HC Deb 21 February 1899 vol 67 cc178-80
SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

formally moved the Second Reading of the Bill.

MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peekham)

I hope that the right honourable Member will not proceed with this Bill at the present moment, because, in my opinion, a Bill which introduces an alteration in the law of the land ought not to be taken at this hour of the night. For the first time in the history of the country there is a proposal to place a prescription upon adult labour. I believe that hitherto no Measure has been passed which would prevent an employer from using his labour in the manner in which he thinks best for himself. This Bill would carry this extremely vicious principle into effect, and would also press most hardly upon the small class of shopkeeper who, while he is honestly struggling to make a living, should, I think, be supported by everyone who has the welfare of the people at heart. Now, the small shopkeeper, perhaps looking after his shop with the aid of his son, and in many instances with the aid of his wife, sometimes—nay, often—by himself, is, under this Bill, precluded from earning his livelihood. Honourable Members opposite do not quite like that statement, but I can assure them that I have the most pathetic letters from shopkeepers in my constituency, pointing out that during the middle of the day their shops are empty, and that they do at that time take that rest which is so dear to the heart of the right honourable Baronet; while in the evening they look for the reward of their labours, which is the just recompense of every man in this country. I think it will be evident to everyone, and especially to the working class community, that there are great difficulties in the way of shopping being carried on in the middle of the day. Not only are there great difficulties for the working classes, but there is that hard-worked class of man—the clerk, engaged in commercial pusuits, whose hours are very long and whose leisure is very short, and I think that it is evident that it would be impossible for these men to obtain those articles which they desire to buy if this Bill is carried into effect. Now, Sir, these are some of the principal objections, in my mind, to this Bill. They are only a few of the objections which might be raised. While the Bill would prevent an ordinary man using his labour to the best extent, it introduces conditions which, I think, would be extremely difficult to carry into effect. To begin with, this Bill differs from the Bill which has been so often before the House—the Bill introduced by my right honourable Friend the Member for the University of London. In the Bill of the right honourable Gentleman the Member for the University of London, power is given to the different shops to determine by a majority whether or not they shall be brought under the purview of the Bill. But by the Bill before the House no authority is given to the shops, and no authority is given to the different persons to determine for themselves whether or not they shall be brought under the provisions of the Bill. This Bill allows the local authority to decide all the steps which shall be taken. Now the local authority may be a very good authority, and I do not say that they will not do that which is right, but at the same time I do not think that a local authority is the authority which should be called upon to judge as to whether or not a small shopkeeper is to be deprived of the means of earning his livelihood. It does not seem to me that the local authority have either the means or the time to judge whether or not certain shops should be closed or whether they should continue open.

And it being midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Tuesday next.