newcastle Programme, and yet was surely far more important than several, if not most, of the proposals contained in it. Even those who did not think that a legal eight hours for artisans was possible sympathised very much with their wish for shorter hours, but the unfortunate shop assistants and the small shopkeepers were working more than 12 hours, in thousands of cases even over 14 hours. The Factory Acts limited the hours for our manufacturing population; but the men and women and boys and girls em- 732 ployed in shops were working in many places 30 hours a week longer than those engaged in factories. He was fortunately able to rest his case on the Report of the Committee of that House which sat in 1886. There was also a Committee last year, and the action they took showed how keenly they felt the gravity of the case. The Report of 1886 derived additional weight from the fact that, so far as the passages on which he relied were concerned, it was absolutely unanimous. They reported that—In many districts the shops are kept open until very late, especially on Saturdays," and that "the hours of labour in shops in many districts range as high as 85 per week.The Committee also reported that little could be expected from voluntary action, and that nothing short of legislation would be sufficient. The facts being admitted that thousands and thousands of shop-assistants are being worked 14 hours a day and 16 on Saturday, surely there was an overwhelming case for legislation. When the Factory Acts were proposed, their supporters were never expected to prove that manufacturers themselves were in their favour. But in this instance the shopkeepers themselves were in favour of legislation, which strengthened the case immensely. The Report of the Committee went on to point out that the protracted hours of labour in shops were dangerous, often ruinous, to health, especially in the case of women; and on this point the evidence was very strong. Dr. Rutter, Medical Officer to the Milliners' Association, stated that he had occasion to see professionally a great number of women engaged in shops, and that it was impossible for women, and especially for girls, to work so many hours without great injury to health, and that the evil was greatly aggravated by the fact that they had to stand so much. Dr. Abbotts called the special attention of the Committee to the question as affecting women. He said he had no doubt that the long hours led to diseases of the pelvis, and that girls who had stood so long could not expect to be mothers of healthy children, so that the question was of vital importance as regarded the physical condition of our race. He called the attention of then Presidents of the College of Physicians and College of Surgeons to the evidence, and so impressed were they by the 733 gravity of the case that Sir Andrew Clark, Sir James Paget, Sir R. Quain, Dr. Duncan, Dr. Priestly, Dr. Wilks, Mr. Marshall, and Mr. Savory issued a Circular to the medical men of London, in response to which over 300 London medical men—in fact, a large majority—signed a Petition to Parliament in favour of legislative interference. The question was scarcely less important from the moral point of view. Thousands of shop men and women scarcely saw their families from Monday morning till Saturday night; the Committee were told that half the shop assistants of London never enter a place of worship. As one poor girl said:—"After the fatigue and worry of the week, I am so thoroughly worn out that my only thought is to rest on a Sunday: but it goes too quickly, and the other days drag on slowly." These were no sensational statements of his. They were literal and melancholy facts brought out by the House of Commons' Committee. It was under-stating the case to call it slavery, for no slaves ever worked or could be worked so long. He saw the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, who made for themselves inquiries among the clergy, and having done so took the step, most unusual and indeed unprecedented, of issuing a Circular to the London clergy containing a form of Petition to their House in favour of legislation. Several of the loading Nonconformists also took up the matter, and the result was that over 500 of the London clergy and Nonconformist ministers signed the Petition. Cardinal Manning, who took a warm interest in all social improvements, for which his memory would be long and gratefully cherished, took a similar course with the Roman Catholic priests. Now, would the interests of the public suffer if the recommendation of the resolution were carried into effect? On this point, also, there was, he submitted, a very strong case. The appeal which had been issued in support of the Resolution bore the names of the hon. Members for the Wansbeck Division, for Battersea, for North-West Norfolk, for North-West Durham, for Glamorgan, and other Members, specially connected with the organisations of working men, and though the hon. Member for Morpeth, from his official position, was precluded from signing it, the movement had 734 always had his cordial support. Moreover, the London Trades Council unanimously adopted the following resolution:—That this delegate meeting, representing more than 26,000 adult artisans and mechanics in the Metropolitan district, strongly denounce the system and practice of late shopping as being fraught with injurious consequences, both moral and physical, to a vast portion of our over-worked industrial population, and therefore earnestly urges all workers in the constituencies of the United Kingdom to call upon their Parliamentary Representatives to support Sir John Lubbock's Early Closing Bill, which, in its operation and result, is calculated to become a blessing to those employed in shops and an advantage to the national welfare.Similar resolutions had been passed by the Trades Councils of Glasgow, Oldham, Bolton, Bath, and other places, and, finally, by the Trade Union Congress itself. It was clear, therefore, that the working population were in favour of shorter hours for shop assistants. Moreover, it was obvious that the Local Authorities would certainly not act in a manner which would create any general inconvenience. It was in evidence, moreover, that the Factory Act; Inspectors were now almost unanimously in favour of some legislation as regards the hours of labour in shops. Lastly, he came to the views of the shopkeepers, which was the strongest part of his case. Strong testimony was laid before the Committee from various parts of the country that the great majority of shopkeepers were anxious for shorter hours, and would welcome legislation on the subject. The editor of The Chemist and Druggist came to bin, and asked why, in the former Bill, chemists were excluded. He replied that, in his opinion, he thought they stood on special grounds. The editor said he believed that the chemists would wish to be included, and he issued a special Circular to the whole trade, the result of which was to show that a large majority were in favour of legislation, of course with a provision for the usual night bell in case of emergency. There was hardly a large town in the United Kingdom where the shopkeepers had not held meetings, generally presided over by the Mayor, in support of earlier closing. Moreover, he might quote many resolutions passed by Trade Associations, such as the Liverpool and District Provision Dealers' Association, the Reading Grocers' 735 Association, the Dublin Purveyors' Association, and the Federation of Grocers' Associations of the United Kingdom. It would be easy to give more evidence of this character, but probably the shortest course would be to quote the words of the Committee of this House. They reported that—A wide-spread desire has been expressed by grown-up persons employed in shops that in some way their labour should be limited by law, and your Committee believe that employers are not indisposed to such limitation, provided it takes the form of a general early closing. The witnesses generally expressed their opinion that any regulation of retail trade would be practicable only by Local Authority, after having been set in motion by the traders themselves. Your Committee have evidence that in many localities the desire of the great majority of shopkeepers to close early has been frustrated by the action of some few individuals.In most places the Early Closing Associations were mainly Associations, not so much of shop assistants as of shopkeepers. It was of shopkeepers that they were mainly formed. To the honour of shopkeepers, he said that it was the shopkeepers themselves by whom the early closing movement had been mainly supported. Indeed, on this point the Resolution spoke for itself. They only asked that the Local Authorities should be empowered to carry out the wishes of the majority of shopkeepers. Circumstances and competition now enabled the minority, and often a very small minority, to keep the majority open, and legal powers were sought to enable the majority to keep the minority shut. But perhaps it would be asked why, if this was so, was any legislation required? Because in most cases a small and selfish minority insisted on keeping open, and thus forced others to keep open also. He would give an illustration of what had happened over and over again. In one district of London some years ago the drapers wished to close earlier, and they all agreed to do so. Two hundred and fifty shops closed. But a new man came. He opened a shop and kept open late, hoping to get all the late business. Very soon his neighbour opened too. Then another and another, until in a few weeks they were all open again, except the committee of the Association. The committee met and passed a unanimous resolution that nothing short of legislation would shorten the hours. Thus one 736 man kept these 250 shops open. He dwelt on this point because it was so important to realise that this was no question of class against class, of shop assistants against shopkeepers. On the contrary, the shopkeepers themselves were foremost in wishing to benefit their assistants by shortening the hours, and they asked Parliament to enable them to do so. The main objection which was urged against the old Factory Acts could not be brought against this proposal. It had no bearing on foreign competition. Under it all would be treated alike; the shops would do just as much business. The only difference and the great advantage would be that, under early closing, the business now done between 8 and 10 would be done better between 6 and 8'clock. The last two hours were the most trying to the shop assistant. It was after the gas was lit that the air became hottest, driest, foulest, and most impure. As to the small shopkeepers, it had been said that any early closing would place them at a disadvantage. But he would point out that early closing would really benefit them. There would be less time for shopping, and customers, therefore, would make their purchases nearer home instead of going further to the larger shops. As a matter of fact, the small shopkeepers supported this movement warmly.
§ SIR J. LUBBOCK
That is so. The large shopkeepers closed earlier than the small shopkeepers, but if this Resolution was carried out the large shopkeepers would close earlier still. He knew there was a feeling that small shops employing no assistants should be excluded. That would be a point to be considered; but the smallest shops competed keenly with one another, and inquiry showed that they were anxious to be included. The Committee of the House had unanimously reported that in many places the shop assistants and small shopkeepers were working 14hours a day. Just let them consider what 14 hours of work a day meant. Less than eight could not be reckoned for sleep, which only left two for dressing and undressing, for supper, and for going to and fro from the shop. This absorbed the whole 24 hours, and not a moment was left for self-improvement or amuse- 737 ment, for fresh air or family life, or for any of those occupations which dignified and ennobled life. The whole country would gain if shop assistants had greater opportunities for intellectual, moral, and spiritual improvement. Moreover, the cruel effect of the long hours was considerably increased by the fact that the unfortunate assistants had to stand the whole time. If this was hard in the case of men, how much worse must it be in the case of women? It was, in short, a terrible evil. How injurious and fatiguing standing was they might clearly see from the fact that though customers remained in a shop for a comparatively short time, they were generally accommodated with seats; but considering the relative need of rest as between the assistants and their customers, it must be admitted that the seats were on the wrong side of the counter. The witnesses examined before the House of Commons Committee were all but unanimously of opinion that voluntary action could not remedy the evil, which, indeed, many persons thought was growing worse. Without legislation, then, there was little hope of shorter hours—the lives of shopmen and shopwomen would still be the same weary monotony of shop and bed, a life of drudgery and an early grave. If the Resolution was passed they would have, on the contrary, a hope of brighter and happier days, of stronger health, and of longer lives. The Resolution was based on the unanimous Report of the Select Committee of 1886. They urged it on the House because the present long hours of labour in shops, especially in great cities, were under-mining the health of the people; they urged it on moral grounds, because these hours left absolutely no time for self-improvement or family life; they urged it in the name of the shopkeepers, who were themselves worn out by long hours of toil, who sympathised with their assistants, and who begged the House to enable them as a body to do that which as individuals they were powerless to effect. Lastly, they appealed on behalf of the shop assistants themselves, and especially of the women, who had no votes, and were on that account all the more entitled to claim the mercy and consideration of the House. They had suffered grievously and too long, and he besought the House to pass the Resolu- 738 tion in the name of many a weary worker whose life was now one of constant weariness and almost incessant labour, who would be condemned, if they did nothing, to a life of suffering and an early grave, but on whom if the House passed the Resolution they would throw a ray of light and hope.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, he rose with very great pleasure to second the Resolution. They might congratulate themselves that the whole question of the hours of labour had now become recognised as of natural importance. The time had gone by when they could consider that all these matters wore to settle themselves in a haphazard sort of way, and the time had arrived when steps must be taken, where proper arrangements were not made without the interference of the law, to secure the proper regulation of all labour. Of course, in dealing with the matter they must remember that work was a necessary function in this world; for it was the lot of the great bulk of the population to labour: but at the same time they must recognise that life was not simply intended for labour, and that the object of labour was to secure life, happiness, and independence. A certain school of persons seemed to think, on mathematic principles, that the results achieved depended solely on the number of hours worked. Practice had, however, shown that that was a fallacy. There was a maximum beyond which they could not go with benefit either to the worker or to the community at large, and the aim of all legislation in this direction should be to secure in some way the minimum amount of labour compatible with the maximum amount of well-being to the workers. He regarded this Resolution before the House as tending strongly in the direction of influencing this most important matter. They must acknowledge that during the last 30 or 40 years considerable steps had been made in the direction of reducing the hours of labour, and no one had helped this movement more than the right hon. Baronet who moved the Resolution, and who was regarded as one of the pioneers of this great reform. But although the hours of labour in factories and workshops had been reduced, there had not been a corresponding decrease in the hours of shop assistants. There were very few who 739 would attempt to dispute the facts laid before the House by the right hon. Baronet—facts which made it obvious that, in the words of the Resolution, the "comfort, health, and wellbeing of the assistants and the shopkeepers are seriously impaired." The ordinary working days of the week were unusually and unnecessarily long; but when they came to Saturday, Londoners especially ought to blame themselves extremely for the long hours during which shops were kept open. He had frequently to go to the North of London on Saturdays, and on his return at midnight and even later he saw the shops open and men, women and children even actively engaged in buying and selling. The practical question was could that be avoided. He believed it could. This was not a subject into which complications were introduced by foreign labour or foreign interference, for the shopkeepers were distributors and not producers, and they would not suffer if they could induce the public to do its shopping earlier in the day. There could be no doubt that the shopkeepers and the shop assistants really demanded this change. At a meeting in his own constituency a few days ago it was stated that the traders in a certain district had by an overwhelming majority demanded that something should be done to bring about a reform. The same feeling prevailed throughout the country, and the public were fully alive to the mischief which the system of long hours inflicted. If the shopkeepers and the public desired the change urged in the Resolution, why was it not brought about? There were two reasons—first, the thoughtlessness of the public; secondly, the selfishness of a few individual traders. Legislation had got to meet those two difficulties. He believed that the public often shopped late without thinking of the evils caused by long hours of labour in shops, and that many of them aggravated the position of the assistants by inspecting goods without intending to purchase. The working classes, as well as other classes, might do much to reduce this evil, and efforts should be made to persuade them to discontinue the practice. Then as regarded the shopkeepers themselves, no doubt, as the right hon. Baronet had told them, competition was very keen, and hon. Members who repre- 740 sented poor districts well knew what a struggle it was for the smaller traders even to pay their way. But the great bulk of the shopkeepers would undoubtedly be glad if some means could be devised to prevent the selfishness and greediness of a few necessitating the late opening of all shops. How was this to be amended? He emphatically objected to Parliament fixing the hours of labour, and did not believe that men and women ought to be treated as children. But this Resolution was emphatically against that course. It was called a local option Resolution, but it was not one in the ordinary sense. Local option, as generally understood, meant two men refusing to let a third have something that he wanted. That was not the principle embodied in this Resolution. It was a Resolution which said that when a majority desired to do a thing good in itself they should have a right to do it, and on that ground he had great pleasure in supporting it. Some persons wanted to know how the assistants would employ their time if they were given increased hours for recreation and leisure. That, however, was not a matter which concerned at present the House, except in so far as it became their duty, when they had secured shorter hours, to provide reasonable facilities for recreation and educational improvement, and, therefore, concurrently with legislation for shortening the hours of labour they should make special efforts to throw brightness, improvement, and happiness into the homes of this deserving class of the community. As the Resolution tended in that direction he heartily supported it.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, the excessive and unnecessarily long hours of labour in shops are injurious to the comfort, health, and well-being of all concerned; and that it is desirable to give Local Authorities such powers as may be necessary to enable them to carry out the general wishes of the shopkeeping community with reference to the hours of closing."—(Sir John Lubbock.)
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. ASQUITH,) Fife, E.
The Government desire that upon this question Members should feel themselves perfectly free to vote in accordance with their own wishes and convictions. For my own part, I have strong sympathy with the language of the Resolution and the object at 741 which it aims. There has been no attempt, and will be no attempt, on the part of those who dispute the appropriateness of the remedy to minimise the gravity of the evil against which it is directed. The evidence is overwhelming and conclusive that in a large number of retail establishments in the country the persons employed are occupied for a number of hours far in excess of what is compatible with the conditions of health and decent and reasonable existence. I will not go into details, but it is clear that in a large number of cases men and women are employed 80, 84, and 90 hours a week in occupations which, if not physically exhausting in the sense that manual labour is, yet are destructive, when prolonged, of physical, mental, and even of moral health. The evil being admitted, the only question is, What is the most appropriate and effective remedy? We have tried legislation on a small scale and in a somewhat tentative manner. The Shop Hours Regulation Act of 1886, continued from year to year, was, after being slightly amended, rendered permanent by an Act of last year. The object of that Act was to protect young persons under 18. It provides that no persons falling within that category shall be employed longer than 74 hours a week. That is a very excellent and very justifiable enactment, but experience has shown that it is extraordinarily difficult to enforce. The Act of 1892 for the first time provided machinery to enforce it by empowering Local Authorities to appoint Inspectors. We have had statistics collected to show the extent to which the Authorities have availed themselves of that power. I find that in England and Wales four counties have appointed Inspectors and 45 have not; 35 boroughs have and 191 have not. In Scotland one county, Linlithgow, and 18 burghs have done so, so that in a great part of that country the Act is absolutely a dead letter. In Ireland, so far as I can learn, no Inspectors have been appointed. The House must feel that the Act has not produced any serious result; and, in my opinion, the blame is to be ascribed not so much to the Local Authorities as to the limited scope and illogical character of the Act itself. In a matter of this kind it is not easy to deal only with the labour of young persons. In retail trade 742 you cannot effectively control or interfere with excessively long hours so long as you merely direct your legislation or administration to the cases of young persons. Operations are inextricably mixed up, and young and old, males and females, work side by side. I do not deny that the limitation of the hours of young persons might indirectly, by a sort of reflex action, operate upon the hours of those of mature age; yet, if you are to deal with the question comprehensively and effectively, you must ignore distinctions and look to the employés as a whole. We are often told that there is no evidence that voluntary combination would not be effective for the purpose. Undoubtedly voluntary combination has proved a powerful force in the attainment of a Saturday half-holiday in London and the large provincial towns, where it has become an established institution. But the difficulty to be dealt with in this matter arises from the isolated action of selfish persons, who will not bring themselves into line even with the great body of their own class, and who are totally insensible to the operation of public opinion and to the calls of public duty. I have myself come across a remarkable instance of that in the City. A year or two ago the hairdressers of London, as the result of considerable agitation, arrived at an understanding, to which both masters and men were parties, to close on Saturday afternoons at 4 o'clock. In a few months I saw in one establishment a notice changing the hour from 4 to 6; and on inquiry I was told that a single large employer of labour had held aloof from the arrangement which all the others had come to, and a single person was therefore able to deprive a large body of men of two hours' recreation. That may seem to be a result wholly disproportionate to the cause, but it is astonishing how small a proportion of shopkeepers can effectively coerce a whole body into adopting longer hours than are either necessary or healthful. Combination is a very different thing as between employer and workman and as between trader and customer. As between employer and workman it is comparatively easy through the instrumentality of the trade union to bring all, or, at all events, the great majority, of the competitors for the wage fund into line, 743 and in that way to bring to bear upon the competitors for labour overwhelming and irresistible force. But in dealing with trader and customer the conditions are entirely different. You cannot organise the customers of a country, or even the customers of a particular town into an effective union. Many attempts have been made by appealing to philanthropic and benevolent sentiments in the matter, and we have heard of ladies and others who have bound themselves that they would not shop after certain hours of the day or in the afternoon of a certain day of the week. But you are dealing there with an isolated, incoherent, and disorganised movement. There is no esprit de corps amongst communities of customers and of persons who go shopping, and who make the fortunes and businesses of traders; and so long as you rely merely on that method you are always at the mercy of any individual person in want of some particular commodity, who, finding the shop open, cannot resist the temptation of going there to buy, irrespective of the time. I have therefore come to the conclusion long ago that this is one of those eases in which voluntary combined action is ineffective for the end in view, and that it is necessary to bring into operation some force more effective than public opinion to operate on traders, and reduce those amongst them who, through selfishness and greed, are unwilling to close their shops, to a sense of the inhumanity of their action. Once we have arrived at that conclusion, the question is what form the compulsion should take. The right hon. Baronet, whose exertions in this matter, continued as they have been over a long period of years, through evil report as well as through good report, with an energy and strenuousness to which I venture to pay my humble tribute of admiration—the right hon. Baronet in past years attempted to deal with the question by means of general legislation, for he has been the author and promoter of two Bills, one for establishing a compulsory weekly half-holiday, and the other, which may be called a General Closing Bill, requiring all shops in the country to be closed at 8 o'clock on five days in the week and at 10 o'clock on the other day. My right hon. Friend drafted a clause in the Bill by which Local Authorities, in deference to local 744 requirements, might relax the rigidity or altogether dispense with the general law. I confess that there are grave practical difficulties in that particular solution of the question, because it appears to me to lay down a hard and fast rule, the enforcement of which, notwithstanding the discretion given to Local Authorities, would necessarily lead to friction and inconvenience. I therefore welcome very heartily the terms of the Resolution which the right hon. Baronet has now proposed. It does not proceed on any difference of opinion, but on a different method. The right hon. Baronet, instead of laying down a general rule for the whole country, with a latitude to Local Authorities to make particular exceptions, proposes that the initiative should be a local initiative, and that in the first instance the shop-keeping community in a particular place should indicate in some unmistakable form its wishes in the matter, and that when that condition precedent has been fulfilled, it should be left to the Local Authorities to take the action necessary for the purpose of giving it effect and carrying it out. So far as my opinion is concerned, I think it is a wise and statesmanlike manner of dealing with the question. I do not in the least fear that under these conditions any substantial or permanent injustice can be done to any class of the community. I confess that, so far as my opinion goes, the critics and the opponents of this Resolution will be driven to take refuge in the principle that under all circumstances and for any purpose it is wrong for Parliament to interfere with the voluntary action of adult persons. ["Hear, hear!"] An hon. Gentleman opposite applauds that statement. Well, Sir, I agree that if that is to be laid down as a general and universal rule of legislation to which no exception can be allowed the proposal of the right hon. Baronet must be condemned. But that is a rule to which I, for one, am not prepared to subscribe. It is time for us to emancipate ourselves from the thraldom of economic abstractions. The whole of our factory legislation, beginning with the cases of the children and women, has been to affect, indirectly it is true, but none the less effectively, and to limit the hours of adult labour. That being so, I can see no distinction in principle between direct interference and indirect interference, if their result be the same. The adoption of the principle of 745 local option, whether it should be applied to trades or places, I care not which, reinforced in the last resort by compulsory legislation, either general or special, appears to me to be the only effective solution of the very large number of difficulties, not only as between capital and labour, but also as between tradesmen and customers, which we shall have to deal with in the future which lies immediately before us. For these reasons I heartily support the Resolution, and in the interest of a large, but very inarticulate, class in the community I hope the House will assent to it with absolute unanimity.
§ SIR J. BLUNDELL MAPLE (Camberwell, Dulwich)
said he rose to express his dissent to the Resolution, not because he did not agree that shops were kept open much longer than they ought to be, but because he recognised that by voluntary action every day the shopkeepers were closing their shops much earlier. He yielded to no one in his anxiety to give more pleasure and recreation to the working classes, for he was the President of the Voluntary Early Closing Association, which was doing a great deal of good work. He would ask hon. Members to remember that the good work which had been done in England during the past 20 years—the Saturday half-holidays and the weekly half-holidays—had been produced by voluntary action. The Reports of the Early Closing Association, with which the right hon. Baronet was connected, showed that the number of shops which closed early were increasing by thousands every year, and he had no doubt that they would continue to increase. He therefore agreed with the first portion of the Resolution, but differed altogether with the latter part, which proposed to confer on Local Authorities powers to enable them to carry out the general wishes of the shop-keeping community of each district in regard to the closing of shops. The House should remember that shops were of a different nature. All the large shops in London were closed at 7 every day, and at 2 on Saturdays. But in the constituency which he represented there were numbers of shops which kept open late to supply the wants of the working classes, which did all their business after 7 or 8 o'clock, and which would not keep open late unless 746 there was business for them to do. He would ask how were they going to arrive at local option, and how did they propose to classify the shops. It was ail very well to talk in the air; but they should do something practical; a Bill should be introduced embodying these proposals, which they could look at and examine. In 1888 the right hon. Baronet did bring in a Bill for the early closing of shops. But what was the result? It was thrown out by a majority of 278 against 95. He did not think that the question could be settled by any Bill which proposed the compulsory closing of shops. In every locality there were a. number of small shops which kept open late for the dealings of the working classes. It would be very hard on these small shops if they had to close. The House should also remember that it was not these shops which had the employés. The assistants were in the large shops which closed early. The small shops might have one or two assistants, but in most cases the work was done by the members of the family. Then how was local option to be brought about, and how was the classification to be effected? In the Bill introduced by the right hon. Baronet in 1890 there was a clause which declared that shops in which trades of two or more classes were carried on should be closed for the purposes of trade at the hour at which it was required to be closed for the purposes of any of them. So that if that Bill had been passed shops in which, as often happened, four different trades were conducted, might be compelled to close at 4 o'clock one day for one business; on another day for another business; on another day for another business, and on a fourth day for a fourth business. He asked hon. Members also to remember that the question before the House was not a question affecting young labour, for under existing legislation all young persons under 18 years of age wore not allowed to work more than 72 hours in the week. In 1890 he introduced a Bill which was not agreeable to the right hon. Baronet, and which proposed to give all shop assistants a half-holiday on one day in the week. They did not close factories, or workshops, or mines in order to shorten the hours of labour of the workers. His Bill proposed to lessen the hours of shop assistants without 747 closing the shops. Under his Bill each owner of a shop would be bound to keep a return of his assistants, and to allot to each a half-holiday on a particular day of the week, and prevented him from altering that day without giving three days' notice. Therefore, under that Bill, shop assistants would have their weekly half-holidays, and the owners would be able to keep open their shops at hours which suited them best. If the shop assistants were too long worked let their hours of labour be limited in that fashion, but he did not believe in the practicability of any legislation which gave to local option in any locality the power of deciding the hours during which shops should be opened in that locality. What would be the area of the locality? Would they take the whole of London, for instance, or would they divide it into Parliamentary divisions, or parishes, or into some other sort of districts? Under such an arrangement they might have shops closed at certain hours at one side of the street and opened during these hours at the other side of the same street. He should be delighted to see early closing adopted throughout the country, but he was convinced that that object was best attained by voluntary action amongst the owners themselves. He would, however, not trouble the House by going to a Division on the Motion. He would rest content by entering his protest against the latter part of the Motion, which suggested the early closing of shops by local option.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I shall have a few words to say as to the arguments of the hon. Member for Dulwich before I sit down, because they are entitled to respect, not only for his kindly feeling towards the employés, but for his knowledge of the subject. I rise chiefly to express my satisfaction at the statement which has been made on the part of the Government by the Home Secretary. That statement was a little remarkable in its form, and I do not know whether the House entirely appreciated its importance. The Home Secretary commenced by saying that the Government desired that hon. Members should vote in this matter according to their own convictions and consciences. Well, Sir, it is possible to draw from that the inference that there are questions on which the Go- 748 vernment do not desire that hon. Members of the House should vote according to their convictions and consciences. I confess that I should be delighted to know that this principle which the Home Secretary has laid down for our guidance for the present Debate is one of universal application in matters of even greater national importance than these which we are now discussing. I should be delighted if the Government would always desire that hon. Gentlemen behind them should vote according to their convictions and consciences. But I am not quite certain that the House thoroughly appreciates the importance of the statement made by the Home Secretary. Older Members of the House will recollect a number of occasions on which what are called abstract Resolutions have been brought before the House, and whenever such Resolutions have been brought forward the Prime Minister laid it down that no Government and no Member of the Government was justified in giving support to an abstract Resolution, unless the Government was prepared immediately to give effect to it. I am sure the Prime Minister has not changed his opinion, and, therefore, the statement of the Home Secretary amounts to this: that the Government are prepared to give forthwith their attention, in order that this abstract Resolution may become a practical measure. I am aware of the difficulties of the Government. They are going to run, not six omnibuses through Temple Bar—they are going to run a score of omnibuses through a passage much narrower than old Temple Bar. I am perfectly well aware that in order to give effect to the abstract Resolution now accepted it is absolutely necessary that some other matter should give it a place. I should not like to make too great a demand upon the Government, but I should venture to make a suggestion which I hope will be received in the spirit in which it is tendered. I am always glad to assist the Government in the progress of Public Business. Now the Government are devotees of the principle of local option. They are in favour of local option on more than one subject, and they have burnt their fingers. They have tried their hand this Session already, and they have burned their fingers, and I now suggest to the Home 749 Secretary that they should withdraw that proposal for local option which is now before the House, and substitute a new proposal for local option in reference to the early closing of shops. My right hon. Friend has pointed out that the question for us to consider to-night is the remedy for a state of things which, on both sides of the House, is admitted to be urgent. It is universally admitted that the hours of shopkeepers, and especially assistants, are excessive. In these days of shortening hours, when we have Motions brought before the House for a universal eight hours day, it. seems ridiculous to suppose that a large proportion of the labouring class, numbering, I believe, something like 1,000,000 people, who are engaged in the work of distribution, should be compelled by circumstances beyond their own control to labour for 10, 12, 14, and even 15 hours a day. It is generally admitted, except by my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich, that voluntary effort is altogether incompetent to deal with such a matter; and I would say to my hon. Friend that I think he takes too narrow a view of this question. He talks of the whole country, and of the circumstances of shopkeeping in provincial and country towns, and in many parts of London, as if they were all governed by the circumstances of the West End or Tottenham Court Road. It is perfectly true that in such cases as those with which my hon. Friend is most familiar, where there are numbers of large employers who are actuated by kindly feelings, and who are not put under the pressure of this competition which weighs so heavily upon small shopkeepers, by voluntary arrangement alone all that is desired may be accomplished. But in the majority of cases, and throughout the whole country, that is absolutely impossible. Experience has shown it to be impossible. The Home Secretary spoke of the success which has attended the Saturday half-holiday movement. I am bound to say I think the illustration is a very unfortunate one. In provincial cities Saturday is the worst day, and in Birmingham—I am not speaking now of the greater shopkeepers, but of the smaller shopkeepers—the shops are open until 12 o'clock at night, and I believe that is almost universal. The 750 fact is, that in this matter, as has been so well pointed out, the objection of a single one amongst a great number of shopkeepers is sufficient to prevent any arrangement at all—one cantankerous, cross-grained man can do that. It is not like the case of Trades Unions, to which it has been likened. In that case you have a majority of the workpeople with you, and you may compel the rest, because the trade cannot be carried on without the consent, at all events, of the majority of the workpeople. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that if this object, which we all admit to be desirable, is to be accomplished, it can only be accomplished by legislation. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke of the inefficiency of previous legislation, especially in connection with the question of shop hours, and he said that the majority of Local Authorities who have discretion given them to appoint Inspectors under that Act have not availed themselves of the privilege. I am not in the least surprised at that. In the first place, the Act has only been in force a few months; in the second place, the object is hardly worth the expenditure; and, in the third place, it is hardly to be expected in a matter of this kind that the Local Authorities will be the first to move.
§ MR. ASQUITH
I did not mention that in any way as blaming the Local Authorities, but simply as a fact, which proves the inefficiency of this measure.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I quite understand my right hon. Friend's position. What we now propose is that the majority in any trade shall put the Local Authority in motion, and we are quite prepared to admit that if the majority in a trade are not anxious for this reform, in that case there will be many and sufficient reasons why it should not be forced upon them, because, as my right hon. Friend has said, we are not dealing only, as the Member for Dulwich has dealt in his Bill, with the case of persons employed in shops, but with the small shopkeepers themselves. After all, I am not quite certain that they are not more numerous than the assistants; for it must be remembered that the assistants in shops, especially where they are numerous, are employed in those large establishments 751 in which already reasonable hours obtain. The best case can be made out in favour of the small shopkeepers themselves, whose employés will frequently be found to be their own sons and daughters. It is for them chiefly we have to plead, and we are willing to take the opinion of the majority of persons concerned before this law is put into operation. I do not think it necessary to argue the question of interfering with adult labour. I hope the hon. Member for Battersea, and the Labour Representatives, will take notice of the admission of the Home Secretary, that the idea of interference with the liberty of adult labour is an economic abstraction which has ceased to have any influence, at all events with the right hon. Gentleman. To me that is a great satisfaction, because I never entertained any respect for that economic abstraction; but I am glad to find that, when a short time ago we banished political economy to Saturn, we banished this particular portion of the economic doctrine to that planet at the same time, and no doubt we have adopted Saturnian philosophy in place of it. I say that we have a great evil, that we know that those who suffer from the evil, and who are chiefly concerned in the matter, are, as regards the large majority of them, in favour of legislation. We know by experience that without legislation nothing can be done. That is the case we put before the House, and the remedy which my right hon. Friend proposes is, I think, a more practical one than my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich is prepared to allow. He made a complaint against my right hon. Friend that he has not brought in a Bill. Well, my right hon. Friend tried; he took his chance with other Members of the House to get an opportunity of bringing in a Bill; but when there are 670 Members, most of whom desire to bring in two or three Bills at least, it is not easy for a single Member to get the first place on a single Wednesday, and it is failing this opportunity that he has fallen back upon a Resolution. But the proposal of my right hon. Friend is as clearly before the House as though it was embodied in a Bill, because what he proposes is a combined operation of local option and trade option. He proposes that any trade in any district may meet and decide by a consider- 752 able majority that they desire in future to keep open for such and such hours. Then he proposed that their scheme shall be submitted to the Local Authority of the district, and the Local Authority will have full power to deal with it according to its discretion. The object of bringing in the Local Authority is that the convenience of the district, and of those who are outside the trade, may also be considered. There are conceivable circumstances under which the majority of a trade might be desirous of closing their shops; but that might be felt to be a wrong by the people in the district which the Town Council or County Council ought to look after. Therefore, we offer to the House two securities: In the first place, that you shall have a large majority of the trade concerned; and, in the second place, that you shall have a majority of those who are specially representative of the community, and it is only when those two conditions have been fulfilled that we ask that anything in the nature of penal or coercive legislation shall be brought into effect. I think the House appears to be inclined unanimously to adopt the Resolution of my right hon. Friend; but I beg hon. Members on both sides of the House to bear in mind the language of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to which I have already referred in regard to these Resolutions—You cannot discharge your consciences by accepting an abstract Resolution unless you are prepared to accept a Bill which will subsequently be brought in, and which will be based upon that Resolution.Therefore, I take it that the unanimous vote of the House, if it is unanimous, will pledge the House to speedy, even to immediate, legislation. In sitting down, I have only to congratulate my right hon. Friend, who has been labouring in this cause for 20 years, and who in a short time, I hope, will celebrate the majority of his mission by being able to say that in his case, at all events, his Parliamentary labours have not been in vain.
§ MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
said, he thought the declaration of the hon. Member for Dulwich (Sir Blundell Maple) had taken a good deal of the life out of this Debate. At the same time, he felt bound to remind the 753 House that he had some special experience with regard to this subject, having sat on both Select Committees, and having presided over the latest of them. Certain things must be borne in mind in considering this subject. The first was the legislation which was the outcome of the labours of the last Select Committee. The Home Secretary had remarked that that legislation had had very little apparent effect. But he denied that it had had so slight an effect as the right hon. Gentleman would cause the House to believe. This evil, if it existed to any aggravated extent, existed only in the large towns. He never expected County Councils would have much work to do in the appointment of Inspectors to enforce previous legislation, because, by the nature of the constitution of County Councils, the area over which they had jurisdiction excluded all the greater towns. Barely six mouths from the passing of the Act recommended by the Select Committee, 35 of the great towns of England appointed Inspectors. That was a very respectable result, and still more so was the fact that 18 out of the Scotch burghs had done the same. The Select Committee last year had not within the scope of its Reference or within its powers the opportunity of dealing with legislation on the lines of the Resolution of the hon. Baronet. They were obliged to deal with the illogical legislation which was before them. That illogical and inefficient legislation was legislation for which it was true the Home Secretary did not vote on that occasion, but for which nearly all the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen now sitting on the same Bench zealously rushed forward to record their votes. He thought, in these circumstances, a little more recognition might have been given to the labours of the Committee, which did its best with the materials before it. Now, a word as to the provisions of the right hon. Baronet's Motion. They must avoid two things. They must not either overstate the extent of the evil or minimize the difficulties in the way of finding a true remedy. In the case of this particular kind of labour, it was not all unceasing manual labour; it was not carried on under the depressing surroundings and the conditions of physical exertion which usually were regarded as 754 the attributes of labour. There were many town districts far removed from the centres of life and amusement in which the retail shops were the principal centres of social intercourse, the labour of the assistants being lightened to a great extent by social intercourse, which they might have great difficulty in finding out of doors. This was one of the great difficulties which this problem presented. Were they going to close the retail shops in any town at an earlier hour than they closed public-houses, so that during several hours the only place of attraction to a large section of the public would be the licensed houses for the sale of intoxicating liquor? That would be a great danger. Again, how were they going to deal with refreshment houses, tobacconists, and that large class of shops which dealt in perishable goods which, after a certain hour in the day, had to be thrown upon the market at low prices, greatly to the benefit of the poorer classes. He was instrumental in procuring the rejection of the Bill to which the Home Secretary had alluded, and he believed the argument that had the greatest weight was that a hard-and-fast closing by cast-iron rule, applied equally to all kinds of shops, would do more than anything else to interfere with the cheap and easy distribution of the food to the poorest classes of the people. Another difficulty was, how were the supporters of the Resolution going to deal with the case of London? That had always presented to him an almost, insoluble enigma. No one in his senses would propose to apply the same rule all over London; and if they allowed a Local Authority to adopt varying methods of procedure, and different standards of legislation, they would arrive at the result at which, pressed by competition, all would surely adopt the lowest possible standard. It was objected to early closing that they must not interfere with the labour of adult male persons; and the Factory Acts, which he had had the honour of assisting in administering, had been alluded to. But he would point out that in the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854 they had for the last 40 years had legislation conceived in a most paternal spirit interfering with the labour of adult persons. This argument was used by those who declared that the 755 people should be taught to rely upon their own efforts. There were only three possible parties to such disputes as would be raised if the Resolution were put in force—the shopkeepers, the shop-assistants, and the general public. By the very terms of the Resolution nothing would take place without the initiative of the shopkeepers themselves. Nothing could conceivably be done unless the public were satisfied with it, and unless the shop-assistants themselves threw their energies into such agitation as it might be necessary to set on foot for the purpose of securing an amendment of their condition, he could not conceive that any action would be taken. The shop-assistants would therefore still have to rely on their own efforts. It struck him that the only issue before them that night was not whether early closing was good or bad in itself, but whether the great communities in the shape of (he Town Councils were as good judges of the questions involved as that House? There might be circumstances under which those communities would be even better judges. He hailed with great pleasure the fact that the right hon. Baronet had at last cast his proposal in a form in which it was possible for him (Mr. Stuart Wortley), who formerly opposed it, to accept it. The House, in adopting that proposal, would relieve itself of the difficulty of solving one of the most embarrassing questions which, owing to its being complicated by sentiment and innumerable local difficulties, it could possibly have to address itself to.
§ DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)
congratulated the right hon. Baronet >on having secured the support of the Government to a proposal which, when given effect to, would be of enormous advantage to the hygienic conditions of life in London and in many other parts of the country. He thought the hon. Member who had just sat down had very much minimised the disagreeable incidents of shop-assistants' lives, for he seemed to refer to them as places of cheerful recreation, and he altogether ignored the peculiar and unhealthy conditions under which the unfortunate assistants had to work. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the University of London had spoken 756 of the great evils of standing for long hours in shops, and he could himself state, as a medical man, that those evils were very great, especially in the case of women. Some people thought it hard to sit for some hours together doing nothing in particular or listening to speeches which were not of a very exciting character; but when they thought of the poor shop-people standing for hours together in bad air, breathing the products of the combustion of bad gas, they might conceive how prejudicial the effect must be upon thorn. And to that they must add the fact that oft-times they had to sleep in bad bed-rooms, and were in the midst of bad sanitary arrangements. Surely, then, this was a matter of urgent public importance. No doubt, as the hon. Member for Dulwich had told them, the best shops closed early; but in the East End of London, where competition was excessively keen, they were kept open till 11 or 12 at night, and many of the poor assistants were mere slaves. An eminent shopkeeper, Mr. Whiteley, had told him that, as a result of long and practical experience on the subject, he fully sympathised with the spirit of this Resolution. Now, he had no intention of giving a professional lecture, but he would like to point out that, in consequence of living in these bad conditions, shopwomen became bloodless and fell below par, and, should they marry and become mothers, the effect of their bad health upon their off spring was very serious. When their hours were unduly prolonged the constitution was run down, the fires of life burned low, and depression set in with disastrous results. The House had heard about black slaves in Uganda, but there were white slaves to be found here; and these poor people had, moreover, no Trade Unions to protect them. On these grounds he heartily supported the Resolution of the right hon. Baronet, and wished the movement, at which he was the head, every success.
§ MR. J. BURNS (Battersea)
said, he had much pleasure in congratulating the right hon. Baronet on his Resolution, and on the excellent, sympathetic, and very humane speech with which he introduced it. As one who knew the difficulties which workmen, and particularly of 757 workwomen, experienced in getting reduced hours, and who had taken part in voluntary efforts to secure the reduction. He desired to say a few words on the subject. He had been appealed to on numerous occasions by assistants, male and female, to assist them in forming a Union of shopworkers; but wherever this had been attempted intimidation on the part of an employer or snobbery or ignorance on the part of shop-assistants or other causes had prevented voluntary effort for bringing sufficient pressure to bear on shopkeepers and customers to secure the end aimed at. He only intended to criticise one or two objections which had been raised in the course of the Debate. The hon. Member for Islington had said that he was against fixing hours for adult labour in shops, and yet he had admitted that voluntary effort had signally failed. That was surely an extraordinary position to take up. The fact was, either local option in some form must he resorted to, or, failing local option, centralised Parliamentary action by Statute must be adopted. Upon this occasion there was no particular occasion to quarrel as to methods. The Resolution was sufficiently vague to be adopted by all parties in the House, but it would have a good result in focussing the agitation, and in enabling it to be carried on on more direct lines. They had heard the previous night a good deal from the right hon. Member for West Birmingham and others as to prospecting for posterity. Here was an opportunity for them to prospect for the health of a large and deserving class at home. They might follow up their sentiments by letting their charity begin at home. He would rather prospect for the benefit of shop-assistants at home than take up claims in Uganda for the benefit of rich capitalists abroad. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham twitted the Government for not voting in favour of local option in this matter. That was a very dangerous criticism for the right hon. Gentleman to direct against the Front Bench, because they could say that it was a great pity that the right hon. Gentleman, who appealed for support in favour of local option for shops, was not prepared to extend the principle to a larger area for larger purposes, and for purposes which more directly concerned 758 one portion of this Kingdom. The Member for the Hallam Division of Sheffield was under the impression that if the shops were closed earlier there would be a probability of the shop-assistants going into public-houses if the public-houses also were not closed earlier. But the universal experience was that in proportion as the working hours of artizans and unskilled labourers were reduced, to that extent, and, he believed, even to a greater extent, the tendencies to intemperance were minimised. They were told that it would be impossible to apply this reform to drinking houses and that the distribution of food in the poorer districts would be made very difficult under the right hon. Baronet's Resolution. One of the saddest features of working-class life and of working-class domestic economy was the extraordinary ignorance, disorganisation, and selfishness which prevailed among working-men who shopped late to an extent which he heartily and deeply regretted. But the only way to alter that state of things was to prevent selfishness, ignorance, and disorganisation in the domestic working-class life from having that scope by indiscriminate late shopping. Let there be reasonable hours of shopping, say from 8 to 8, and the necessity for keeping within those hours would be—to the great profit of the family—to revolutionise for the better the domestic economy of every working-class household throughout the country. He had been away in Africa for several months, and when he landed in Liverpool one of the most brutal sights he over saw was in the working-class districts of the place, where shopping went on to 11, 12, and even 1 o'clock at night. What was the result? The consequence was, that all the stale and putrid food which would not be bought in the light of day made its way into the poorer districts, and was purchased by poor people, who, but for the befuddled condition in which they were, would reject it. Coming to the Resolution, he regretted that the "shop-keeping community" alone were referred to in it. He should have preferred to see the shop-keeping community and the shop-assistants spoken of together in this matter. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) in his criticism of 759 the Home Secretary's speech. He had not failed to notice the right hon. Gentleman's observations, and he might rely upon it that he (Mr. Burns) should hold him to what his words implied in regard to the question of the hours of labour for working-men. It was to be regretted that the Home Secretary's repudiation of economic abstractions was not earnest enough to convert the Front Ministerial Bench to shorter hours for working-men as well as to early closing for shops. On this question of the restriction of the hours of adult labour the Government were in the same position as that occupied by the Opposition when they were in power. On this question he would give the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham an opportunity of squaring his practice with his professions, and he would now offer him the chance of seconding the proposal he would be submitting to the House in the course of a few days for shortening the hours of labour.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
In answer to my hon. Friend, I may remind him that I did support, both by vote and speech, the Eight Hours Local Option Bill for Miners.
§ MR. BURNS
said, he was glad to hear it, but there was a great difference between an eight hours local option day for miners, who had almost gained it, and an eight hours day for 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 of adult workers. He took it, however, that the right hon. Gentleman's attitude with regard to the miners was a guarantee of his good conduct in the future. The hon. Member for Dulwich (Sir J. Blundell Maple), in his way, had done his best to reduce the hours of labour by voluntary effort. That hon. Member had made the extraordinary statement that shopkeepers generally were closing earlier than formerly, a statement which he (Mr. Burns) must traverse. The hon. Gentleman must not judge everybody's cloth by his own measure—he was evidently too much inclined, in opposing the right hon. Baronet's Motion, to cite special cases, and give them general application. According to the Shop Assistants' Union, many shop assistants were working 16 and 18 hours a day, to the deterioration of their mental and physical energies; and though after 760 a certain hour in the evening the shutters of the shops might be up, the assistants were still kept hard at work, though receiving no extra remuneration. When the hon. Member said there was a tendency for shops to close earlier, he was forgetting the poorer districts. The Chairman of "The Sir J. B. Maple Society," at the Glasgow Early Closing Congress, had declared his unalterable devotion to the principle of legislation in dealing with this question, and had said that in Bermondsey the majority of the shops were open from 84 to 88 hours a week. He added, "In Bermondsey we are later now than we were three or four years ago." The hon. Member for Dulwich said that early closing had been brought about without compulsion, but, as a matter of fact, compulsion of the worst possible kind had been resorted to. Exclusive dealing was not unknown in England; and if his (Mr. Burns') own transgressions had been brought home to him, he might have been called upon to serve many terms of imprisonment for recommending exclusive dealing as against bad shopkeepers. Placards, frequently of a libellous nature, were issued by shop assistants against shopkeepers, and pressure was put upon the public to withdraw their custom from offending traders. If the middle and upper classes could do their shopping at the Army and Navy Stores and the Civil Service Stores between 9 o'clock in the morning and 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon, he could not see why the working classes could not do the same. In this matter the ignorant poor ought not to be considered; for though it was said that they did not receive their wages until late on Friday or Saturday night, if legislation required them to do their shopping at an early hour, the employers would soon be compelled to change the day and the hour for paying. It might be that wages would have to be paid earlier, or on Thursday night or Friday instead of Saturday night. Though not a medical man, he was in a position to support the views of those eminent practitioners to whom the right hon. Baronet had referred. As an engineer, he had worked for several months in London hospitals; and as he never lost an opportunity of inquiring into the social and physical condition of 761 the classes he wished to help, he had learnt a great deal as to the baneful effects of long hours in shops, particularly amongst young women. Varicose veins, lapsus uteri, and many other disorders were common amongst them owing to the excessive amount of standing and the long hours to which they were subjected. What was the remedy for the existing state of things? Voluntary effort had failed. Though 999 shopkeepers out of 1,000 were willing and anxious to close early, one trader, coming in it might be from the outside, could frustrate their wishes. The number of hours to be worked was practically dictated by the most unscrupulous, ignorant, and selfish shopkeeper. In behalf of a class he had tried time after time to help by voluntary effort, and in behalf of many organised trades which had been able by unionism to reduce their own working hours, and which sympathised with the shop-assistants in their endeavour to get better hours, he cordially supported the Resolution; and he hoped that the House of Commons, in entering on a new period of social legislation, would pass this Abstract Resolution, looking upon it as a promise to do better and as an instalment of a wider measure of social justice securing the legislative reduction of the hours of labour in other callings. If the House did not yield in this matter to-day it would certainly be compelled to do so in the near future.
§ MR. CORBETT (Glasgow, Tradeston)
said, that as Chairman of the Early Closing Association which had been in existence over 50 years, and meeting from mouth to month members of the Board of that Association who were shopkeepers, he had had peculiar experience of the effects of the voluntary movement. He wished to deal with one or two practical arguments which had been raised. The hon. Member for Sheffield had stated that early closing might endanger the opportunities of the poorer people for buying perishable goods at a cheap rate at a late hour of the evening; but the proprietors of these perishable goods would be as anxious to sell them at an earlier hour if they knew an early hour of closing was fixed by the Local Authority. Allusion had been made to the fact that 762 the public-house would still remain open; but one of the reasons why practical shopkeepers were in favour of this legislation was that they wished to get their customers before and not after they went to the public-house. As to the progress made, he might say that he had just received a letter from a trader in the Old Kent Road, announcing that a movement in which he and others had been engaged to secure the closing of shops three days a week at 9 o'clock had practically broken down because a minority were opposed to it. His correspondent assured him that it was absolutely necessary to have legislation to support the majority in such circumstances. The hon. Member for Dulwich (Sir J. Blundell Maple) seemed to forget that, although the early closing movement had been going on for 50 years, and although they had been securing adhesions to the movement from time to time, relapses were constantly taking place. They were year after year getting shopkeepers to join in combination; but year after year they were saddened by seeing combinations breaking down through individuals taking up a position against the general movement of their fellow-traders. The hon. Gentleman spoke about large shops where assistants were kept, and where there was early closing. He spoke about 7 o'clock being the rule in these large shops on ordinary days and 2 o'clock on Saturdays. That might apply to the very largest class of shops, where hundreds of assistants were kept; but in the east of London and the south of London, and in other districts, it not un-frequently happened that the traders who caused the Association most trouble by refusing to join the movement were traders employing 15 to 20 or more assistants. Voluntary effort, he asserted, had been fairly tried—there had been 50 years of it; organisers had been constantly employed during that period seeking to form combinations, and no less a sum than £60,000 had been expended. What they now desired was that voluntary effort should be supplemented by legislation—and that the combinations for good should be established by law. He appealed to the House in the name of the Early Closing Association, as well as for himself, to pass the Resolution. 763 The question was not how early closing was to be accomplished—the question now before the House was whether or not these long hours were to cease? There was no new means in the way of voluntary effort that they could devise, and it was for the House to say whether a remedy should be applied—the only remedy which could meet the case.
§ MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)
was anxious to give the House his experience on a subject in which he had taken the greatest possible interest for many years in the East End of London. In the year 1888 he had presided over a large meeting to move a resolution almost identical with that before the House, but such a large number of objections were taken to it by the small shopkeepers of the East End that he decided on taking a plébiscite. The result of the plébiscite was that 75 per cent. of the small shopkeepers—those people who for the most part had no assistants, but conducted their businesses, themselves—objected to the resolution altogether. That was extremely disheartening to him.
§ MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON
said, the total number was 1,100. As the Bill of 1891 included the small shopkeepers, he felt it his bounden duty to vote against it. There were a large number of artizans in the East End who returned from their work at 7, 8, or 9 o'clock at night, and for whom their wives were naturally desirous of obtaining something for supper or breakfast in the morning. The only means of obtaining that something was through the medium of the small shopkeeper who kept his premises open late at night? He should like to know how the case of these people was to be legislated for? He should be more than happy if it could be done with anything like satisfactory results. These shopkeepers were comparatively idle all day long, and only really commenced business at 6 or 7 o'clock in the evening. If the hon. Baronet would bear this in mind and 764 would introduce into any Bill which might be the outcome of the Resolution a clause protecting the small shopkeepers he (Mr. Isaacson) would give that Resolution his hearty support. No doubt there were large traders in the East End who employed each some 15 or 20 assistants who were anxious for early closing, but he did not know how their wish could be gratified in the face of the necessities of the numerous class of whom he spoke. If they legislated in the way the right hon. Baronet was desirous of legislating, without taking measures to protect the small shopkeepers, all the business of those poor people would be driven into the large shops. The Army and Navy and other Stores had been referred to as closing early, but it must be remembered that in the case of those establishments the business was a ready-money one, the capital was turned over rapidly, and large profits were ultimately realised. It was not so with the small East End shopkeepers. In many cases they did not receive more than 50 per cent. of the money due to them when purchases were made. They had to wait until the artizans received their wages. It was absolutely necessary for them to suit the convenience of their customers, and to obtain as much custom as they could.
§ MR. J. H. WILSON (Middlesbrough)
wished to support the Motion. He could not agree with those who contended that if the shops were closed earlier, working-men would not have the opportunity of purchasing what they required. The hon. Member who had last spoken seemed to think that early closing in certain districts would prevent shopping by artizans who got their goods on credit. But that difficulty could be got over by a better system of paying wages. If the employers wanted to assist the cause of early closing as they said they did, why could not they pay the men at reasonable hours? As a matter of fact, the people who dealt with these very small shopkeepers were the victims of the sweater. If sweaters paid their workpeople at proper times, there would not be so much need for the small shop-dealers to keep their shops open so late.
MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)
had no desire to detain the House at that late hour (11.50); but as no Irish Representative had spoken, as he was connected closely with the Trades Council of Dublin, and as he knew the feeling not only of the artizans, but also of the shop assistants—being a shopkeeper himself —he could say that the Resolution would receive the hearty assent and approbation of those concerned in trade in Ireland.
§ Question put, and agreed to.